Duel In The Sun


Top end desert racing in a Gen 3 Hemi Challenger.

By Scott Longman

HE RODEO KING unfolds what you would want to call a Michelin road map. He smooths out the creases, pointing. “We’re here.” Then, pointing again: “Over here is the FEBA.” FEBA is Forward Edge of Battle Area. In other words, where we are going to find a target-rich environment. He traces out our route. “It’s a good area for it. There will be plenty of those liver flukes and their krautwagens out there. Let’s go fire up the Sopwith Camel and see if we can find the Red Baron.”

The “Camel” is a bright red 2013 SRT8 6.4L Hemi Chal- lenger, with black stripes, all immaculately waxed, paint appearing to be a quarter-inch deep. He pops the hood for a look. With what we are going to ask the motor to do today, plenty has to be on tap. Then he checks the tires. “Lose it at the speeds we’ll be going,” he notes, “and some beachcomber on the east coast of Spain is going to be picking up pieces.”

We take a leisurely, winding route away from the subdivision, the exhaust sounding great without the resonators. For being stuck on out on a point in the Persian Gulf, the place looks surprisingly western, except for the flora and the signs. It is bright and it is arid, dominated by tans and browns, almost no greens, kind of a Flagstaff-in-a-drought-year look. It isn’t too long before we leave development behind and head out into the United Arab Emirates’ desert.

The Rodeo King rolls into the throttle, the big Hemi responding with a slow, rising roar. Our windows are down, but he soon waves to put mine up as he raises his. “Makes a hell of a difference on the top end.” The highway we are on is three paved undivided lanes. Traffic flows with us in the right lane, oncoming on the far left. I ask him, “Do you use the center one for passing, or how does that work?”

At the moment, we are coming up fast on some sort of white utility van, closing at maybe 40 miles an hour. Instead of backing off, RK downshifts and slams the accelerator to the floor, the Hemi sound blotting out everything else in the cabin, momentum building exponentially. As he eases us into the center lane, we climb past 120. There are four more cars on our right in front of the van, and ahead, straight ahead, I mean like in-our-center-lane-ahead, is the single tallest semi truck I have ever seen. More than tall. Twice normal. A cross between a Peterbilt and a London double-decker bus. And it is right there. Every one of my internal organs south of my floating ribs shoots up to sublease space from my thyroid. RK stays in the throttle, winding all the way up on the tach, not upshifting, Hemi screaming, the last car on our right flashing past as we snap back in the right lane, a count of one-one-thousand before the truck blasts past, its towering bow-wave of air hitting us like it we are downstream from Johnstown. In a little adrenalized math, I estimate that our combined closing speed had been about 220 mph.

“Like that.”

“Right. Got it.” (He’s posted a video at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=XLYALnvMlyE. Remember, his speedo reads in Km/H). He upshifts and keeps going. “Not much a rail or inland water- way here, so trucks are everywhere. Can’t stop and can’t turn. And they drive like they get paid by the load.” A pause. “But they’re real helpful if you can get the guy you’re running against to take the middle lane.”

We continue our freight-train blast out into the desert, and it isn’t too long before the next car comes into view. Another stubby-cabbed European looking truck. Then an irrelevant SUV. Whoosh. We flew by them like they were stationary. Then the first possible contender. It’s a Mitsu, some flavor of Evo, with a wing and spike diffusers and an exhaust tip that looks like it was used in the trenches at Flanders. Eighty-five percent of the population of Dubai is ex-pats, so it’s no surprise that the driver isn’t Arab-looking, more Asian, young, hair gelled back. RK eases into the no-man’s-land of the center lane and pulls along- side. The Mitsu driver looks over and, instantly, game on.

I have respect for big turbos and I have respect for tall final gearing and I have respect for all-wheel-drive, but none of it made the slightest difference. RK went WFO and almost instantly pummeled the hapless Mitsui’s grille with a blast of made-in- Detroit dual exhaust fit to knock off his diamond-star emblem. RK announces, “That one doesn’t even merit a victory stamp on the fender.” With that small victory, the potential consequences of this behavior suddenly dawn on me: this place is a monarchy. I think about what cops have been like historically when the government is totalitarian. And what’s the legal speed limit?

RK takes a long draw off his travel coffee mug. “Oh, 120 Km/ Hr most places. Probably set to trigger radar here a little over. That’s about 75 if you’re talking American.” “And the cops?” He pauses. “Well, let’s just say they have no sense of humor.” And with that, we see it. White, as so many desert cars are. Wide, low aspect ratio tires, and a great, big Mercedes emblem on the trunk.

