5. Sandhills Open Road Challenge
Few places in the U.S. are as remote as the Nebraska Sandhills in the western part of the state. Which makes the region the perfect place to hold a rally-style road-racing event each summer. The speeds are intense — some drivers hit nearly 200 mph over the full 55-mile course, while the record for the 1-mile shootout is almost 225 mph. The first Sandhills Open Road Challenge was held in 2001, drawing 34 drivers. Now, the event in Arnold, Nebraska, sells out all 120 spots in the field the first day entries are accepted. Organizers have turned the annual event into a spectacle for competitors and spectators alike, with a car show, a burnout contest and other activities. But the big draw is pure speed. As one competitor notes on the event’s website, sorc.com, “This is the only place in Nebraska where I can drive 140 mph and wave at the sheriff at the finish line.”
4. Big Bend Open Road Race
U.S. Hwy. 285 in West Texas stretches 60-some miles from Fort Stockton south to Sanderson. Local residents can knock the drive out in about an hour. Then there are the competitors in the annual Big Bend Open Road Race, some of whom make the 118-mile roundtrip drive in about 40 minutes. The winner of the Unlimited Class in the 14th annual event in 2011 posted a winning average speed of almost 166 mph. For those who don’t have the experience or car — or the nerve — to race at those speeds, the event offers lower-speed classes beginning at 85 mph.
3. Mount Washington Climb to the Clouds
In 1904, seven years before Indianapolis held the first running of what would become the world’s most famous 500-mile auto race, some brave souls gathered at the foot of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to race to the top of the 6,288-foot summit. More than 100 years later, fearless drivers are still braving the hairpin turns and steep grades along the 7.6-mile asphalt and gravel route. If those conditions don’t sound challenging enough, remember this is Mount Washington, home to some of the world’s worse weather (a wind gust of 231 mph was once recorded on the summit). David Higgins, who set a new race record in 2011, said when he neared the top of the mountain, it was so cloudy, “the visibility was so low I could hardly see past the hood of my car.” Amateurs need not apply — the 70 drivers accepted for the annual event must have extensive racing experience and race-modified cars subject to a pre-race technical inspection. (Note: The embedded video, featuring professional race-car driver Travis Pastrana's record run on the course, starts out slowly. Fast forward to the 3-minute mark for an intense look at the Mt. Washington course.)
2. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
This is another event open only to experienced racers. It’s simply too dangerous for amateurs. First held in 1916, the Pikes Peak race bills itself as the second-oldest auto race in the U.S., after the Indianapolis 500. (The Mount Washington race noted above was originally held in 1901, but was not run for many years in the 20th century.) For sheer variety, it’s tough to top the Pikes Peak event, which has 11 classes open to everything from motorcycles to big-rig trucks. Nearly 200 competitors participated in 2011, tackling the 12.42-mile course that tops out at 14,110 feet — almost three miles above sea level. (Note regarding the video: The first few minutes of the track look relatively easy. Skip forward to about the 6-minute mark, where the car starts sliding through dirt corners and coming within inches of precipitous drop-offs.)
1. Silver State Classic Challenge
This is the granddaddy of all open-road rallies in the United States, launched in 1988. Twice a year, the state of Nevada closes a 90-mile stretch of state highway 318 to traffic for a race in which drivers can reach speeds of more than 200 mph. Competition is open to the general public, although motorsports experience is required for drivers aiming to compete in the higher speed divisions. Still, even novices are permitted to reach speeds of up to 124 mph in either the Silver State Classic Challenge in the fall, or the spring race, the Nevada Open Road Challenge. The Silver State boasts the all-time world record for an open-road average race speed, 207.780 mph, set by Charles Shafer and Gary Bockman in a modified ARCA race car. Sadly, deaths have occurred in the Silver State race. A driver and his navigator were killed when their race-prepared car blew a tire in the 2011 event. It was the first fatality there since 1992.