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American Motors eXperimental
1970 Javelin "Great White" at 1993 Silver State Challenge
"My Ultimate Challenge" - By Rhonda Zamisch
While folding laundry late one evening, I explained to my husband, Tony, that I wanted to do something exciting, thrilling and even dangerous. I was tired of being everything for everyone and nothing for myself. I needed a challenge. "I want to race my Javelin in the Silver State Challenge", I announced not realizing that this would obviously lead into a several hour discussion. I feared somehow my little announcement had not gone over very well. However it finally was excepted, although not very willingly or graciously I might add.
Once convincing my husband was over, I soon came to realize that convincing my family and friends was going to be the real battle. I had not thought of the guilt they would lay on me about my parental responsibilities. "Don't worry, nothing is going to happen", is what I really wanted to say to them, but I feared that by saying it, it surely would.
I suddenly saw how superstitious I really was and from that point on, I took no chances. I became confident that I would not become over confident - if that makes sense. I remained un-competitive and took nothing for granted. This helped me, but I don't think it did much for my family and friends. Concerned as they were, they supported me with their prayers. I know that no matter how good a person may think they are at driving (or anything else) that does not account for all other elements. The other guy, the environment, acts of God...get the picture? Anything can happen! I welcomed their prayers.
I wanted the whole preparation to flow smoothly, with little stress. I didn't want us all ready to kill each other before race day. I tried to stay un-involved with the mechanical changes as much as possible. I was only the driver, and that was enough responsibility for one person.
At last the big day was here. We awoke @ 4:30 on the morning of September 19th, 1993, from a wake up call by the front desk of the Hotel Nevada in Ely (where we had spent the last three days). Within a hour we were checked out, and in the Tow-Cob vehicle which pulled my Pro-Cob vehicle to the Pre-Start Staging area at Lanes Truck Stop in Lund. It was dark and freezing cold. My car was quickly unloaded from the trailer and within minutes our support team was on their way down the road to set up course workers at each of their assigned gates. It was an emotional good-bye as each of them hugged us good luck. It seemed as if they feared this was the last time they would ever see us again. I didn't want to appear too confident but I felt they needed a positive note, 'See you at the Finish Line', I said. I went into Lanes to warm up and have some breakfast. I knew we had a couple of hours before we would move on to the Pre-Start area. I tried to relax and not think about what was ahead.
I had a great navigator, and we worked well together. We had rehearsed and discussed what was expected from the other. We agreed that the navigators role is to call out what is coming ahead on the road. Direction of bends, lengths of straight-aways, miles driven or remaining and things Iike that. Tony asked me how fast did I plan to be driving, and I really had no idea. I did know that I would only drive at speeds I felt comfortable at. I told myself that if I drive too slow because faster doesn't feel right, I will not be ashamed or embarrassed, just alive. Tony agreed that I were to be at speeds lower than expected, he would not display any anger, disappointment or pressure, whatsoever. At least until we cross the finish line.
I needed to be focused completely. I needed to concentrate on what I was doing and not allow my mind to wander at anytime. When traveling at high speeds there is no time for error. You have to know what you are doing. Your only options are the right move or the wrong move.
Around 8:00 am, my division was cued to drive to the Pre-Start area. There were 69 cars already parked in a single row. I would be the 70th car to approach the Start Line. Once at this area, we had a lot of time to wait. The race could not start until everything was in order. All gates had to be occupied by a course worker, the road completely cleared and all verified by a final sweeper car. During this time, I spoke with many of the other drivers and navigators. I quizzed them all on dffferent aspects of the race. Everyone was very nice and helpful. They all were very supportive of one another. I can see why it is said to be like a family. Each race is like a reunion.
It was approaching noon as we put on our helmets and gloves and strapped ourselves in. We were next. A man spoke to me through my window. He informed me of an oil slick, 6 miles out, and there would be a yellow flag cautioning me to drive carefully until past the oil, then proceed as normal. As he spoke I realized that Tony was being given the same message, word for word from a different man on his side at the same time. It was like stereo.
30 seconds past and we were given the flag to go. I did not scorch off the line. I began smoothly - yet quickly. I gradually increased my speed, making sure I was comfortable with each speed level before increasing to the next. Then I increased by 10 and 5 mph increments. I was not out there to take chances, so I didn't.
Each level was like a test. If I could hold it comfortably - I passed and moved up. If not, then I stayed until I was comfortable. I have heard people say before how they have driven at 100+ mph, but you really have to hold that speed for a period of time to really experience it completely. You, and your car as well. It is not the same as blasting up quickly, then slowing down before a cop spots you.
As I felt my car settle into each new speed level, I too was settling. I was feeling the motor, the axle, the tires and my own capabilities. The feeling is in a way an instinct, I guess. My car and I became connected. We were actualy a life line to the other. Both totally dependent upon the others performance and capabilities.
