The Spectre 341 Challenge is one of those peripheral motorsport events car enthusiasts frequently come across. The concept seems interesting and the cars astounding, but somehow it gets lost in the fog of everything else that’s going on.
Formerly known as the Virginia City Hillclimb or the Nürburgring of Nevada, we were invited to attend this year’s event because of the increasing European car presence in what has become something of a musclecar affair.
We were delighted to visit because we’d always wanted to witness it firsthand: to tick it off the bucket list. We hoped for an entertaining weekend, and could never have predicted the unforgettable experience that will remain with us forever.
The highlights are a low-key event that’s fun for both participants and spectators, with epic machinery tackling a mountain course that’s claimed too many victims over the years. It’s set among old mining towns dating back to the goldrush era, and the venue revives its past with cowboy re-enactments to entertain tourists.
Before we could discover the delights of Virginia City, NV we needed to scope the competition. We’d seen some BMWs and Minis in the paddock area that occupied the parking lot of the Silverland Inn. But as we started poking around, nothing grabbed our attention.
There were several Porsches, a Ferrari California, Aston Martin Vantage and a single Mini, but all were relatively stock and, if we’re honest, rather uninspiring. Furthermore, none of the M3s were running and we began to lose hope.
But as we kicked the tires in a row of Camaros, Mustangs and Corvettes, we spied an ungodly sight. Being unloaded at the far end of the paddock was the Porsche 911 from heaven (or perhaps hell, depending on your perspective).
Decked out in cartoon-size fenders and spoilers, it had the feel of the Rauh Welt 911s from Japan (et 11/10) and was similarly rough around the edges. Yet it looked battle hardened and we were confident we’d found our Euro champion to tackle the Detroit denizens.
We couldn’t decide whether we were more enthralled by the ’74 911 or its 57 year-old owner Duck Fuson. “It’s a long story but the nickname was given to me by a Hell’s Angel,” he explained at the sight of our furrowed brows.
His 911 had been upgraded with ’98 993 body panels and modified 3.6L turbo engine to make it more potent. And when it’s not racing, the fenders, side skirts, rear wing and front spoiler are removed, giving Duck a road-legal Sunday driver.
It looked utterly spectacular despite its age but we were rather concerned that by concentrating on one car we’d put all our eggs in one basket: gambling on a Duck, so to speak.
He certainly knew his way up the hill, having raced the course many times in the ’90s. Being local and canny, he would occasionally drive over to Virginia City to re-acquaint himself with Route 341’s many corners, even using Google maps and in-car videos for assistance.
With predominantly amateur drivers and mildly-tuned cars, it quickly became apparent who would be fighting for the lead. Yet in order to avoid competitors pushing too hard, times weren’t officially released until the end of the each day.
After Saturday’s runs, it was basically a two-horse race. Our gamble had paid off. Duck was knocking on the door of last year’s winner, Lou Gigliotti in his 742whp ’10 Corvette ZR1. With the two cars parked alongside each other in the paddock, the mind games began.
Realizing he was in with a shot at the title, and remembering a slight misfire on his later runs, Duck woke early on Sunday to collect spare parts. His participation, finalized at the last minute, meant he was rather disorganized.
We found him changing plugs to stop “shooting ducks” – his reference to the misfire. He also added spacers to the front wheels in an effort to increase both grip and stability with the wider track.