Big Red History 1989

By the time the La Carrera Classica rolled back around in 1989, RJ and Dan  were eager to get back to Baja. The rest of the field was less thrilled about their return. The year before, the Camaro had cleaned the track with those high-dollar European slicksters, despite having had a fender bender early on in the ’88 race. This year, many thought, was destined to be a repeat wide-margin victory. It was a solid start. The next closest Italian car couldn’t get within 60 mph of Big Red’s top speed. During the La Carrera event, Mexico’s Highway 3 is supposed to be a closed course; still it was with some surprise that Big Red came up on a cow having a wander across the road. Dan, who was riding in the navigator seat, swore that the cow let out a startled “mooooo” as Big Red blew past at 150-plus mph. The meat hook reality, though, is that you have to finish the race to win, and after leading the pack throughout most of the race, a clutch failure earned Big Red a DNF.If that wasn’t bad enough, even worse news waited after the event. Big Red’s margins of victory were just too wide, and many of the other competitors sus

course, as the irate highway patrolman pointed out, he was in a 35-mph zone! A talented scribe like Joe is usually reserved for a great novel, but somehow that gearhead was writing for Hot Rod, and he wanted to be in the seat when Big Red pushed the tach needle to 7,000 rpm. At one point, the car was recorded on radar hitting 222 mph! Joe wanted the experience as RJ took the car teetering along the edge. The edge that, as Hunter S. Thompson pointed out, is really only known to those who have gone over it. The rest of us, the living, only get as close as we dare By any objective measure, the SSCC was and is a safer venue than Baja’s Highway 3. Still, in a grim reminder of exactly how thin that line can be in the hell for glory world of auto racing, a tire failure caused a Ferrari to go into a high-speed crash that resulted in a fatality. RJ took the win, completing the 92-mile desert course at an average speed of 197.99 mph in 27 minutes 54 seconds Big Red’s reputation among the racing set was now roaring as loud as its engine. Dan and RJ were invited to a 24- Car “Supercar Shootout” put on by Road & Track magazine. Admittedly, this was an odd fit. The ’69 Camaro was a great American muscle car; not one of those high-end supercars that Road & Track tends to feature. With its stunning victories, as well as theatrical, overpowered technical qualities, Big Red 

By the time the La Carrera Classica rolled back around in 1989, RJ and Dan  were eager to get back to Baja. The rest of the field was less thrilled about their return. The year before, the Camaro had cleaned the track with those high-dollar European slicksters, despite having had a fender bender early on in the ’88 race. This year, many thought, was destined to be a repeat wide-margin victory. It was a solid start. The next closest Italian car couldn’t get within 60 mph of Big Red’s top speed.

During the La Carrera event, Mexico’s Highway 3 is supposed to be a closed course; still it was with some surprise that Big Red came up on a cow having a wander across the road. Dan, who was riding in the navigator seat, swore that the cow let out a startled “mooooo” as Big Red blew past at 150-plus mph. The meat hook reality, though, is that you have to finish the race to win, and after leading the pack throughout most of the race, a clutch failure earned Big Red a DNF. If that wasn’t bad enough, even worse news waited after the event. Big Red’s margins of victory were just too wide, and many of the other competitors suspected the car of not being a stock car at all, but a purebred racecar with a Camaro shell draped over it. They demanded that the car be banned from the race altogether. Big Red would never participate at the La Carrera Classica again, but from there it was dubbed the “Outlaw Racer.” A name both father and son warmly embraced.

1989 Silver State Classic

Despite the ban from the race in Baja, it was the second running of the Silver State Classic in Nevada that forever put Big Red on the map. On the morning of the race in September 1989, RJ’s co-pilot was none other than the daring staff writer for Hot Rod magazine, Joe Pettitt. A little something Dan arranged with Hot Rod Editor Jeff Smith. As Joe detailed in his great account of the event, it was an adventure before the race even started. 

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On the drive from Ely to the starting grid, RJ noticed some blue and red lights whirling in the rearview mirror, then heard the awful yip of the highway patrol siren. Later in the race, RJ would push Big Red to 222 mph, but at the moment he’d been cruising along at 70 mph, mostly because the gear ratios made it difficult to go much slower. Of course, as the irate highway patrolman pointed out, he was in a 35-mph zone. 

A talented scribe like Joe is usually reserved for a great novel, but somehow that gearhead was writing for Hot Rod, and he wanted to be in the seat when Big Red pushed the tach needle to 7,000 rpm. At one point, the car was recorded on radar hitting 222 mph! Joe wanted the experience as RJ took the car teetering along the edge. The edge that, as Hunter S. Thompson pointed out, is really only known to those who have gone over it. The rest of us, the living, only get as close as we dare.

Big Red Camaro car
Big Red Camaro car

By any objective measure, the SSCC was and is a safer venue than Baja’s Highway 3. Still, in a grim reminder of exactly how thin that line can be in the hell for glory world of auto racing, a tire failure caused a Ferrari to go into a high-speed crash that resulted in a fatality. RJ took the win, completing the 92-mile desert course at an average speed of 197.99 mph in 27 minutes 54 seconds.

Big Red’s reputation among the racing set was now roaring as loud as its engine. Dan and RJ were invited to a 24- Car “Supercar Shootout” put on by Road & Track magazine. Admittedly, this was an odd fit. The ’69 Camaro was a great American muscle car; not one of those high-end supercars that Road & Track tends to feature. With its stunning victories, as well as theatrical, overpowered technical qualities, Big Red was hard to ignore in any corner of the racing world. The “Supercar Shootout” was held in Arizona at the Nissan proving grounds, with a 5.7-mile high-banked oval test track. It was a new and different venue for Big Red, a world away from the 90- and 120-mile open-road courses it was used to running. In order to ring every last mph out of the car, Dan and RJ taped up the grille and most of the body seams and trim. No one knew how she’d run, but in the end, the onlookers were shocked at a 203-mph top speed Big Red hit on the straightaway, beating the competition in a landslide. 

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This was almost certainly not the outcome the Road & Track editorial staff was betting on, and then, after re-verifying the radar gun, they asked RJ to do it just one more time. So he did, much to their embarrassment. Here was a 20-yearold vintage piece putting the hurt on the best of the current model year vehicles R&T had selected. And it showed on the newsstand when the magazines cover photo of the field of 24 cars appeared, Big Red was “mysteriously” cropped out of the picture, despite the setting the top speed.

Big Red Camaro car

Overall, 1989 was a stellar year for Team Big Red, not only on the track, but in the media. They graced the pages of Autoweek twice (April 3rd and October 9th) in race features. And in true outlaw fashion, in a complaint letter in the May 22 issue about the perils of La Carrera. In December, it made the Hot Rod “Most Awesome of the Decade.” In a piece about the open-road speed events, focused on the new and popular Silver State Classic Challenge, Big Red was in the pages of Sports Car International magazine. The truth was, as the year idled to a close, the legend of Big Red was just getting started.

Big Red Camaro records
Big Red Camaro records
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