Silver State Classic


1989 Silver State Classic

In September 1989, the Silver State Classic in Nevada became a pivotal chapter in the legacy of Big Red, a car banned from its previous stomping grounds in Baja. That morning, RJ Gottlieb, steering the legendary ’69 Camaro, had an unlikely co-pilot: Joe Pettitt, a daring staff writer from Hot Rod magazine, thanks to a setup by editor Jeff Smith. Their adventure kicked off even before reaching the starting line, with an unexpected chase by highway patrol—RJ, cruising at 70 mph due to the car’s hefty gear ratios, was starkly reminded by an irate officer that they were in a 35-mph zone.


Joe, more accustomed to penning thrilling stories than living them, found himself in the thick of one. His narrative prowess was tested in real-time as Big Red roared to 222 mph, radar confirmed, pushing the limits of mechanical and human endurance. This thrilling run, a dance on the razor’s edge of automotive engineering, was underscored by the somber reality of the sport—a devastating crash that claimed a life, starkly illustrating the perilous balance between glory and the grave.

RJ and Big Red triumphed, blazing through the 92-mile desert course with a blistering average speed of 197.99 mph, clocking in at just under 28 minutes. Their victory was not just a testament to speed but to the spirit of adventure that defines the most daring of road races. This run not only secured Big Red’s place in racing folklore but also reminded everyone of the razor-thin line between triumph and tragedy in the pursuit of ultimate speed.

camaro car and driver
camaro car and driver

1991 Nevada Open Road Challenge (Silver State Classic)

By 1991, Big Red had transcended its origins as merely a fierce contender; it was now a bona fide icon. In the bright May sunshine of the Nevada desert, the legendary Camaro returned to the tarmac for the Nevada Open Road Challenge, the spring counterpart to the Silver State Classic. For RJ, the decision to race was straightforward—it was the very event his father, Dan, had helped pioneer.


Big Red, a beast of a machine with an 800-horsepower engine, was no longer just about the adrenaline rush of one young man—it had become a symbol of raw American muscle overpowering the sleek Ferraris and Corvettes, often the stars of the pre-race show. Despite the previous day’s unpredictable weather with wind and late snow, the race day dawned clear, setting the stage for a drama of speed on the open road.

RJ masterfully maneuvered Big Red through the challenging 92-mile course. Although the road conditions were tougher and the speeds slightly reduced from past glory—topping at 208 mph and averaging 189.25 mph—it was enough to secure another triumph. Big Red sailed across the finish line, capturing the first-place trophy in the unlimited class once more, proving that true legends adapt and overcome.

The spectacle of Big Red’s dominance was not lost on the media; in September, All Chevy magazine dedicated a three-page spread to this automotive titan. Following closely, Turbo & Hi-Tech Performance magazine featured Big Red, cementing its status as a star not just of the road, but of the heart and spirit of American car culture.

2011 Silver State Classic 

In September 2011, Big Red returned to its roots at the Silver State Classic Challenge with RJ and Joe Pettitt, a retired co-driver, reuniting for the race. Despite a challenging road surface, RJ skillfully managed an average speed of 185.972 mph over the 90-mile course, with peak speeds reaching 222 mph on straight sections. Their expert handling and strategic driving clinched first place in the Unlimited class.

custom red camaro
best classic race cars
big red camaro