It seemed as though everyone in Fort Stockton had shown up to watch the parade of hot rods that preceded the Big Bend Open Road Race last April, and who could blame them? It's not every day that a hundred or so shimmering Corvettes and El Caminos, Panteras and Porsches, Vipers, Mustangs, Camaros, and other dazzling road machines glide leisurely down the city's main drag.
I had the good fortune to be riding shotgun in the parade's final car, a Sublime-green 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 Six Pack and a pistol-grip shifter–a taut, tough muscle car with a driver to match. Owner Dale Kuehn of Caldwell, who restores '30s-'70s Dodges and Plymouths in his spare time, basked in the glow of the parade route's wide-eyed kids and teenagers, many of whom had never seen so many iconic cars outside of their Hot Wheels collections. Dale's friend Jody Ausley had obligingly limboed into the backseat, under the roll bar, so I could enjoy the buzz of celebrity, too. And as we waved at the crowds, I was willing to chuck my sensible Honda Civic for something that would tear up the racetrack.
Every April since 1998, the City of Fort Stockton has played host to the adrenaline-charged event known as the Big Bend Open Road Race, a rally-style competition regarded as the most challenging open-road race in the United States. Here's why: Of the eight or so open-road courses in America, none has so many turns and elevation changes as US 285 between Fort Stockton and Sanderson. That makes for exciting driving, whether you're going the speed limit or not. Last year, 130 racers (many with friends and family along to help navigate) showed up to test their mettle–and put the pedal to the metal–on this scenic stretch of highway. The race has proven so popular that this year, racers can try out a second course, US 385 from Fort Stockton to Marathon, in October. (The dates this year are April 20-23 and October 5-8.)
And listen up, you velocity junkies out there: During the Big Bend Open Road Race, speeding is legal! In fact, it's encouraged. Best of all, you can participate in almost any vehicle–whether you drive a flashy Lamborghini, a PT Cruiser, or a 50-year-old Studebaker.
Here's how it works: Racers compete in five speed classes, beginning with a target speed of 85 mph (the Street Rod division) and topping out at 160 mph (the Super Sport division). A select few dare-devils qualify for "Unlimited" status, where cars typically burn up the straightaways at 200 mph or more. The more experience you have, and the more safety equipment you have in your car, the faster you're allowed to go. There's no wheel-to-wheel jockeying; the race is held rally-style, one car at a time. The first leg of the race goes to Sanderson; the second makes the round trip back to Fort Stockton.
From the April 2005 issue.