Winning At The Silver State

By Peter Marshall

The Silver State Classic event can really be defined as a high-speed rally. The word rally brings to mind the concept of an average speed for a measured distance to be run within a specific elapsed time. To be among the top runners then, is to have a working knowledge of Time, Speed, and Distance. Unless you run an unlimited car, your objective, is to arrive at the finish line at the exact minute, second, and hundredth of a second to win your class.

For new runners of the event the requirement for pinpoint accuracy can be somewhat of a challenge. How on earth do you blast off from the start line, run 90 miles through the desert valleys and canyons to arrive on the finish line at the exact second of a specific time interval? Speedometers? The tires grow at high speeds and so the accuracy of the speedometers and odometers is not good enough.

THE NEED FOR A PLAN

One method is to create a "Flight Plan" using measured distances down the course from the Start Line called waypoints, with corresponding e.t.a.’s (estimated time of arrivals) for each measured distance. The course is run with a stopwatch, comparing the actual time of arrival with the estimated time of arrival at each point. The difference in time between the E.T.A. and the actual time of arrival is then used to make corrections to the speed so that the correct average speed is maintained.

OK, that’s the basic concept, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of Silver State navigation. I start each racing season by running down the Course on Highway 318. The location of the Start line is between mile marker WP-10 and WP-9 and there is a set of metal sockets for the Start Gate poles set into the gravel shoulders with concrete. With my Navigator, I run the Course from North to South as it is run during the event to memorize and get comfortable with the road. I always take a Navigator because I need all the help I can get! A few miles into the course, we begin to select mile markers to use as waypoints. I don’t bother with the beginning of the course as the car wouldn’t be up to speed yet and we’d be running late on calculated ETA’s anyway. Waypoints are specific geographical points along the road, which are easily recognizable from inside the car at 120 mph. These "waypoints", and their respective distances from the start line, will be entered on a "Flight Plan" used for navigating the course.

We don’t run our "Familiarization Trip" at 120 mph because to get a ticket on SR318 during the month of the event is to guarantee disqualification! Most racers use milepost markers, which are small white stakes along the right side of the road marked with an identifier, such as LN-24, (marking Lincoln County milepost 24) as their waypoints. The course traverses three counties on it’s way south; White Pine County, Nye County, and Lincoln County. The respective mile markers for these counties are signed: WP-##, NY-##, and LN-##. One of the first cautions I give is that the actual distance between these mile markers may not have been measured in this century, or the last one either, so don’t believe them as far as distance traveled goes!

We jot down about 30 to 40 Waypoints on our rough draft "Flight Plan" using the philosophy that too many waypoints are better than not enough, assuming that some will be missed at speed. When the mile markers are going by every 20 seconds or so, a few will get missed for sure! We measure the distance from the Start Line to each selected Waypoint/mile-marker using a GPS unit. This measuring can also be done with a calibrated Rally Computer or a calibrated odometer. When we get to the finish line, which is marked by milepost LN-7, the GPS mileage readout or Rally Computer readout should show 90.0 miles.

TWEAKING THE MILEAGES

Whether or not the measured mileage reads 90.00, we turn around and start measuring very carefully backwards from the finish line to the selected waypoints that we chose on the way down the course. Again, we use a GPS for this and we measure these distances to 2 decimal places. The reason for measuring from the finish line backwards up the course is to ensure that the most accurate part of your flight plan is at the end of the course where split seconds make all the difference between first place and fourth place. Measuring backwards from the Finish line may involve a bit of simple arithmetic to correct the distances from the start line to each waypoint/mile-marker keeping in mind that the finish line is exactly 90.00 miles from the start line. The way we do this is to measure the distance to the last waypoint/mile-marker before the finish line (i.e.LN-8) and subtract that distance from 90.00 miles. We stop at each milepost up the course from the finish and correct the distances measured from the start. We will work with these distances later and they should be measured to two decimal places if possible for the last 18 miles of the course.