After being on the road for awhile, Tony noticed the engine temperature rising more than he expected it would. "Ease out of the throttle a littlel Your getting too hot!, he shouted. "It's not that hot, I told myself, "I'll just stay at this speed and not continue to increase-maybe he won't notice". Ha Ha, fat chance on that. He noticed allright. He also pointed out that we were losing oil pressure ( we were at 40 psi and dropping) I agreed to try to keep my foot out of it and give the motor a chance to cool down a bit. Easier said than done though. Once you've had your speed up - it really is very difficult to steady at a slower speed. Every time I got it slowed down, I naturally would begin to pick it back up. Tony did a great job of reminding me.
We were cruising along when Tony said, 'You're halfway through the coursel You're almost done'. Really? I couldn't believe my ears. It seemed that we had not been on the road near long enough to have already gone halfway. The next thing I knew, we were approaching The Narrows. I decreased my speed and took them at about 90 miles per hour, twice the normal posted speed limit of 45 mph. I used all the maneuvering skills I had learned. I looked way ahead and found the straightest line possible that sliced right through the canyon. Hugging the corners, I drove as close to my imaginary line as I could. "Very Good!", Tony was impressed, "Excellent".
Once through the narrows, it was so close to being over I wanted to turn around, go back and start over again. Like a child who won't get out of the swimming pool when told. I didn't want it to end until.....Oh no, I felt an itch on my forehead! The insulation on my helmet had caused me to sweat and the more sweat the more itch and vice versa. It was driving me crazy.
The engine's vital signs had now stabilized, so Tony gave me an OK to go as fast as I wanted for the remaining 18 miles. We had a lot of time to make up - almost 2 minutes - so I gave it my best shot. With the temperature increasing and the oil pressure decreasing, I pushed my Javelin to over 5,000 rpm which is slightly over 150 mph! With one more blind hill to go, I decreased my speed to 130 for the last 2 miles, and we crossed the finish line! We covered the 90 mile course in 49 minutes, 37 seconds! What a thrill it was!!!
After greeting the welcome committee, stretching our legs, getting something to drink and winding down, I found myself extremely sleepy. I sat back in the driver's seat of my Javelin,
completely exhausted. "Here I am", I said to myself, "the first woman to race an AMC in the Silver State Challenge. And the first Javelin to ever finish the Silver State Challenge". "Hmmmmmmmmmm", I was beginning to drift off, "I wonder what was in the freezer for dinner tonight".
Silver State Challenge 1993
"My wife, her Donohue Javelin, and the Silver State Classic Challenge wide open road race, 1993." - By Tony Zamisch
So I'm lazing on a Sunday evening watching bowling on ESPN, and I hear this petite little voice say," Hey, Tony, I want to run the Silver State Challenge in my Javelin. No one has ever done it and finished in a Javelin, right? I want some real excitement! As if being married to me wasn't one big fiesta of thrills day in and day out for the last 8 years. Reluctantly I pried my eyes from the T.V. screen, turned around and said, "what?, are you nuts?"
What compels one's wife to say to her husband, "I want to race a Javelin at dangerously high speeds, on a public highway, in the middle of the Nevada desert? She could have asked for a night out on the town, a dozen roses, and a night away from the kids. And you know, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to drive that race myself. "Yeah, that sounds like fun!" Now, wait a minute, a guy driving an AMC in the Silver State is one thing, but a woman driving a Donohue Javelin and finishing the Silver State is well, "yeah, something that has never been done before! What an awesome idea!" I knew I married her for a reason! I did, of course, give this very serious consideration before I agreed to prep the car for such a grueling 90 mile test of mechanicals, as well as human physical endurance.
I quickly got together with my friend Kevin Muckleroy, my soon to be "Crew Chief", and asked him how he felt about this. He replied: "If you've got the money, let's do it! Hand me that wrench, will ya?" An answer that could only come from 'The Muck". With these words of encouragement in mind, we were on our way. Every angle of the car was considered for such a dangerous attempt. One mistake in preparation, one wrong move behind the wheel, and you're DEAD! Not the most festive thought, is it? Reality kicks in quickly at high speed, and there is NO margin for error. Needless to say, there were no words of encouragement from our families, as they knew the real danger involved. So did we, only we look at RISK from a little different perspective. After all, we have been married for over 8 years!
We spared no expense when it came to the safety equipment that is required for the speed bracket that we planned on running. In fact, we installed more that what was needed and had enough safety gear to be cleared for 150 mph. We wanted to target our speed for a 115 mph average, which actually requires running approximately 125 mph to do so. You have to drive faster than your target speed due to the areas on the course in which you will have to slow down. Not easy to accomplish when you're working with caveman tools such as a stopwatch, a digital clock, and trying to watch mile markers as you fly by at warp speed. All the 'High-Tech" cars have on-board computers. Something that, unfortunately, was not factory equipment for us.
