There are few places that I'd rather be than behind the wheel of a high-power Mustang. More than just the adrenaline derived from acceleration and speed, I crave the pressure of competition, of being in the moment where you can win or lose, where you put it all on the line.
Dale's Tire Center in South Bend was kind enough to swap on our Michelin Pilot Sport tires
In nearly two decades as an automotive journalist and racer, I have competed in drag racing, road racing, karting, hill climbs, and other automotive contests, but none as grueling as the eight-day Tire Rack One Lap Of America. In this week-plus long contest, contestants drive over 4,000 miles, race balls-to-the-wall at all types of tracks, and sleep very little. OLOA is a rigorous test of man and machine, albeit one the average Joe can compete in. I accepted the challenge offered by Tim Wheeler of Roush Performance to compete in the 2012 OLOA behind the wheel of a shiny silver 565hp 2013 Roush RS3. Participating would provide excellent editorial and Internet fodder.
Brock Yates' OLOA began as the coast-to-coast Cannonball Run (which they made a movie about), but has evolved into an on-track racing event encompassing drag racing, oval track, skidpad, and road-course racing, with long transits between venues.
To share in this epic adventure, I called on MM&FF freelancer and owner of Track Guys Performance Driving Events, Jeff Lacina. "As a seasoned track driver and instructor, I've seen and driven on my fair share of race tracks and road courses," Jeff stated. "However, as an OLOA rookie (or lap puppy, as we were called by the veterans), the diversity of the tracks and the events in which we had to compete were like nothing I've ever experienced."
While the route changes each year, the OLOA format remains consistent. We visited 10 racetracks (with 18 individual events), and the score is derived from cumulative laps times from each event. Basically, the driver gets an out lap (or recon lap) to warm the brakes and tires (or learn the track, in my case), then you stop at the start/finish line. One at a time, the cars are given the green flag and run three flying laps. Since I hadn't been to a single venue, I had to learn the corners as I danced about at speed--not an easy task.
In all, we spent eight days racing around the country--we covered 4,043 road miles, ate the most lavish gas-station cuisine, and, at times, experienced sleep deprivation, and mental and physical fatigue. Our reward? Powering around famous racetracks, meeting amazing people, seeing our great country, and feeling the satisfaction of completing what has been called "the most grueling eight days of racing in the world."
Start Your Engines
Jeff and I picked up our mount in Plymouth, Michigan, at Roush Performance headquarters. Our home for the week was a silver Stage 3 Mustang packing 565 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque. It was boosted by an R2300 TVS supercharger, and had the enhanced Roush hardware that we've come to love, such as stiffened suspension, big brakes (we changed to Hawk racing pads), and 20-inch wheels.
Before heading out, Jeff and I had a briefing with 2011 OLOA competitors Jack Roush Jr. and Jay Velthoven. As you may know, Roush's other driver, Billy Johnson, won the OLOA the previous year. Being amateurs and total rookies of the event, Jeff and I set our goals on finishing the week, and then hoping for a top five in class.
With the back seat and trunk overflowing with gear, we made our way to South Bend, Indiana, home of Tire Rack, where the event would begin. South Bend is also the home of Notre Dame University, and by chance, Jeff and I got to take a stroll onto the famous football field.
By chance we ran into a fellow named Jeff, who handles the grounds at Notre Dame. Lacina a
After feeding our faces at a local watering hole that was slightly seedy, we spent the next morning at Dale's Tire Service swapping tires and applying the OLOA stickers to the Roush. The rules require you to purchase a set of tires from Tire Rack; you must finish on those tires, which are stamped "OLOA 12." Wreck a tire or wear one out prematurely and you're done. You get a pass if it's an unforeseeable puncture, but unless you purchased a spare and carried it with you, you're screwed.
The registration day was relaxed, but I could sense the energy and desire of the competitors to get on the track. The makeshift pits were littered with amateurs, seasoned track dawgs, and a few professional drivers waiting to sink their teeth into the competition. As for the vehicles, there were about 75 total, 14 in our class. They ranged from a gutted Honda CRX (driver Andy Hollis even swapped a race seat for a stock seat at every track), to a slew of professionally driven M-class Bimmers, to Vipers, Vettes, Mustangs, Camaros, and a gaggle of GTR's. Plus a sprinkle of factory-prepped rigs, such as a stripped-down turbocharged 540hp Honda Odyssey mini van, a slick SRT-8 Jeep, along with other specially prepped street-legal iron with built engines and huge spoilers.
Vehicles were categorized by price and engine size. With a base MSRP of $46,300, we slipped into the SSGT2 Big Bore class, the home for vehicles with an engine larger than 3.5 liters and costing less than $50,000. Vehicles were initially run in order of entry, but after the first day, the order was determined by scoring.
It was hugely beneficial to score big on the first three tracks. OLOA officials allow about six cars on track per group, so starting early meant finishing early. Finishing early meant we could hit the road quickly, and that's important when you have 350-to-600-plus-mile transits between tracks. There's a big difference between arriving at a hotel at midnight versus 2 a.m.!