I know this sounds like a lot of finicky work, but if you want to trophy, then you need to be precise for the last section of the course. Essentially, the most important measured waypoints are the ones from the exit of the White River Narrows ("The Narrows") all the way down to the finish line. These last 18 miles must be driven with maximum concentration on correcting the speed to arrive at your waypoints right on your calculated ETA’s, and then maintaining your target speed all the way down to the finish. Eighteen miles might seem like a fair distance to accomplish these goals, but in real time it may be less than 9 minutes depending on your speed. If you happen to be a minute over or under your ETA at this point, that last 18 miles won’t seem long enough to correct it and get back on time.

To make this last 18 miles a bit easier, we plan our run so that we arrive at the entrance of The Narrows ahead of time by about 30 seconds. This "time in the bank" will allow us to run The Narrows at 90 mph, just cruising while doing a bit of necking which is difficult wearing those pesky helmets, and then exit The Narrows right on time. If your Navigator is the same sex, you might want to do some photography or have a quick sandwich instead! OK now, this is starting to sound a little complicated but stay with me and we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty here pretty soon.

THE GAME PLAN

First, I’m gonna lay down a little philosophy on running the course. The light goes GREEN! Away you go, rocketing through the gears, accelerating up to your target speed! WOW! This is FUN! This is what you came for! Take some time to enjoy this first part of the course. The high desert in the morning is very beautiful, and so is the road, and so is your car, and yes, the speed! Savor all of these things. Feel the car. Feel the road. Do the tires feel right? Does the drive train feel right? Is there any wind? Is it pushing you around? Are there any vibrations that you need to keep tabs on? Get right into maximum awareness. This is living on the edge! These are essential and precious moments that will keep you alive and enrich your life!

My personal technique on the first 5 miles or so is to work the car up to speed gradually. I keep checking the gauges while warming up the oil in the transmission, differential, and get the tires up to operating temperature so that maximum traction is available for the corners and making sure that all is well with the car. If everything is looking and sounding good, then I start to increase my speed above my average target to put some time in the "bank" for the Narrows. It is very nice to just cruise through the three miles of The Narrows at low stress and pop out of the canyon right on the Flight Plan ETA. The Narrows, is a high walled red rock canyon with some real corners and great scenery. Keep your eyes peeled for Wylie E. Coyote lurking up on the cliffs, ready to sabotage the Roadrunner (and other Chrysler products) as he streaks by.

The overall objective on building the "time bank" before the Narrows is to make it possible for the last 18 miles down to the finish line to be for tweaking and fine-tuning the speed, rather than for making massive corrections. The way to do this is to be faster than your "Target" speed for long enough to build up a cushion of time so that you arrive at the Narrows about 30 seconds early for example. I figure on taking about 2 minutes to transit the Narrows and then back on speed. A very important thing to keep in mind is to stay under your tech speed and over your minimum speed. At some events, I have seen over 30 disqualifications from drivers forgetting that they must operate in a specific speed window; no speed under 30 mph less than Target, no speed under 80 mph, and NEVER over your Tech Speed! There will be hidden, radar/laser sites to check on you, so post a note to yourself on your dash and don’t get closer than 3 mph to your maximum/minimum in case your Speedo is off a bit.

Although we run with our GPS unit, we also use two stopwatches started at the green light and the navigator is checking the times throughout the course and has the final say as we close in on the finish line as far as speed up or slow down. In other words, the GPS may help to put us in the ballpark, but the STOPWATCHES RULE approaching the finish line.

THE FLIGHT PLAN

The 8 X 10 Flight Plan Forms that we use have five columns and sixteen horizontal lines on the page. We keep the spacing wide so that the lettering can be done with a bold felt pen for easy reading/writing while jiggling around at speed. Our last flight plan had three and a half pages of waypoints, over 45 all together. The columns are set out with headings in the order following:

WAYPOINT, MILES, ETA’s, ACTUAL TIME, DIFFERENCE plus/minus.

