July, 2014 – We found out that the Bugatti race cars had come to Sun Valley, Idaho for a reason.
We had arrived in the town of Ketchum just in time for the annual Sun Valley Road Rally, a car race we had seen in its second edition back in 2009.
This very cool “see how fast you can go” road race benefits The Drug Coalition of Blaine County.
At the finish line, each car’s speed is recorded on radar. And for once, the fastest car through the speed trap wins!
Five years ago, when we last saw the Sun Valley Road Rally, it was dominated by a mom, dad, son and daughter who passed the key to their family Porsche Carrera from one to the next as each took a turn in the driver’s seat.
The mom hit 181, the daughter reached 183 mph and the dad got to 186 mph, but the son topped them all at 188 and won the race.
Things have changed a LOT since then. This year a fleet of six Bugatti Veyrons showed up.
These quad turbo charged cars sell for $2.7 million, have an exclusive “W-16” cylinder design (not a “V-8”), and 188 mph is an easy jog for them. They go from 0 to 62 mph in 2.6 seconds.
Spirits were high the night before the race when a parade of fantastic cars zipped through town before the kick-off car show.
This race is open to everyone, and we saw all kinds of fun cars.
An old bright red bathtub Porsche convertible went by. It had a pair of skis tied to the back and an antique suitcase lashed to the trunk.
“He’s going to race like that?” I wondered out loud. The guy next to me nodded. This race is all about having a good time.
“Hey look, it’s the Bat Mobile!” I nudged Mark as a bizarre blue machine roared past.
We later found out it was a 1980’s era McClaren Can-Am car, and it had a bouquet of velocity stacks towering in back.
The next day, out on the race track (well, the highway), the crowd gathered, bussed up from town in school buses.
The Bugattis got lined up at the start while the first car of the day, a Porsche, flew past the crowd at a whopping 219 mph.
Wow. The race was off to an incredible start!
A few more cars limped by in the 180’s and then all our heads turned at once as a blue car flew past at a blinding speed.
“238!” The announcer cried. “From a Nissan GTR!”
I heard some low whistles around me. Then the announcer dropped his voice: “And the Bugattis aren’t happy…”
The gauntlet had been thrown. We watched some Ferarris, Lamborghinis, Audi R8’s and a Ford 500 GT and a few other cars to do their runs. Nothing touched the Nissan. And then the first Bugatti ran. It sounded awesome. It looked really fast…
“229!” The announcer yelled
He sounded almost apologetic! We all stared at each other in surprise. Could a Nissan take the day at 238 mph??!!
One by one, the Bugattis rocketed past us. They were painted in gorgeous colors — two-toned blue, light silver, dark silver and orange. As each one passed, we all held our breath, waiting to hear the speed. And with every single one we all let out a disappointed sigh: “229….229….230…”
These Bugatti Veyrons just weren’t cutting it!
I heard murmurs around me. Would a lowly Nissan that sells for a meager $250k beat a car ten times the price?? Not possible!! Then we all watched in awe as a white dot on the horizon came down the notorious Phantom Hill at lightning speed. I swear, if he went any faster he would have been airborne.
“244!” The announcer boomed. “244! A Bugatti”
OMG. Who WAS this guy?
At the break between heats we rushed down to the finish line to mingle with the cars and drivers and watch them prepare for their next run.
Benjamin Chen, the owner and driver of this white and gold dream machine, was beaming.
He is a massively successful equity manager, but you’d never guess it looking at his boyish grin and blue jeans as he gave us the thumbs up.
A few cars down from him we met up with Josh Ramsey who would be driving the upstart Nissan GTR for its second run in the next heat.
Just 23 years old, and a self-made race car driver who got his start by sweeping floors in the car owner’s shop for nothing, he was excited and nervous, wanting so badly to beat the Bugattis at their own game.
But the tension and rivalry between these top cars was just a small part of the day. There was lots of action in the lower ranks too.
A husband and wife went on a very fast date together, driving their 1957 Corvette convertible at 110 mph.
He wore antique goggles and she wore a fashionable scarf.
A 1950’s open wheel hot rod that had turned heads in the parade crossed the line at 98 mph.
Then another heat of 12 cars lined up and left the staging area to drive to the start line and set up to race.
“Did you see that driver in the yellow Corvette?” Mark suddenly said to me. “She’s the little old lady from Pasadena!”
Huh? I didn’t know what he was talking about until a little while later when the yellow Corvette flew across the finish line and pulled over to park near me.
A grandma climbed out of the driver’s seat, took off her helmet and brushed her hand through her hair.
“Wow!” She gushed, looking up at me. “That was fun!”
“You hit 166,” a young woman yelled as she rushed over to give her a hug.
“How old are you?” I asked, astonished.
“81” She grinned.
“You know, I’ve been 120 mph before,” she said mischievously. “Out on those roads where nobody cares. But I’ve never raced before!”
When she turned around to pump her fist in the air for her fans, her T-shirt said, “Go Granny, Go!” (That link goes to the song on YouTube for you, LOL!)
Meanwhile the race was heating up between the Bugattis and the Nissan.
Benjamin had taken his white and gold Bugatti across the line at 246 mph on his second run, and another Bugatti had matched the Nissan’s 238 mph.
The heat was on.
In the end, though, very unfortunately, the Nissan had a mechanical failure
Our hearts sank its young driver Josh limped back in after his run, wreathed in disappointment.
However, even if he hadn’t won the day, at least his team had given those Bugattis a run for their money.
Over at the leaderboard, champ Benjamin’s grin went from ear to ear as he showed us his winning speed.
He told us the magic key on his necklace puts the car in a special “top speed mode,” dropping the spoiler, closing the air diffusers, and lowering the ground clearance.
Oh, to be a multi-millionaire with a super cool race car and a brilliant a sunny day to play with it out on the open road, especially smack in the middle of the Sawtooth Scenic Byway!
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