By Garrett Estrada
Twice a year, more than 200 drivers race down 90 miles of Nevada open road, testing their limits at high speeds. It’s a thrill that attracts race fans and adrenaline junkies from around the world, but the Silver State Classic Challenge is much more than just a race.
To founder Steve Waldman, it was the culmination of a life full of adversity, passion and survival.
Though Waldman passed away at the age of 75 in February, his daughter Bridget Waldman said the race will become his lasting legacy.
“The race became a part of him and he became a part of the race,” she said. “The race will continue on. That’s my dad’s legacy and he would want it to be that way.”
According to Steve’s wife Gail, his passion for racing led him to participate in almost every race the Silver State Classic ran.
“He has always had a passion for racing for as long as I’ve known him and as long as I’ve heard stories about him,” Gail Waldman said. And though his passion would eventually let him race, his real journey began long before he ever even entered the United States.
Born in Danzig, Poland in the 1930’s, Waldman never had things easy as a child. His Jewish family was captured and detained in the German camp called Baranovich during World War II.
“My dad didn’t talk about that time often but when he did, his stories were almost unbelievable,” Bridgette Waldman said.
Always on the move, keeping one step ahead of the Nazi’s, Waldman spent his childhood with the threat of death always looming over his head. It honed a passion in him, to not only survive, but to accomplish great things. Sometime before the war ended, his family escaped and fled to Berlin, where they found refuge. It was long after the war ended that his family looked for new beginnings outside of Europe.
“They finally left Berlin after the war ended and moved to Bolivia, where they had relatives,” Bridgette Waldman said.
Though he was just a teenager by the time he arrived in South America, Waldman had already become fluent in six languages. It was a skill, his wife Gail said, that was born out of necessity to survive.
Waldman became a cowboy in Bolivia and started to study. He eventually earned a scholarship to the University of New York, and once he moved to the United States, he became enamored by the culture.
Ed Spear, Waldman’s longtime friend who was instrumental in getting the Silver State Classic Challenge going, called him a “patriot.” Never staying in one place for to long, Waldman moved to California, where he discovered motorcycle racing to supplement his income while putting himself through college.
Waldman was soon drawn to the bright lights of Las Vegas where he quickly climbed up the casino ladder working as a notorious executive for numerous hotels. His passion for open road racing eventually led to the creation of the Silver State Classic Challenge.
Since 1988, the event has grown to become something special that attracts drivers from around the world. Spear said without Waldman, the race would have never come together.
“He had a vision and a dream,” Spear said. “He had the tenacity to make sure it came to fruition and it did. Steve Waldman put White Pine County and the City of Ely on the international map.”
Briget Waldman said out of respect for her father, the family would not like to reveal the cause of his death.
“I don’t think there is anyone who in 75 years accomplished as much as he did,” Bridget said. “He truly lived life to the fullest and the race represented that passion.”
The Silver State Classic Challenge will take place in May and September of 2014.