Pony Express 100, June 1996 Review
By: John Rovner, Team ZR-1 (C) 1996

Well the Pony Express open road race this last weekend is now over !
For those who have either never heard of it, or have not had the chance to attend this event, here's a summary of what it's about.

Rodger Ward, two time Indy 500 winner puts this event on 2 times a year called the Pony Express. It's name is due to the fact it is run in Nevada state where the real Pony Express operated back 100 years ago. The event as of this date is run two times a year in June and September.

The Nevada State police shut down a two lane state highway to allow this event to take place. Since these roads are through mountains, canyons and cattle grazing areas, they have to have about 100 people stationed throughout the road course to assure safety and prompt assistance if someone should have some type of problem. They also have at ready, medical, an airplane and a ham radio network along with the State police and Sheriffs office onhand.

The objective of this event is, a starting point and a ending point. Each car has a driver, who may have a navagator if they like. You pick a division. This division has certain rules that car and driver must adhere to. The higher the division, the higher speed is allowed, but this means more safety equipment is required for car and person(s).
Within each division are speed classes. As an example I choose not to have a navagator, the Grand Sport Division, and 130 MPH class.

the Grand Sport division has speed classes from 130 to 160 MPH. The 160 MPH is the tech speed, which means the car and I were proven to be at that top speed. By picking the 130 MPH class, I could run speeds from the 130 to 160 MPH, but no faster then 160 MPH and no less then 90
MPH, which is the minimum for all cars in the race. If during the race I do less then 90 or more then 160 MPH, I am disqualfied not only for this event, but for a length of one year ( two events ). Also the State police hand you a speeding ticket as if it was a normal day on that road and maximum speed was 55 MPH. This is done to assure people do not drive faster then they or the car were tech'd to. The 90 MPH is to assure, people do not come to a stop or slow down cars behind them. You are DQ'd if you stop or use reverse gear.

This event started at Battle Mountain Nv, and the end point was Austin,
83.55 miles apart on the two lane road U.S 305. To win your class, you have to get to the end ( finish line ) as close to your average target class speed, which was my 130 MPH class. Having a navagator would be a big plus, for it allows the driver to do just that, drive, and let the navagator control the rate of speeds by any means. Those means can be a stopwatch, a rally computer or some computer model spreadsheet that was designed for your division, class and length of road course. With a driver alone you have to do it all, but when you finish well, it's sweeter since you did it all by yourself.

Think about your normal day in day out driving, and the speeds you are used to. Also think about the speeds you would normally use to go through a corner, sweeper, hairpin, or S curve. Your car may be well suited for those normal speeds, but in the back of your mind, you think ..Hmm if only there was no traffic at all, no police, no people, no buildings, now how fast could I and this car really do.

That's what a event like the Pony Express is all about, none of the above, just you, your car and the road. The outcome really is how you the driver control your own end result. No one to blame but you if you fail to reach the end point at the exact time of the speed class you choose to pick or make one mistake and put the car into the junk yard.

If you think it's easy, think again, at this event winners were apart by 100 th's of a second ! (in fact they had to go 3 places to the right of the decimal point to determine winning places) and thats having to travel at different speeds within that 84 miles, though hills, canyon, twisted curvy narrow roads, where one second your at 155 MPH and have to enter a corner that can only be handled at 115 MPH and a S curve right afterwards that starts with a off camber turn and still cross the finish line averaging the 130 MPH class rate.

Now add to that, the car is a special model in the Corvette history, cannot be replaced and the world is watching ( ESPN2 tapes the event ) so you cannot makeup any fish stories if you foul up. To make it worse, this is your very first time at pushing yourself and the car to it's limits and you have to continue to do it for 84 miles in hot muggy weather, wrapped up in all the nomex wear, including a heavy helmet, windows all the way up and no A/C turned on !

Keep in mind, if you win your class, the reward is a little trophy, no money, no big glory. What it really is about is the glory within you to say " I did it, I had the guts to do it, I made the finish line and I am one of the very few to take all I have and put it on the line". Out of about 250,000,000 people, only about 150 drivers get a chance in each event.
Now that's a event to remember for a long time ( and makes some good talk in your later years )

If anyone says they are not worried, losing some sleep, or plain scared before taking a $70,000 dollar ZR-1 Corvette out for the first time at this type of event is not telling it straight or really not a true Corvetter. To be a key holder of this car, is like being responsible to hold the American flag up in a battlefield.

The closer I got to that event day, the closer I got to the green flag, the more I wondered and sweated, was this the right thing to do with ZR-1 Corvette, that I was responsible to keep the honor and assure a good showing to the general public ?

