If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to blaze across the wide expanses of West Texas at top speed, there’s a legal way to find out: Each April, the Big Bend Open Road Race gives car-racing enthusiasts a shot at posting their best time on US 285 between Fort Stockton and Sanderson, with top racers regularly breaking 200 mph.
It’s the most challenging open-road race in the nation and the biggest event of the year for both cities, says Kenda Furman-Belardo, a coordinator of the race since 2002. The supercharged competition has become an annual tradition for hundreds of racers and volunteers, along with car clubs and several generations of families from all over the nation.
Almost anyone (and any car) can enter, but the rules are strict, and rookies have to complete training and a qualifying run before getting behind the wheel on race day. Depending on how much safety equipment and experience they have, drivers can compete in one of six divisions from “street rod” up to “unlimited”—the only category of racers allowed to go as fast as they dare. Last year’s winner, Tom Whalen of Frisco, made the 118-mile round-trip in about 41 minutes in a red 2002 Corvette.
On race day, speed demons launch themselves one by one down the ribbon of highway from Fort Stockton to Sanderson and back again, winding through 59 curves and elevation changes each way. Shiny Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes are common, but classic muscle cars and even a Lamborghini or Ferrari might rip through the course, too. There’s no shame in bringing more humble vehicles up to the starting line, either—racers have competed in souped-up station wagons and even a tow truck (after one driver’s car broke down before the main event).
Spectators aren’t allowed to watch the race from the highway, so your best chance to see these road machines up close is to get a coveted volunteer spot on the course or just be in town during race week. Sanderson hosts a welcome party and race preparations; then most of the action moves to Fort Stockton with a parade, car show, and the final awards banquet. Visit www.bborr.com for details on this year’s event.