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200+ MPH and Street Legal?
by Lonnie Dionne ©2002

There are among us many car enthusiast who dream of reaching 200+ mph. And It may be possible, IF” they prepare a vehicle and enter in one of the street legal open road races held each year. A friend of mine who is a freelance journalist and who knows I have build and raced cars that compete in these races. And that I am often hired as a consultant and chassis specialist by several of the teams that chase the evasive 200+ mph. He came to me recently, asking just how difficult and expensive it would be to build a 200+ mph car, and to do so as safely and inexpensively as possible. I decided I would attempt to put a time schedule and price tag on building a safe, approved 200+ mph car as expeditiously and as inexpensive as I could.

I conducted research with several of the speed and safety suppliers I utilize on a regular basis. I gathered research information from several sources, A lot of this information came directly from the horse’s mouth, the FEARLESS unlimited drivers.(Maybe I should say, from the horsepower’s mouth.) Having competed in many of the OPEN ROAD RACES held in the Western United States, and having worked on several competitors cars during these events I started putting the data together

To continue with the project, I discussed many issues with and asked questions of most of the unlimited drivers. The quote I heard more than once was that

“It takes Cubic Horsepower and Cubic Dollars to run 200+ mph”.

It’s A Lot Like, How Fast Can You Afford To go?

There is an available software application called “Bonneville”?, (a top speed simulation program.) a mathematical formula is used on the computer to simulate a race vehicles top speed using the options that are entered in the formula. Including frontal area, drag coefficient, horsepower, gear ratios, and tire size.
This formula has proven several times what Most Open Road Racers know that as speed doubles, drag coefficient increases by the “SQUARE” (2X2=4). But what most of these enthusiasts don’t know, is that the Horsepower Requirement to double your speed, increases by the “CUBE”.

That means that if it requires100 horsepower to run 100+ mph in a Specific Vehicle”, it will take 800 hp (2X2X2=8) to push the “Same Car” to 200+ mph. Comparing the difference between Drag and the Horsepower requirement it is obvious that it will be easier, (and less expensive) to go faster with a “Swoopier Body” than it is with “Brute Horsepower”. With that in mind we will proceed.

The quest seems to be, How to get to 200+ mph, without Going Broke. Many novices seem to believe that it is as simple as building a “Killer Engine” drop it in “Any Car” and run 200+mph! Is it that Easy? Yes and No! Those who chase the evasive 200+mph daily seem to agree on a path of least resistance (a pun of the drag coefficient! Later on that.)

First and foremost is that your quest for 200+ mph is very serious, OPEN ROAD RACING IS THE MOST DANGEROUS FORM OF RACING IN THE WORLD. And ”Do Not Try It On The Public Highways Without The Approval Of The Highway Patrol”, the Highway Patrol frowns on this activity greatly? And it is very dangerous without proper supervision, and safety control.

Using the data that I have gathered, along with my own experience, and the advise of those others who truly know this sport. I find the easiest route is to purchase a “1982 to 1992 Camaro, or a forth generation 1984 1988 Corvette both now fairly inexpensive as racecars go. Since Top Speed Racing is not a weight conscious sport (in fact, a heavy car is much more stable at speed, although less so in the corners.) So a 1984 Camaro was selected as the car of choice, it has a drag coefficient of 0.33, which is already very smooth, and will punch a nice small hole in the air that you can run 200+ mph through, and that information was entered in to the Bonneville data base. ” We paid $5000.

Then I looked into a power source, and decided we should carefully drop in a “Budget Based” single four-barrel Big Block, maybe a 454/468 Rat motor? I selected the GM Performance Parts version of their 502 cubic inch (KILLER) motor, readily available in a crate at your local Chevrolet Dealer. $ 5,500 base price. Either can be built without completely empting your checking account.