I could have gone in the lowest division ( touring ) and slowest class ( 95 MPH ) and then just say I did the Pony Express, but in thinking I knew, a Stock ZR-1 had to do the show, at the edge and beyound if I could keep the gas pedal down and by being in the 130 MPH class, I could push myself to the 160 MPH tech speed, mix it up and hope to get close to what a driver / navagator would do as a team.

Pony Express Event

The weather stayed in the 90's the whole time. Add in the high winds, dust storms and you'll understand why I had to wash the ZR-1 3 days out of 4.

Team ZR-1 had 6 team mates that attended that were spread across 3 divisions and several classes.

Two ended up getting caught ( via laser guns no one know they had on course ) for going faster then their tech speeds and got disqualified, though I think they enjoyed running the 85 miles at those speeds.

Two Team ZR-1'ers took home trophies

The other two, which includes me, came close but no cigar on placing in the 3 depth trophies per class.

I'll let the other Team ZR-1'ers speak for themselves, but for me, this was my first attempt at this. I choice to move up to the Grand Sport division, and the 130 MPH class. My ZR-1 passed the 160 MPH tech speed and on test day, I passed the drivers test on the 4 mile test course with speeds about 155 MPH. This was done with a 1 mile straight, then a 2 mile sweeper, with a one mile slow down which was half sweeper / half straight.

Getting the ZR-1 up to that speed within the first mile was simple, and keeping it in fifth gear was O.K, except I could see that by using the 15W50 Mobil oil cost a little higher oil temp of 230 degrees. During the race, in a long straight, I did drop to sixth gear. around 140 MPH and oil temp dropped back down to about 200 degrees.

About 90% of the cars had a navigator, and I do not know how many were using racing rally computers, but I know in my class, 3 cars who placed better then me had those computers.

Since I only used a stopwatch and no navigator, I know I could not win a trophy, thus I decided to see how well I and the ZR-1 could do by the seat of the pants driving. I choose the 130 MPH class with the 160 top speed, for this allowed me to really test the skills of car and me.

All in all, it was a tough weekend, mainly because of the hot weather and being unsure in how well I would make the ZR-1 perform across roads I had never seen before.

As for the race, after all the waiting, and sweating (us first timers sweating more then others ( and those not wanting our ZR-1's ending up in the junk yard, double sweating )) I finally get to the starting line. I am nice, do not smoke the tires, but get to speed before the first left sweeper 9 tenths from the start. Since there is at least 50 turns, and sea level changes from 4,500 to 6,500 feet, I keep the ZR-1 about 140 MPH on most straights, and about 155 on a few others, all turns I kept the
ZR-1 no less then 110 MPH and in some places 130 MPH. The car in front and in back of me both have rally computers, the driver in front told me he intented to do about 90-100 MPH in the narrows ( about 7 miles long ).
The narrows start about 45 miles from the start, we are placed 30 seconds apart from the starting line. Close to the narrows I catch this car, I decide to pass him now, rather then getting trapped behind them in the narrows which has lots of turns. All I have is the stopwatch, which I cannot really see well for the sun is shinning right on it. As I get close to the end, I know I am just about 1 minute fast, I assume I would see way off the red flags and a finish line, I would then drop to 90 MPH to finish line. Instead, there are no flags in sight, as I get close, I see a guy in a white tee shirt and shorts standing on the side of the road, with the checker flag pointing to the ground. I fly by missing my chance to lose the 45 seconds to a perfect time.

I end up doing a average of 132.363 MPH. Not bad for a first time and seat of the pants driving. The ZR-1 was flawless ! and even got 17.9 MPG. The stock GY GS-Cs at 40 cold air pounds and using LPE's FX3 chip worked great, the tires never even squeaked the whole time.

I ended up being 26th fastest in MPH out of about 100 cars and 48th closest to a perfect time. With a navigator or a rally computer, it would have been a snap to get that perfect time. The faster target speed your running, the more speed changes you have with all the turn speeds. One you get down below the 120 MPH class, you could turn on the cruise control and steer.

Now knowing what this type of driving is and knowing the ZR-1 is happy on these types of mountain roads, next time I will jump to the 150 class and if driving alone, maybe get one of those computers, but frankly who cares about another trophy, doing it this way, was a challenge and being a little too fast is much better then being way to slow for what the
ZR-1 can do.

Next Pony is in Sept, they need to tell us soon if it's running out of Reno or Elko.

If you want to push the car or your limits, this is the type of event to find out what it's really all about.

I am glad I was a part of a very small group of people who are willing to put it all on the line knowing it's all or nothing

Thanks to all of Team ZR-1 who attended this event. Thanks to those who sent e-mail, supporting me and a big thanks to one Vettnetter ( sorry cannot remember his name ! ) who contacted me from his home in Wash state, wanting to be a course worker to help out, took a flight with his wife, rented a car, and stood all day in the heat on the side of the road just to support us Corvetters !

John Rovner

Return to Main Page

5/3/98 9:48:00 AM