Arnold is the epitome of Nebraska’s state slogan “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” In fact, some people from across the United States and Canada say it’s the friendliest place they’ve ever visited. For one week each summer, Arnold residents open their homes to strangers who visit their small town to compete in the Sandhills Open Road Challenge. That friendliness even attracted a former California resident to relocate to Arnold. It’s that mindset that has made the Sandhills Open Road Challenge the success it is today.
Seventeen years of open road racing in central Nebraska
Since 2001, car enthusiasts from 42 states and Canada have converged on Arnold the second weekend of August each year to drive, navigate or observe the enthralling Sandhills Open Road Challenge (SORC).
On open-road race is a timed event, where each car races not against other cars, but against the clock. The driver who arrives at the finish line closest to the allotted time given for his class is deemed the winner. SORC has eight classes running from 80 mph through 120 mph.
The Sandhills Open Road Challenge is one of three organizations in the United States to host an open road race.
Deemed the most challenging course by experienced drivers
Texas and Nevada are the sites for the only other open road races, and they are on mostly flat, straight, multilane highways where a driver can see for miles.
SORC is arguably the most demanding open road race in the United States today. Held on a narrow blacktop county road between Arnold and Dunning, SORC racers face many obstacles in addition to trying to hit their average speed.
It’s 55 miles of twists and turns through the choppy dunes of the Nebraska Sandhills and Arnold’s notorious jaw-dropping canyons of Devil’s Den, with steep drop-offs near the road’s edge. It’s a course tough enough to challenge even the most skilled drivers and navigators and their well-built vehicles.
SORC surpasses its expectations
Joe Shown, the driving force behind the creation of the Sandhills Open Road Challenge, initially projected as many as 75 cars with a profit of $10,000. “I hugely underestimated its success,” Joe laughs.
SORC has become so popular that the maximum 140 available spots have sold out on opening day for the last 13 or 14 years.
SORC donations to exceed $1 million this year
SORC is a nonprofit organization, with 100 percent of its proceeds going back into Arnold and the surrounding communities. After proceeds from this year’s event are cleared, its donations will exceed $1 million to area organizations since its inception.
Arnold Fire & Rescue is one of the many organizations that has received generous donations from SORC throughout the years, helping the volunteer department to furnish its team with much-needed equipment, including a jaws of life, new bunker and wild land gear, a new Gator ATV with trailer, a 12-lead heart monitor, pulse oximeters, carbon monoxide monitors, hand tools, heat detection gun and saws.
“We’re very blessed to have such modern equipment available to use to support our community and its visitors or those just traveling through,” said Arnold’s Rescue Captain Tammy Weinman. “Their donations have enabled us to purchase modern life-saving equipment not commonly found in a small department such as ours.”
Other area fire and rescue departments have also received donations, as well as the numerous youth and high school organizations, the local economic development office, the chamber of commerce, community foundation and other civic organizations. A scholarship fund has been established for high school seniors, and it also helped fund Arnold’s new community center, along with donations directly from many of the race’s generous drivers and supporters.
A place to smile and come back to…permanently
The thrill of the challenging course isn’t the only thing that keeps racers from coming back. It’s the people and the personality of the community that stands out the most.
“It’s a remarkable place. I came to Arnold and met a bunch of nice people, and there just happened to be a race here, too,” said R.T. Green, a California native who, after coming to SORC for the last several years, has chosen to make Arnold his permanent residence. “I love being from Arnold. When I’m here, my jaws are sore because I’m smiling so much!
“Arnold is a one-of-a-kind community,” R.T. said. “Everyone is down to earth. I built my new shop on a handshake. It reminds me of how I was brought up in the 50s. Your neighbors are eager to help.”
Open door policy turns into lifelong friendships
Housing 140 racers and navigators, their families, and spectators is a large feat for a community of 600 with two small motels. The first year R.T. came to Arnold, he stayed in a race car trailer behind the community center. As the event quickly grew, it became obvious that something needed to be done about lodging, so local residents opened their homes to people like R.T.—people from another state they’d never met—offering them a place to stay for a week.
In return, those local residents gained something more valuable than they were offering their guests—friendships.
Sue Beshaler, a lifelong Arnold resident, is one of those kind homeowners who opened up her home to strangers. But they are strangers no more. Mike and Lauren Holoubek from Baltimore, MD, stay with Sue every year during SORC, and Sue looks forward to their arrival.
“I get more out of hosting than my guests do,” Sue said. “I get to be part of the celebration and a part of their lives. It’s very rewarding, and I believe most everybody would tell you that.”
About half of the SORC participants are housed in Arnold, with others staying in hotels in nearby communities including Callaway, Broken Bow, Gothenburg and North Platte.
A week-long celebration…and a race
A celebration is an accurate way to describe what happens in Arnold the week leading up to the big race day. SORC is not just a one-day event; it has become a week-long celebration with activities going on every day.
“Cars begin arriving early in the week to refresh themselves with the course, do any final tuning on their car and reconnect with friends,” said Joe Shown, who not only brought SORC to Arnold, but also participates as a driver with his 2011 Corvette ZR1.
“You’ll see everything from new and old Corvettes to retired NASCAR bodies, from Detomaso Panteras to Dodge Vipers, and maybe even a Porsche or a Lamborghini,” Joe said.
The streets of Arnold are filled with colorful, shiny race cars the entire week. Driver and navigator meetings begin on Wednesday, as well as tech inspections and registration.
Race cars must also have numbers applied to their cars. The students from Arnold’s student-run graphics business, School House Graphic Products, create, print and apply all the numbers to the cars.
Other activities for the week include a half-mile and one-mile shootout, which was the first event of its kind in the country, according to an article in “Automotive Magazine” about five years ago. Top speed in the one-mile shootout to date is 232 mph.
Crowd favorites are the car parade, car show and burnout contest. Spectators love the opportunity to view the race cars up close and speak with the owners.
Saturday is race day, and results are announced at a community barbecue in the park. Everyone’s ready to celebrate a successful week that evening at the street dance with live band.
Loup 2 Loup open road race
A few years ago, a second optional open road race was added to the week’s schedule on Thursday—the Loup 2 Loup challenge. Held on the highway between Halsey and Purdum, the Loup 2 Loup now includes 95 cars in its lineup.
They get by with a little help from their friends—about 300 of them
It takes dedication from the entire community—along with many good friends from nearby communities—to pull off such a sizable event each year. Nearly 300 volunteers are credited with its success, from safety crews, course workers, timers, tech inspectors, race directors, announcers, registration and housing coordinators and more.
Join the fun this August
August 9-12, 2017, marks the date of the 17th annual Sandhills Open Road Challenge in Arnold. Mark your calendar now for this dazzling event and plan to attend. Even if you’re not a car enthusiast, the atmosphere is worth the visit.
Visit www.sorcrace.com for more information.