The next step would be to select the drive train, and as most die hard racers have done for 15 years; I opted for a 9 inch Ford Rear end, $500, a good choice. It offers us a wide selection of gear ratio’s up to a 2:47 final gear and they’re readily available at a reasonable cost. And it will Allow us to use a straight four-speed, $350, saving us the additional very heavy expenses of an overdrive transmission unit, or an expensive six speed. However utilizing this combination will mean spinning that big block at 6,500 rpm’s to reach that evasive 200+ mph.
Keep in mind that 200+ mph is equal to 293 feet per second, which is just a tad short of covering the length of a “FOOTBALL FIELD EVERY SECOND”.

Selected optional upgrades would be performed on my 502 cubic inch Big Block to ensure the Big Block would produce the 475+ horse power $4,800, CAM, LIFTERS, HEADERS, CARB MODIFICATIONS, BALANCING, CLUTCH, I was looking for something near 500 horsepower to reach 200+ mph. With a 475 horsepower engine, we would have enough power and aerodynamics to push over 200+ mph. With a 3:55 gear, the simulator showed we could run 212 mph. If we get greedy, we could punch out the 502 c.i. engine and bump it up to 600 horsepower, reduce the drag coefficient from 0.33 to an 0.28, and our Camaro simulated an amazing 228 MPH, Hurray ! ! ! AN ADDITIONAL $ 2650

That’s “Haulin Ass” in any language.

Please take note, there are very few places where you can legally test this type vehicle, or actually race it. The easiest and least expensive venue is one of the several Top Speed events (Open Road Races) in Nevada and Texas. The “CARS” sanctioned Pony Express races offer the most opportunities. I am here to tell you, they (CARS) are very serious about their sanctioning and you will have to meet or exceed their stringent list of proper safety equipment.

And if you pass that inspection and you’re still serious about running 200+ mph, you have to first prove to the sanctioning body that you can handle a car at excessive speeds. That will mean competing in a slower class in a previous race to your 200+ mph quest. There are good reasons for this. Top speed racing is inherently dangerous and experience is the only teacher for learning to drive at these speeds.



To continue on our road to 200+ mph, your next obstacle will be preparation of the CAR, CHASSIS, BRAKES, SAFETY, PROTECTION AND AERODYNAMICS. All involving your safety and the safety elements within the car itself. We will cover the additions that are required by the sanctioning bodies, to be able to compete in the car you are preparing; they are costly, but mandatory both in achieving your 200mph quest, and in doing so safely. Your 200+ mph entry will be required to possess no less than the following.

10 – Point Roll Cage, with the sub frames tied together (actually welded not tied), $500

Racing Seats, Properly installed and approved. $1000

Professional Onboard Fire Extinguisher System, with the approved number of strategically placed nozzles in the driver’s compartment

Fuel Cell, An approved quality steel-enclosed unit. Properly installed of course. $400

Fire Suit, The Southern California Timing Association’s (SCTA) Bonneville safety rules require any driver traveling at 200+ mph to wear a three-layer fire suit. $1500

Nomex Long Underwear, Approved $325

Nomex Gloves, Approved $100

Nomex Shoes, Approved $125

Nomex Socks, Approved $25

Full-Face Helmet, Snell Approved $650

Brake Up-grades, Larger specialized brake calipers, pads, and even high temperature fluids are required. $1550

Fire Extinguisher, Strategically mounted hand held approved fire extinguisher. $100

Tires, Approved for the speed and class you select. $1500

You’ve got all that stuff riding around in your trunk! Right? Maybe NOT, but you damned well WILL HAVE if your still traveling toward the 200+ mph Quest.

Besides the safety equipment required, engine and drive train durability are a major concern. Engine, Transmission and Rear End Coolers are virtually a necessity at this speed since the amount of heat generated by the transmission and rear end will break down even the best synthetic lubricants, it is not UN-common to actually BOIL the rear end and transmission fluids during the 100 mile run. Remember, most events are held in the smoldering desserts of Nevada, and Texas
Very large oil coolers ducted with fresh air and FANS are a necessity for the engines longevity since at these power levels heat is the main enemy. When you consider, and you must consider, that the engine will basically be run at Wide-Open-Throttle for over 25 minutes, it has to be in prime condition, just to finish.

