History of.. Silver State Classic – Enthusiast Motor Insurance

February 14th, 2023

In rural Nevada, State Highway 318 winds its way through high desert alongside the White River as a mix of open, flowing straights and curves interspersed with tighter, more technical sections requiring caution. Starting at a junction near Crystal Springs and terminating near the town of Ely, this backroad shortcut of State Route 93 is a picturesque and entertaining road, which made it the perfect host to the craziest race in America.

Imagine racing down a public two-lane road in the desert for 150km at an average speed of over 350km/h. This is the reality of the Silver State Classic, which has turned the State Route 318 into a flat-out race track for 35 years. Traditionally run on the third Sunday of September another racing event is also held on the same weekend in May.

On September 25 1988 the State of Nevada closed a 145km (90 mile) section of State Highway 318 at the request of Steve Waldman, who wanted to run the first open road rally on US soil in 50 years. It was all organised in two months, with the Showboat Hotel in Vegas the official host property and around 50 cars turned up.

That first year saw a mix of old race cars and late-model exotics, including 6 Ferraris, 13 Porsches, 4 Corvettes, and even a 1956 Dodge D500. Rather than a wheel-to-wheel contest the Silver State Classic is a timed sprint in one direction, starting near Ely, with the highest average speed over the course judged as the top dog on the day.

In 1988 the winner was Jim Liautad’s brand new Ferrari Testarossa, which averaged 162mph along the course route. Amazingly, only three vehicles failed to finish and nobody was injured, though crashes have claimed the lives of a handful of racers throughout the years.

Things really started moving towards making the SSC an internationally-renowned event by the second year. With better preparation, over 100 entrants fronted for 1989 with 19-year-old R.J Gottlieb driving the famous Big Red ’69 Camaro to an astounding 197.99mph average speed to obliterate the competition. Since then, course refinements and improved car technology has seen the record average speed for the 90-mile course raised to over 219mph (353km/h).

There are four broad classes cars can compete in, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Sport, and Super Sport. These all have different tech and safety requirements, and target speeds that the driver and navigator need to get as close to as possible. However, at the top of the pops is the Unlimited class for those hardy souls who want to go as fast as possible down the whole course.

Over the years celebrities and noted racers have tried their hand at the Silver State Classic, including Isle of Mann TT legend Guy Martin in a specially prepared van .

But one of the most infamous was Option Magazine’s Daijiro Inada, who brought a highly modified Nissan 350Z called the Option Stream-Z to race the event in 1999 and between 2003-2006. In 2003 a blown tyre caused a terrifying crash that pulped the hand-built race car, all of which was caught on camera and added to the super-popular Video Option DVD magazine. Thankfully Inada, the godfather of drifting, survived but the crash became legendary in the JDM tuning scene.

For all the non-racers out there check out ww.enthusiast.com.au.