Ready. Set. Race.

Sandhills Open Road Challenge advances over 20 years

The Sandhills Open Road Challenge Board pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 20th anniversary of an event that started out with just an idea suggested by Joe Shown at a Chamber meeting. With the backing of a majority of the community and the Custer County Supervisors, the first open road challenge – held on the Arnold-Dunning road – drew only 37 entries in 2001. In 2020, 128 cars were on the grid, coming from 22 states, including Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, California, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, Idaho and Wisconsin.

“The race draws people of all different walks of life and backgrounds. It doesn’t matter here,” said SORC Board member Skip Hecox, who introduced Shelby American, Inc., President Gary Patterson at the awards banquet held Saturday night at the city park. Patterson, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was here from the inception and was an integral part of organizing the race. In the beginning, he served as race director. Patterson had the honor of presenting the awards, but first had a few words to say to the large crowd that had gathered there for the barbecue, entertainment and to hear the results.

“Twenty years ago, 37 cars entered the race and 35 finished. We used a stopwatch for timing and we spent a lot of time in Ron Cool’s basement. It’s been remarkable. They keep coming back year after year and have become life-long friends,” said Patterson.

From the humble beginning of using a stopwatch, everything about the SORC has advanced over the past 20 years. Now, timing computers and equipment specifically designed and built for open road racing by Green Electro Sports are used.

The first year, hand-held radios were used on the course for communication that maybe reached a couple of miles at the most. Every so often, someone with a bigger radio was used as a relay person. Conners’ and Haglers’ repeaters were also used for that first couple of years. Now, 120 radios are shipped in from Denver from Radio Resource. SORC has its own antenna up on the tower on the hill. Now, volunteers can talk the entire way of the course, from town up to the north end.

Planes started circling the sky after about the second year and 11 years ago, Dan Duncan, flight paramedic for Star Care, started traveling to Arnold.

Five-point harnesses have always been used for safety, but now, two volunteers check all driver’s belts at the start line making sure they are tight and snug.

An estimated 200 volunteers, including flaggers, timers, scorers, the tech crew, people at the Y and numerous local fire department members now man the course for Saturday’s open road race.

Behind the scenes, School House Graphic Products students have applied the numbers and sponsor graphics and helped out in other ways from the very beginning.

“Without our volunteers, it wouldn’t happen. They are a tremendous resource for our community. We appreciate all the time you give,” said Hecox.

In celebration of the 20th year, entertainment was added to this year’s normal schedule. A 4-person golf scramble was held to raise money for ARA playground equipment, two jump houses – one with two giant slides were brought to the city park for families to enjoy on Saturday, comedian/ magician Gayle Becwar performed before the awards ceremony and fireworks lit up the night sky on Saturday night, with Rascal Martinez performing on the outdoor stage at Grazer’s Bar & Grill.

Extra precautions were taken this year due to the pandemic, with temperatures taken at the door registration, shields were put up and masks were worn. In the months leading up to SORC, many wondered if the event would be held at all, but the board and everyone involved pulled it off. The other two open road races in the U.S. – the Silver State Classic Challenge in Nevada and the Big Bend Open Road Race in Texas were cancelled this year due to COVID 19.

“You would just be amazed by everybody that said thank you for having it with all the COVID. They were just tickled to death to do something normal,” said Brock Dailey, who serves as SORC co-race director
with Jeff Preston.

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