The next critical factor you will face is “TIRES”; Tires are THE Number One Critical Factor. The four little eight inch by eight inch patches where these meet the road, are the only contact you have to keep control of your 200+ mph projectile. The current “Z” speed rating means that the tires are tested at 168 mph. According to the C.A.R.S tire consultant, Eric Pettersen (I have had several discussions with him, a very knowledgeable guy) the “Z” rating does not mean you can run them at speeds exceeding 168 mph. Tire pressure and load is very critical at these speeds. Tire pressure is advertised at 44 psi, though Eric recommends that with the high down force loads on these tires they may require more pressure to prevent damaging the tires. Heat is also the major enemy here too! (Remember we are in the Texas, and Nevada Deserts) High-Speed Tires and Higher Inflation Pressures tend to reduce the tendency for a tire to overheat due to Sidewall Deflection.
The experts tend to shave of a portion off the full tread depth, to reduce its ability to build heat. Eric has a list of recommended tires for the 200+ mph class drivers. They change periodically so you need to check with Eric before you invest in tires if possible. The Pony Express Record Holder, “Rick Doria” uses the new “Hoosier Road Race Series Tires”, they are extremely soft and hold the road, but they are susceptible to road punctures from even sharp rocks.

Once you get to that 168 mph plateau, you will have to work on the “Aerodynamics and Chassis” to creep up on the 200+ mph you demand. Air Dams, belly pans, rear wings that are Adjustable, Make a note here, Adjustable, but lockable. and major chassis modifications are required to create a stable racecar that is capable of reaching that seemingly unattainable 200+ mph. A High-Speed Chassis consultant (i.e. “ME” or one of several others should be contacted to avoid unneeded expenses. And to ensure Totally Safety Requirements are met and to ensure the handling and control you will need to reach the evasive 200+ mph are inherent to your vehicle, prior to launching from the starting line on your “200+ mph QUEST” $4500

Now lets consider our cars drag coefficient and total frontal area that are responsible for your car being able to punch a hole in the air you can run 200+ mph through.

The smoother and slipperier the car, the easier it cuts through the air. So smooth it out, even a super wax job will help you reach your goal. Aerodynamics is the True Key when you want to push the envelope, and achieve the evasive,“200+ mph” Without Aerodynamics; you will Struggle, Fail and Often Cry. Those who have reached 200+ mph, have done so by achieving the most desirable Aerodynamic shape possible with our vehicles. We have gone so far as to remove the door handles, antennas, chrome, then “200 MPH TAPE ALL” the body seams, (hood, headlight openings, grill area not used in cooling, window lines, hood and bumper openings.) We replace the outside rear view door mirrors with the smallest ones possible, install full Belly Pans, Front Air Dams (a necessity). Rear wings, some type of rear wing, or air foil is also necessary to add down force when high speed air rushes under the car and tries to lift the rear wheels off the ground. It is also needed to ensure traction of the rear tires, at that mark of 200+ mph

Now, one more item that we need to address, if and when you achieve that mystical 200+ mph. You have to be able to stop this projectile when you cross the finish line, or if you experience trouble, or if you just decide to park it.

Stock brakes will not stop a car exceeding 200+ mph, it requires much enhancement to the existing units. Special brake pad materials, even special brake fluid (stock brake fluid actually boils) several aftermarket suppliers offer bolt on units that will do the job, just know you have to update those stock units.

So there you have it, the basic recipe for running 200+ mph. Building a 200+ mph street legal car really is challenging, and it is not cheap, but this formula should give you a recipe to start your project. And besides all of these pricey parts, you will need a Herd of Friends to get the job done. It is a great team building experience, and you will find it requires the input and knowledge of many others to achieve your goal, and a 200mph race Team is an enjoyable thing to be a part of.

