Community of the open road

Photos: 2013 Sandhill Open Road Challenge Showcase

Joe Shown, of Stapleton, Neb., and Vice President of the Sandhills Open Road Challenge, drives back to the start line after an exhibition run in his 2011 Chevrolet Corvette C6 in the Shootout, a half or one-mile race from a standing start, north of Cozad, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Joe Shown, of Stapleton, Neb., and Vice President of the Sandhills Open Road Challenge, drives back to the start line after an exhibition run in his 2011 Chevrolet Corvette C6 in the Shootout, a half or one-mile race from a standing start, north of Cozad, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 9. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

hail from a long line of car enthusiasts. The gene appears to have skipped me, but while I might not be able to list the differences between a Chevy C5 and a C6, I can appreciate the joy of an open road.  When my dad suggested I look into doing a story on the Sandhills Open Road Race, I was intrigued, though a little worried that I would too obviously be out of my element.

A 1960s Chevrolet Chevelle zooms past spectators in the Shootout, a half or one-mile race from a standing start, during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge north of Cozad, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

A 1960s Chevrolet Chevelle zooms past spectators in the Shootout, a half or one-mile race from a standing start, during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge north of Cozad, Neb., on Friday. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Upon arriving in Arnold, Neb., I found — as is so often the case — that I had it all wrong. No one seemed to mind my ignorance, which I openly admitted to. On the contrary, the drivers, navigators and fans I met seemed happy to share in a hot rod communion.

Scott Parkhurst of Minneapolis, Minn., poses for a portrait inside of his street rod built from a 1967 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon during a supper for drivers and navigators at the Arnold City Park during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013. This is a very special thing. They've got something precious here for the hot rod guys," Parkhurst said.  ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Scott Parkhurst of Minneapolis, Minn., poses for a portrait inside of his street rod built from a 1967 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon during a supper for drivers and navigators at the Arnold City Park during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Thursday, Aug. 8. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Scott Parkhurst, pictured above, and I talked about the community he has found while racing at SORC. “This is a very special thing. They’ve got something precious here for the hot rod guys,” Parkhurst said. “It’s kind of a tribal thing, you know, and you get to be a part of it.”

Matt Fetty of Arnold, Neb., is covered by smoke during the burnout contest in Arnold during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. Fetty said that, while he doesn't make it out to see the races, he always enjoys seeing the parade and burnout competition. Competitors are given two opportunities to kick out as much smoke as possible, and the winner is decided by cheers from the crowd. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

Matt Fetty of Arnold, Neb., is covered by smoke during the burnout contest in Arnold during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Friday. Fetty said that, while he doesn’t make it out to see the races, he always enjoys seeing the parade and burnout competition. Competitors are given two opportunities to kick out as much smoke as possible, and the winner is decided by cheers from the crowd. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Jim Sheen of Kearney with his son Sam Sheen, 9, Natasha Bakuna of San Antonio, Texas, and Jeremiah Leak, of Broken Bow, Neb., react as race cars go by on parade in Arnold during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

From left, Jim Sheen of Kearney with his son Sam Sheen, 9, Natasha Bakuna of San Antonio, Texas, and Jeremiah Leak, of Broken Bow, Neb., react as race cars go by on parade in Arnold during the Sandhills Open Road Challenge on Friday, Aug. 9. ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD

The race organizers may love the community they’ve built, but they also take care of the community that has made the event possible. Everyone works on a volunteer basis, and after they’ve paid the bills from putting on the race, they bring money back into the towns in the form of new community centers, improved equipment for the Arnold volunteer fire department, a spruced-up downtown and new playground equipment, among others.

An event born out of the love for fast cars and open roads has become an economic lifeline for a county where towns often struggle to survive.

But don’t take my word for it. See the cars in action and hear from the people who make the road race possible in the video below:

And as it turns out, I found myself appreciating the cool cars, souped-up engines and races against time. I even had a chance to drive a Tesla Roadster down my own open road. When I got out of the car, Don Cox, the car’s owner, told me I had a “Tesla smile.”

He just might be right.

Tesla

Alyssa Schukar

About Alyssa Schukar

I have been a staff photojournalist at the Omaha World-Herald since September 2008. I'm from Lincoln and am a 2006 graduate of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Previously, I worked as an assistant at Malone and Co., a commercial photography studio in Omaha. My favorite pictures are those that give insight on the life of an individual or family because I understand the world better through the experiences of the people I meet. It's always humbling to be allowed such intimate access. My most challenging assignments come in many forms. Funerals, especially those of soldiers, always are emotionally draining, but I try to approach people with respect and dignity. In my time at the paper, I have covered a wide variety of assignments, including the Nebraska and Iowa National Guard's deployments in Afghanistan, Husker football at home and away, portraits of wigs big and small, rodeo queen competitions and intimate views of everyday life and love. Follow me on twitter @OWHalyssa.
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  1. […] spent last weekend learning about fast cars and camping west of Arnold, Neb. My dad and brother — both wholehearted hot rod enthusiasts […]