From The Passenger Seat

From the first time Cole mentioned the possibility of driving his Chevelle from Detroit to Vegas, I knew that I had to be in the passenger seat. Once Cole and I discussed the route, it was evident that we would be traveling along Route 66. What better way to see the country than by following the Mother Road as much as possible?

Even though Cole had written many features for PHR accompanying my photos, we hadn't really gotten to know each other. I didn't know how this trip would go, but soon discovered that we had much in common, and a friendship quickly ensued.

Much of the first few days it felt like we were getting nowhere fast. We weren't, but we didn't want to miss a thing. We didn't see half the history of Route 66, but we had a blast trying. And boy did I get good at getting in and out of a fully 'caged car.

As the time and miles rolled by, it gave me the chance to slow down a bit from the hectic pace I was working at. It recharged me both personally and creatively. We regularly posted to Facebook on the journey, but we only understood the impact of it when we hit Vegas. I was amazed how many people mentioned how they followed our progress. That in itself was pretty cool.

I came away from this with a great new friend and the appreciation of stopping and smelling the roses and how important this can be. You don't necessarily need a muscle car for this kind of a trip, but it certainly doesn't hurt! — Robert McGaffin

At The Optima Challenge

We pulled into the pits and sorted our way past tractor-trailer supported teams to find a spot where we could unload the trunk. Like many of the competitors, we had never raced on this track before. As soon as the car was teched, we lined up for guided laps on the track, which were offered up to let us get familiar with the track at moderate speeds. That's good, because the only other time you get on the track during OUSCI are the five laps that are recorded for the BFGoodrich Hot Lap Challenge. To raise the heart rate a little more, our group was selected for the hot laps first. That left us about 15 minutes to air down the tires and get the coilovers adjusted for the track, and we would have to guess at the compression and rebound settings as there would only be one session on the road course.

Our concerns about the shock settings soon evaporated, though. Before the warm-up lap was complete, the engine began cutting out unpredictably. I mentally worked through the checklist of possible causes while trying to hit a decent line on the track. I checked the gauges and found nothing out of the ordinary. The tank was full, so it wasn't fuel slosh uncovering the pickup tube. It wasn't happening at a specific rpm and it was a complete loss of power, not just dropping a few cylinders, which ruled out the ignition. Short on answers and limited in what I could do while on track, I did my best to complete the hot laps without risking a meeting a guardrail.

I pulled into the pits and opened the hood. We plugged in the handheld controller to check diagnostics. Nothing. Then we checked the throttle position sensor to make sure it was functioning correctly. Again, nothing. By this time, there were several people offering help and advice, but we were already being called to the RideTech Autocross Challenge. We held out as long as possible, trying to determine what was wrong. Then Optima gave us the message: Get out there now or forfeit your chance at competing in the autocross.

You only get three laps on the autocross. Our first pass was livable with only two or three episodes of power loss. The second pass was pitiful, with the car completely shutting down mid-course. I gave up my third time on the course and limped back to the pits. One thing was for sure: The longer I was on track, the worse the issue became.

This time, I had about an hour and a half before I had to go back on track for the Wilwood Disc Brakes Speed-Stop Challenge. At this point, any hope of doing well in the OUSCI was gone and my new goal was simply to complete the entire competition. This last driving event was a combination of a start-stop box and a slalom. The goal was to accelerate drag-race style to the end of the tarmac, make a 180, return through a slalom and then stop in a box that seems small at 60-80 mph. Like the autocross, you get three laps, and your best time is recorded. Unexpectedly, my Chevelle performed well on the first lap without even a sneeze from the engine! Unfortunately, I blew past the stop box by several feet, disqualifying the first attempt. On the second lap, the sporadic loss of power returned, but I nailed the stop box. That was it. I had finished. Much like a marathon runner, just crossing the finish line was victory enough.