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Spectre 341 run video: Respecting the hill

Tue, 21 Jun 2011 00:00:00 -0700

Palms sweaty, check. Stomach in knots, check. Flagman in view from the driver's seat of a 556-hp Cadillac CTS-V wagon, check. The signal comes from the radio and we're good to go. The green flag drops on my first run up the mountain for the Spectre 341 Challenge in the Nevada desert.

I had it easy. Spectre Performance loaned me a ride with antilock brakes and traction and stability control, which were left on. I pull off in first gear with a 30-foot run up to the timing gates and before I know it, I am in turn one. It's a left-hand sweeper good for high second gear. Then a hard left before going back right. I miss the apex.

After 10 recon runs in a rental car and a slow-motion crawl up the hill in the record-holder's Winnebago, I still don't know the course. But I'm not playing for time or trophies, just the experience. As the rights and lefts pass by I grow a little more confident, remembering what Spectre owner Amir Rosenbaum told us.

It's a scary course, rock walls on one side and sheer cliffs to the other. But it's fun when you're not going all out. Corner workers pass, turn eight, turn 10, turn 12. Before I know it, the 5.2 miles pass in what seems like seconds. I pull the helmet off, wipe the sweat from my brow, smile at the firemen working the finish line and head back down the mountain.

I ran four times in the afternoon, not a bad number considering the 35 other guys (and one woman) who competed in the event. On each run I grow a bit more confident, while trying not to let my bravery outrun my talent. That's very important on Highway 341--last year, a driver was lost on the hill.

Safety is always stressed at Spectre, and this year was no different. At the line, there's a flagman and Jimi Day. Day's job is to talk you down before the run. He'll give you some tips and remind you to keep it safe out there.

"The track's warm," Day says. "The line is starting to show up too."

"This is my first run of the day," I say. "I'm taking it easy."

"You'll be fine," he says. "Keep your eyes up. I'll give you some extra time before I send the next guy off."

My heartbeat slows from hummingbird to cheetah.

My best time was 4 minutes, 23 seconds, well off the target of 3 minutes, 41 seconds that the challenge is named for. But no matter, according to some Spectre employees. They say I beat everyone who didn't come out and try. It makes me feel a bit better.

Maybe next year I'll bring the Pontiac--well, maybe not. Taming the hill takes power, preferably boosted in the thin mountain air, nerves of steel and a brass set of you-know-whats. All-wheel drive helps, and practice--more practice than an amateur has time for.

I'm already plotting my next trip.

By Jake Lingeman