I hear the smile in his voice. “C63 AMG. Just what we are looking for. It’ll top out about where we do. This is about the endurance. Time for some inspiration.” RK reaches over to the center console, taps several times, and a tune I hadn’t heard in decades comes on. “‘Snoopy versus the Red Baron’?!” “Exactly. The Royal Guardsmen.”

…Up in the sky, a man in a plane—

Grinning as he checks the sideview mirror. “Just the song for shooting down Mercedes.” We pull into the no-man’s-land of the center lane and slide up alongside, matching the Mercedes’ 90 MPH. The driver of the C63 is another ex-pat, and again relatively young, probably European, expensive sunglasses. He looks at us for a moment, turns face forward and slams it. The C63 immediately surges ahead, drawing out a car length on us as The Royal Guardsmen are into the chorus:

Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more, the bloody Red Baron was rolling up the score.

And so is RK. The Hemi is doing what it was so perfectly designed to do, a singing monster of perfect Americana in pur- suit, the acceleration startling even at this high a gear. RK peaks in fourth someplace around 140 and speed-shifts. I’m keeping my eyes as far ahead in our Deathrace 2020 lane as I can. Given that those trucks are the height of something you’d expect to be zipping around Picadilly Circus, I’m feeling confident that I’ll see them first. Sort of.

In the nick of time, a hero arose,

a funny-looking dog with a big black nose

All the way up. The big Challenger is as stable as a pool table, with the Hemi a near-science-fiction limitless thrust machine. Just ahead, the C63 is closely matched, and has held its one car length lead with both of us flat out. I break my gaze from the horizon to flicker a look at the instrument panel: we are nearing 170.

While the Baron was laughing, he got him in his sight–

Speed always appears greater when you flash by things that are close to you. There isn’t anything close to us, but it still feels like we’re watching Vanishing Point with the disc player stuck in 4x. It’s mesmerizing, intoxicating. And this just keeps going.

That bloody Red Baron was in a fix–

His voice was conversational. “Twice I’ve managed to blow these bastards up. They only have a little V8, like 335 cubes. They make their power by turbo- charging the jehosephat out of it. Fine for pulling up to the front door valet at Bushwood. Not so fine for ten minutes topped out.”




…smoke emerges from the Mercedes’ tailpipes. At the same time, the first dot on the horizon of a double decker truck appears in our lane ahead. I said so, loudly.

Snoopy fired once, and he fired twice–

I don’t take my eyes off the truck, but my peripheral vision catches a billowing explosion of smoke from the Mercedes, and it falls back as if it has caught the third cable on the deck of the U.S.S. Constellation. RK eases us over into his lane. I turn to look back. The Mercedes is already so far behind it is hard to see, but not the Rocky Mountain thundercloud of gray- black that billows around it.

That bloody Red Baron went spinning out of sight.

RK knocks the shifter into sixth and drops off the throttle. Now, doing only eighty, I have the strong impression that I could get out and jog alongside. RK puts his window down, a blast of clean desert air scavenging the cabin. I look at him. “Now that one is a fender stamp.” RK nods. “Yes. A time to celebrate another aerial victory. It’s all hell getting a beer in this country, but they were smart enough to know they’d never get a single western tourist to set foot in the place without it, so the hotels have bars. I know the right one.”

POSTSCRIPT– The Instigator’s work takes him all over the globe, and RK is a former Special Forces guy who played in-country while the fun lasted. When it was over, the red Dodge remained impounded in the UAE and the Rodeo King was sent back to the States at the sincerest request of local government officials, before any more serious inc dents created diplomatic challenges.

“I purchased this car at the Dodge dealer in Al Ain. When I went to pick it up, it was sitting in the showroom behind the big glass windows. All I kept thinking about was the scene in The Man with the Golden Gun, when James Bond drives the red Hornet SSC right through the windows. I’ve always wanted to do that. They gave me the key fobs, I fired it up as they slid the big glass doors open and put the ramps out. The radio was on and it started playing the music I had loaded from my phone. It was fate, I think (or maybe just alphabetical order)…as the first three notes of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ rang out I knew exactly what
I had to do. Break-in procedure be damned…I held down the traction control button until it disabled, made sure the coast was clear, and with the staff of Al Ain Jeep-Dodge waving and congratulating me, I revved it up, dumped the clutch and left in a cloud of Hemi-fired smoke.” –RK

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