You will also be under the scrutiny of the local Sheriffs Department; they are responsible for actually shutting down the State highway to allow you and your club to attempt to run that 200+ mph. You will gain additional respect for these guys with the “Smokey The Bear Hats”. There really is a time and place for everything, and the state highway running nearly 100 miles through the desert, is the place to put the petal to the Metal, under the watchful eye of the local sheriff, and the sanctioning body. Please keep it in mind like I said, This form of racing is the most dangerous form of racing in America today.

When you arrive in the “Berg” where they are holding the race, the whole town comes out to celebrate with you, wherever you go. They have Parades, Car Shows, Barbecue’s, Parties, and the Local Little League teams came out and cooked a Pancake Breakfast for all the team members. And everyone in the town seems involved; they will try to help you find anything you might need. A Local Welder, a Good Tire Shop, front-end Alignment, and more. Parts, Pieces, Tow Truck, Good Food, Cold drinks, Medicine, and at night, a place to relax and kick back. I usually go “Dancing” ( Yea! Right after I get all MY Competitors cars working ). I Usually spend 4 – 10 hours a night helping any team needing my expertise with the last minute required, changes, an engine MISS, A tire clearance problem, A safety violation change required to compete. I volunteer my time and experience to help as many Teams get ready to explode off the starting line Sunday Morning. So I often spend all night the night before the big race, helping teams other than my own, make the START.

Still the idea of building a street legal 200+ mph machine and driving it to Nevada to run 200+ mph and then driving it home is the ultimate quest, and appealing to some of us, others just won’t understand why? There are no grandstands full of spectators. There are no big purses for the new record holders; and some no ALL of your friends will talk about your sanity behind your back when you walk away from their group. But after you run the race course just once, if you’re like most of us you will be hooked for life.

Man has chased the “Need for Speed” for more than 50 years, and the saga continues. So I hope to see you in Ely Nevada, in May. I will be there with my Cincinnati Based 1999 C5 Corvette Race Team sponsored by Tim Lally Chevrolet, The Worlds Largest Chevrolet Dealer. We will be attempting to run that magic 200+ mph, and set a new Record as the Worlds Fastest Street Legal Car. They don’t give us much time to bolt on more horsepower or other improvements between races. But it is a challenge to try! We spent most of our time on improving the chassis; we converted this brand new Corvette to a full Coil Over Chassis, and cleaned up the Aerodynamics immensely, LOOK OUT FOR US!

Don’t get me wrong, Running 200+ mph is not for everyone. As a matter of fact, there were some 235 cars in the Ely Nevada race in March, There were only 4 entries in the Unlimited class, and only about eight more in the 180 mph class. There are several slower classes from 95 mph, and 105 mph and all the way up to the Unlimited Class, at 200+ mph. Each class has different rules, and the slower classes do not require much more than your safe family car, and a helmet. I have watched a 67 Buick compete, a 63 HEMI Dodge (Kick Butt Fast, I might add. And the loudest entry too), a gaggle of Corvettes, (They have their own club). The Corvettes are fast; most compete around the 150 mph class. There are many foreign cars Toyotas, even the world’s fasted “KIA”, bright yellow, there is no limit to the amount of fun you can enjoy in this type racing. You have much to do for the whole weekend, Parades, Car shows, Barbeques, lunches, an award Banquet, where you If you have a car that’s in good physical shape, with good safe tires on it, you don’t need special tires for these slower classes. You could be the next World Champ in your own Class, and have a trophy to show all your friends, come up and join us; you can probably compete in the race in Ely! Call the club and find out. There are several female drivers too; and you don’t have to be a driver, it takes a driver and a navigator to compete in most classes. At these high speeds, it is very practical to have a navigator assist you in navigating the course. It’s a great help when your sliding through a big right sweeper and the navigator says, the next one is a sharp left, then a six mile straight away, partially up hill, with two right hand sweepers after that. It really helps.

So a husband and wife team, two guys, or two girls, are all well suited for this type of racing. You can “Share That Need For Speed” with someone you love too! It’s a weekend of fun for everyone

Feel free to give me an e-mail
Las Vegas, Nevada.

Dr. Lonnie Dionne

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