Six months, and $12,000 later, and we were loaded on our new trailer and heading for Nevada. Oh, did I mention the $450.00 entry fee? We were fortunate enough to have some very generous sponsors, including the entire entry fee donated by long time CACI club member, and good friend of ours, Dr. Richard W. Trepeta. Thanks, Rick! Local businesses were very interested in what we were doing, and since it was not a Chevy or Ford we were racing, but a JAVELIN, with a lady driver, they were very impressed, and offered help. The exhaust system, five point harnesses, and various other items started pouring into the car. No skimping on their part. Just very generous people with the winning AMC spirit helping us to make a dream come true.
I had now realized that "performance" IS NOT measured by one person's abilities, but how well you work together as a team. Also realizing the serious risk involved if one person screws up. It is not to be taken lightly. Our lives were put in the hands of those who cared. That's performance! And perform we did. That Javelin handled better than any car I've ever been in. The "Gymkahna Suspension Bar Pak" from AMX Enterprises is worth its weight in gold! It is quite the handling experience for a 23 year old car.
We used the best of everything in, on, and around the rest of the car. Local San Diego club member Tom Welch made the front T/A spoiler out of aircraft aluminum as we were not able to use the poorly reproduced fiberglass version which is currently available. He also expertly hand crafted the aluminum ram-air moldings and stainless steel screens for the hood, plus many other hand fabricated items. Not to mention the numerous hours of cutting and welding on the trailer, and the 'Pro-Cob Sportabout' in order to tow Rhondas' Donohue out to the race. He is the best at what he does, and is second to none for qualify and precise expertise. He is a true friend, and I will never know in my lifetime how to properly thank this kind man for all the help he has given us over the years, but for now, thank you, Tom.
Our other major source of help came in the form of Kevin Muckleroy. He's a big-hearted guy with a lot of mechanical knowledge. He spent his days, evenings and weekends at my house helping to prep the car for its incredible journey down the hot Nevada asphalt. The unselfish nature of this guy still boggles my mind. Putting his own life on hold to help us achieve our goal is something I will always be eternally grateful for. Most of the work was accomplished at my house where there are many other AMC cars. He was truly the 'Wizard of Cob in the Land of Misfit Toys'. A most appropriate title. From the front suspension, to the rear axle, this guy had his hands in all of it. A magical sense of mechanical ability like I have never seen. Hundreds of hours, I lost track after awhile. A loyal friend, and a devoted AMC fan. We love ya, Muck! We can't thank you enough.
The day before the race, we were required to go thru a "Tech inspection" where we passed with flying colors. My hair stood on end when the inspector cleared us to drive a max of 130 mph! Not bad for our first time out. The car had safety equipment for 150 mph, but since Rhonda had never driven this race before, they showed us some consideration and let us run at 130. Most new entrants are required to either run the "Touring" class first, or pre-qualify at Vegas International Speedway days before the race. We did neither. A detour we gladly accepted via entering the very controversial 130 mph class. This was the last year they had that class and we were happy to have run in it.
We were scheduled to leave the starting line at 9:01 am (approximately 70 degree outdoor temperature), but due to a major logistics error by the van distributing course worker radios, we left at 11:46 (outside temperature over 100 degrees). The higher temperature would force us to drive slower. As I sat in the passenger seat of my wifes' newly transformed Javelin at the starting line nearly three hours behind schedule, I tried to stay focused on my new job. Pay Attention! Stay alert! Watch for broken down Pantera's, Porsche's, Camaro's and any other obstacles that would prevent us from reaching our destination: the finish line.
Cruising along at 120 mph, the Javelin performed beautifully and at half track we saw Kevin at gate 55. We gave him a thumbs-up and stepped up our speed to 130. Around the next bend we saw Larry Mitchell and Peter Carrell manning gate 56. Before the race, Larry had given us both some good words of advice since he has been down this road before (several times), and we listened. Words of wisdom and safety that kept us calm and focused. Thanks Lar! And thanks for the use of the tires! Boy, those things really get around, don't they?
Actually, things were happening so fast, I didn't have time to be nervous. My wife kept the Javelin in perfect control from start to finish. I was highly impressed. I thought she might freak out at high speed, turns out she likes it! Thanks, Rhonda, for giving me the second best thrill I've ever had. The best thrill of all was the day I married you!
Seeing the finish line was the best feeling of all. Something only four other fellow AMC'ers have ever known. We are now a part of the "American Motorsport Vintage Racing Team", an honor that is not given, but earned. 90 miles had come and gone in what seemed like the twinkling of an eye. Can we go back and do it again, Mommy?
Average speed: 108.8344 mph. Top speed: 155 mph. I can't wait till next year..............think she'll let me drive?
Special thanks to all who helped carry us into AMC history.