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Road America: The magic of the desert

4 months ago

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Sam Smith | Journalist


27 March 2024

It was nearly 20 years ago. I was in my mid-twenties and working at a car magazine and did not always make good decisions. The moment in question says a lot about that combined experience; more accurately, it says a lot about the marvellous and lightly alien experience of going like hell across the American west.

You know the place through paintings and TV, through half the cowboy films ever shot. The land is big and wide and open, and it is often exactly as you imagine: golden buttes, impossible sunsets, a million shades of orange and red. This story happened in Nevada. If all you know of Nevada is Las Vegas, know that Vegas is to Nevada as Disney World is to Florida: a loud part of the state but not the whole. The rest of the place is mostly empty territory peppered with cartoonish stereotype: old men with Yosemite Sam beards, legal gambling in petrol stations (slots, mostly), and all manner of quirky people who move there because they want to be left alone.

I don’t mind being alone, but I was only visiting. The magazine I worked for had borrowed a brand-new Porsche 911 GT2 – a 997, so 530bhp and 505lb ft, 1450kg, rear-drive, two turbochargers. We were set to run a track test at a small circuit roughly an hour from Las Vegas, and I had been nominated to fly out and ferry the car in from its garage in Los Angeles.

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