winding road
5 min read

The Mission – Chapter 3

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

“You are our Roadkill VIP today and your presence is requested at 3 p.m. Directions are waiting in Uconnect® and your helmet is in the trunk. Now drive.”

What the?

I check my watch. I’d better get moving.

The door slams shut behind me.

My pace is hurried and excited heading back to my SRT® Hellcat Redeye, but I stop dead in my tracks when I see…

Girl Scouts. An entire troop. Thin Mints are my weakness. They were sent here to take me down.

Keep walking, don’t make sudden movements or eye contact and stay downwind. They can smell fear.

Back in the safety of the beast, I buckle in for the next leg of my journey.

The drive up Interstate 15 is … unremarkable in many ways. The wide-open desert tempts me to squeeze into the power, but there are just enough minivans and motorhomes to make it a poor choice. I stopped in Primm, Nevada, a town that comes out of the sand as an oasis of casinos, golf courses and the Ivanpah Dry Lake, where I once went wind sailing. Imagine if a go kart and a sailboat had a lovechild, then drive it across the desert. Lunch was better than expected: fried chicken breast on a slice of brioche, topped with an over medium egg and the whole thing covered in country gravy. It’s a good thing the SRT Redeye’s 797 horsepower gets my heart racing, because after that, I need some cardio. 

As I roll into Sin City, I look down at my watch … 2:37 p.m. According to the nav on my Uconnect system, I’ll get to Fremont Street with 2 minutes to spare against the 3 p.m. deadline on the invitation. I’m headed to meet the guys from Roadkill. Yes, the TV show where they once took a brand-new Dodge Viper on a motocross track (can you feel me rolling my eyes?!). 

I pass the famous “Welcome To Las Vegas” sign. 

There are sightseeing helicopters at a private part of the airport to my right. The light turns green and I dip into the throttle to hear that glorious HEMI® engine echo off the skyscrapers along Las Vegas Boulevard. 

After passing that TV famous pawn shop, I roll up to Fremont Street, looking up at the archway of lights that make this part of town famous. 

“Right on time. We’ve been getting ready for you. I’m David, this is Mike.” Freiburger extends a hand, and I look around and ask, “So what in the world am I doing here?” 

Then I see it against the curb, right next to a street performer in a questionable outfit … “That’s Vanishing Paint!” 

Vanishing Paint is their play on words, based on the movie Vanishing Point that features a 1970 Challenger R/T. These guys took an old ‘70 that sat for a couple decades, gave it a Roadkill-style rebuild and got it running with a 360-cubic-inch engine, slapstick shifter, sticky tires and suspension, and big brakes. But they left the sun beaten patina. They had to. Maybe you saw the video where they took it to an autocross? This is one of the best cars they’ve ever built on the show. 

“Yep,” says Finnegan. “And you’re going to race against it.”

In typical Roadkill fashion, they’ve managed to get the entire Fremont Street experience shut down and cleared for us. The pedestrian mall is covered in the world’s largest video screen, that stretches for four blocks, or more importantly for us, 1,375 feet. Exactly a quarter-mile long … plus 55 feet. Freiburger gives me the details. “We’re going to see which one of these is faster: your brand-new factory-fresh Challenger or the one we put together with spare parts and dreams.” 

The crew is setting up cameras along the street and in the cars, rigging lights everywhere. Then, the makeup woman throws a more-than-generous dab of powder on my forehead. “What’s that for?” I ask.

“Are you nervous?” she asks. “Your forehead is shiny … bad for TV.” 

“Nervous? I’m about to race in the middle of a shutdown stretch of Vegas against the Roadkill guys for TV. You’re gonna need more powder.”

We line up at Glitter Gulch. I’m in the right lane in my Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye. Finnegan is in the left, behind the wheel of Vanishing Paint. Freiburger stands between us holding a shop rag – a middle-aged-guy version of a woman jumping in the air, waving a handkerchief to start old timey races. My palms are sweating … I wonder if my forehead is still shiny on camera? David points at Mike, Mike nods that he’s ready and revs the 360. David points at me, I raise my index finger saying that I’m also ready … even though I’m not. Here goes nothing. I can see him talking. I’m sure it’s something funny, but I can’t hear him over the sound of the SRT Hellcat Redeye in Launch Control mode. 

Inhale. 

Exhale. 

Concentrate on the shop rag.

And…

GO!

I hit the gas and immediately spin the rear tires. “Rookie mistake!” I yell at myself, gently rolling the throttle back to get some grip in my rear tires. Back to the throttle, but I can hear that nearly unmuffled 360 next to me. Finnegan is a legit wheelman and he knows that Challenger well … he’s got a fender on me. We pass that Detroit-themed casino with my foot to the floor. Mental note: I can get a proper Motor City-style coney dog in there. Focus, FOCUS!

Side by side, we accelerate, but I’m starting to pull ahead. Finnegan only has 3 gears in his 50-year-old muscle car, while I have EIGHT to keep that supercharged HEMI engine in its power band. 

I surge ahead. Past the tattoo joint, then the BBQ place.

I see the finish line, is this really happening? 

Am I going to WIN? 

All 12.5 million LEDs on Fremont Street light up as I blast across the stripe. 

VICTORY!!! 

I breathe for the first time in several blocks. Jumping out of the car, Finnegan comes over to shake my hand. Freiburger asks how it went and all I can think is to ask the camera crew, “Did you get that on film???!!!” We laugh a bunch and spend the rest of the night telling car stories in the glow of the neon lights.

What. A. Trip. I still have to make it all the way to New York. If this is how it’s going to be the whole way, I’d better get some sleep. But I’m in Las Vegas!

As I walk into my hotel room, the room phone is ringing. “Yes, hello?”

“This is Kimberly from the front desk. Turn your TV to Channel 50,” and she hangs up.

I fumble for the remote and click over. A video of today’s race is playing with a deep voice talking over the footage.

“Congratulations on your win. Don’t spend all night celebrating in the casino, you need to get some rest. Wheels up at 7 a.m.”

Yikes, that’s early. Well, one round at the tables couldn’t hurt, right? I take a quick shower and decide to make my way downstairs. When the elevator doors open, I see…

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