I’m sitting in a casino in Boulder City, Nevada. It’s nine in the morning and I have a drink in my hand. The dregs of society surround me. So does the tintinnabulation of 300 slot machines. No, I’m not on some two-day gambling jag. Although from the looks of it, some of the other patrons have been here longer than that.
No, I’m having a beer this early in the morning because I’m still a little shaken over the morning’s events. While traveling at incarceration-worthy speeds in a modified version of Ferrari’s new 458 is an exhilarating experience, it can be a little harrowing, especially when the state patrol shows up and you have evidence inside your camera.
The bartender’s raspy voice breaks my daydream: Hey, you’re that guy who takes pictures of cars, aren’t you?
Just outside Boulder City lies an expansive dry lakebed with mountains surrounding it. Every year in early November, dozens of photographers descend at dawn the morning after the SEMA convention ends in search of the perfect light and backdrop.
Jon Oakley of Oakley Design said that he thought I was sauced when I said I needed to meet him there at four in the morning.
John Oakley is a professional race car driver and a test driver. He started his tuning company five years ago and cut his teeth on Porsches. We don’t know much else about him except that he likes to drive fast and that his taste in sunglasses seems a little dubious.
John Oakley is a professional race car driver and a test driver. He started his tuning com
Nonetheless, he met me at the MGM resort at that ungodly hour and we got out to the lake on time.
I really thought you had been drinking when you asked me to start cleaning the car in the pitch black. I thought about looking for some trick camera, Oakley said. I felt like I was in Norway, not Las Vegas, cleaning the car in near-freezing weather.
Things went as planned for the statics, and then it came time for the action shots. We did a couple passes at 80 mph or so. Then I decided to get into the Ferrari for a couple of driver close-ups. And this is when the shenanigans and skullduggery started.
Actually, it started a week earlier when we took notice of the car at HRE’s booth at SEMA. For those of you born under a rock, SEMA stands for Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association and is the organization that puts on one of the biggest modified car shows on earth. If you’re a tuner, you’re there, as is everyone else in the industry. HRE was there. ec was there, as was Jon Oakley. His limited version 458 (there’s eight made now) comes equipped with a set of 20-inch rims that weigh a scant 22 pounds per. That’s a savings of over 11 pounds per wheel on the important kind of weight to save, rotating mass. The rims are also slightly offset, thus filling out their arches a little more. This, along with an inch drop in the suspension, provides a positively menacing stance.
HRE gave Oakley only about three weeks to get a car together for the show. As shipping would have been outrageous from the UK at that short of notice, Oakley bought a car in the States and then had parts sent to Arizona. They assembled the car in four days and Oakley flew in to drive it from Phoenix to Las Vegas in the nick of time. I have a feeling he broke the speed limit on that trip as well.
The new 458 is so stable that I didn’t even think we had been going that fast when Oakley asked if I knew how fast we were going.
90? I guessed.
That was 180, Oakley said mischievously. This is a pretty good road for this. I think we could max it out here. Shall we give it a try?
Now, I like top-speed runs as much as the next guy. Before this I had routinely hit 165 on various superbikes but I have to admit I was a little nervous about the prospect on a public highway. I thought of my little blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter singing a requiem at my service. Screw it. I have life insurance. She’ll be fine. Besides, I’m with a professional racecar driver.
I’m game if you are, I said as I framed up and got an exposure on the speedometer. If I was going to join the 200-mph club I wasn’t going to come back without proof.