One of the most extreme and visually spectacular drag racing events ever held took place across the American southwest last week with the first and only running of Sick The Magazine’s Death Week.
This was an event that asked the question: what would be the greatest possible route to take for a drag-and-drive event? Sick The Magazine publisher Tom Bailey and editor Luke Nieuwhof sketched out a map that included stops at not only three drag strips but also the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Sequoia National Park and the Pacific Coast Highway. They then put the call out to anyone brave enough to take part.
The result was 70 street-legal cars traveling over 2000 miles on a nine-day road trip that pushed the boundaries of what is possible for high-horsepower machines.
Starting at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, entrants had to hand in a time slip before setting out into the 100-degree Fahrenheit-plus temps of the Arizona desert on their way to the west coast. Tom Bailey’s Durango led the way early after a 5.45-time slip. Stopping at the vast Imperial sand dunes made for a surreal backdrop, as did a drive past the Mexico border wall.
After crossing the mountains into San Diego, the Death Weekers stopped in at Gear Vendors Overdrive before racing at Barona Drag Strip. Bailey extended his lead with a 5.41 pass. From there, it was a cruise through the beach towns of Los Angeles, emerging at Santa Monica to continue driving alongside the Pacific Ocean. Racers were required to drop in at checkpoints that included Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara and the Firestone Brewery in Buellton, CA. The latter location saw Bailey’s week in competition come to an end after cracking the Hemi block in his car, elevating Jason Rousseau to the lead in his Malibu.
Such was Death Week’s length that the drive sections between tracks required multiple days to complete. Racers were taken via Morro Bay onwards to Fresno, the launching pad for Sequoia National Park. A 7000ft climb into the mountains was required, testing the engineering limits of everyone. Though this section of the route was optional, event leader Rousseau chose to take on the twists and turns, demonstrating the ability of his ride.
Remarkably, on the same day as driving among the giant sequoias, teams had to compete at Famoso Drag Strip in Bakersfield, CA. Rousseau proved just why he was the favorite to win with a 5.38 pass for low ET of the week.
Next came a return to the desert. With Death Valley recently reopened, teams were given the choice of making their way through the lowest point in the United States or taking the interstate. While Rousseau had to skip Death Valley due to staying back late to help a fellow competitor, the likes of Chris Hein’s eight-second, twin turbo ’33 Ford and Rich Guido’s stick-shift Pontiac GTO conquered Death Valley on their way to Las Vegas.
Racers were given some reprieve in Sin City, visiting Friday qualifying at the NHRA Nevada Nationals, and then cruising the strip on Friday night.
Finally, it was time for the final drive section, a 400-plus mile blast back to Phoenix that included checkpoints at Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Among the tourists, the awesome street machines of Death Week were getting plenty of looks.
Back at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Rosseau was able to finish out his week with a 5.50 pass for a 5.495 average. That was enough to finish ahead of Chris Hein (5.604 average) and Dustyn Caudle (5.963 average).
“Words and pictures can’t describe the views or the people we got to see over the past ten days and 2,000-plus miles,” Rousseau said in reflecting on the victory. “You just had to be there.”
There were only three trophies available at the event. In addition to Rosseau’s win of the traditional Sick orange helmet for the overall victory, any participant that finished was given a ‘Survived Death Week’ skull. There was one more helmet on offer for the ‘Top Tourist,’ going to the racer who managed to squeeze in as many additional sights as possible. This one went to Florida’s David Williams, who put an additional 600 miles on his old school Suburban to get photos in front of as many tourist attractions as possible.
While Death Week was a ‘never to be repeated’ event, the team at Sick has already got something new cooking for October 2024 by announcing Sick 66, an event that will drag-and-drive along a section of Route 66. Interested racers can check out sickthemagazine.com/sick-66 for more information.