So under the WAYPOINT column your first waypoint name could be WP-4 followed by the mileage (5.4) from the start under the MILES column, followed by 002:30.37 the time to run that distance (calculated @130mph) and leaving the next two spaces blank, to be filled in during the event. I expect you will create a spread sheet type document on your computer. I used my word processor to do this. The big question, is how to calculate the times for the distances at each waypoint?

SPEED, TIME, & DISTANCE

The simple formula that I use is best remembered by converting it into a street address, 60"D" ST. The equation is really 60D = ST, where D = distance in miles, S = speed in mph, and T = time in minutes. Using simple algebra, we can solve the equation for T (time), by dividing each side of the equation by S, our target speed. So now our equation will look like this T (time) =60XDistance/S (110), assuming the 110 mph class. So, let’s plug this into our calculator for the full 90.0 miles: T (time) = 60X90/110 = 49.090909 minutes.

HEY! Wait a minute! We want the results to come out with minutes, seconds, and decimal seconds, not minutes and decimal minutes. OK, so lets pull the 49 minutes out of the results and write it in our Flight Plan. With 49.090909 still on the calculator, subtract 49, then multiply the remaining 0.090909 X 60 and out pops the answer in seconds, 5.454545 So the answer then, is 49 minutes and 05.4545 seconds to run the entire 90 miles.

Let’s do one more at the beginning of the course for practice. The waypoint/milemarker WP-4 is about 5.43 miles down the course and using 110 mph again, 60 X 5.43/110 = 2.961818 minutes, then minus 2 = 0.961818 X 60 = 57.709. So the answer: 02:57.71 minutes is the ETA for WP-4, write it in the ETA column for WAYPOINT WP-4 So, how does this all work when we are underway during the event? Let’s use the above example at WP-4.

The Navigator starts the watches (always have at least one backup watch in case of a screw-up) when the green light flashes on. At Wp-4, the Navigator hits the left button on the stopwatch, the split button, and reads off the time displayed on the watch. In this case, we took it easy out of the start box and the time reads 03:22.67. The Nav now writes this time in the ACTUAL TIME column, next to the Flight Plan ETA, which we calculated as: 02:57.71 in the above example. Next, the Nav subtracts one from the other and writes in the time difference, ahead or behind. If the actual time is greater than the ETA, then you are behind the Fight Plan and you need to speed up. In this case we are approximately 25 seconds later than the ETA so the Nav would inform the driver, "We are 25 seconds behind". The Driver would not be surprised by this information because from a standing start, of course you will be behind in the beginning while warming up the car.

GETTING TO THE CHURCH ON TIME

How do you set up your flight plan to allow for being early at the Narrows?? Here is a hint; figure out how fast you would need to run the first section of the course so that you would arrive 30 seconds earlier than if you stayed on your target speed. Rather than calculate all the times for all the waypoints at target speed in the first section of the course, calculate just one time for your slowdown waypoint near the entrance to the Narrows. Now, subtract 30 seconds from that time, and make that your Flight Plan ETA for the entrance to the Narrows. Take that distance and that time, plug it into the formula 60D=ST, and using simple algebra, calculate a new average speed to run the first part of the course. Now go ahead and calculate all the ETA’s for all the remaining waypoints before The Narrows at the calculated faster speed. Keep it simple and you’ll be fine. In the 110-mph class, 30 seconds early works fine.

The worst corner on the course is the one leading into The Narrows, so be sure to slow down for it. That corner is off-camber and deserves respect. Make a note on your flight plan about where to slow down. For the rest of the course other than The Narrows, all of the corners can be comfortably taken at 130 mph plus. Of course, it goes without saying that the ETA’s for the waypoints after The Narrows must be calculated at your target speed. So, I wish you all a safe run, have lots of fun and Happy Navigating.

Cheers, from Pete Marshall