Flooring it down a track's longest straight could be the most fun you can have driving a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, other than maybe giving a ride to a hearthrob like Jennifer Lopez. But if the ZR-1 is a race car weighing only 2,800 pounds, having about 520 hp, a 7,500 rpm redline, and no passenger seat, who needs Jennifer Lopez?
Needing to test this, coming off a turn my boot was flat on the floor. At about 4,000 stuff really began to happen! My head snapped back as the car got a little loose. I straightened her out then watched the Monster Tach climb past 6,000. The exhausts, 2 feet from my ear, began a roaring, 32-valve howl. Just short of 7,500, I shifted.
But, I'm ahead of the story.
Eight days before, Monday, Nov. 1, 1999: I got to work to find a voice mail from Pirate Racing's Jim Van Dorn, "Hey! You comin' next Sunday? If you are, you can drive 'em. Call me, dude."
I called back "Where at?"
"Rupert's, just outside of Pahrump. Shoot some photos for us then you can drive both."
"You sure? I got no recent seat time in a race car and a lot of my driver's stuff got lost when I moved last year."
"Driving the 'Phoenix' really ain't that bad, and the C5 is even easier. Rupert will be there to give you a few pointers. Jus' bring a helmet. You don't really need a suit for an 'informal test,' do ya?"
Forget Jennifer Lopez-driving...
Forget Jennifer Lopez-driving Pirate Racing's old ZR-1 World Challenge racer is more fun.
Pahrump, Nevada, is known for searing summer heat, as a tourist jump-off point for trips to Death Valley, farming, a casino or two, legal whorehouses, and the Spring Mountain Motorsports Park. In the winter the track is home to the Bragg-Smith Advanced Driving School and occasionally serves as a race car test track. In the summer, it's useless for anything other than car-company hot weather testing. Good thing I was there in November.
The Pirate Racing ZR-1, dirty, battle-scarred, and maybe a little tired after two seasons of racing, was sitting there waiting for me. She got right in my face with brilliant purple/yellow/white paint, two sewer-pipe exhausts under the driver's door, and Goodrich g-Forces on A-Molds all around.
Then, I opened the hood to a incredibly bright, yellow engine. "Fer crissakes, Van Dorn, you you guys really have an 'attitude' problem," I giggled, taking in the sight of the screaming-yellow-zonker of a motor.
"That's us Pirates," "JVD" quipped as I squinted at the 5.7-liter LT5.
I was a little apprehensive. My study of this car's performance in two years of SCCA Speedvision World Challenge racing showed she could be fast, but also high-strung, temperamental, and a little unreliable. Hearing crewmembers call her "the bitch" did me no good. If cars are females, this one was a riot grrrrl. "You wanna piece o' me, sucker?" she seemed to ask.
It was bad enough that I'd never driven this car before, but I'd never seen the track on which I was going to test it, either. Now seemed like a great time for those "pointers" Van Dorn mentioned. Track owner Rupert Bragg-Smith was nearby talking to some of the Pirates. "Tell me about your track, Rupe?" I asked pensively. Bragg-Smith looked northeast to the farthest part of his facility. With the confidence owning your own race tack must bring, he said "Uh-it's pretty technical," and turned away. Guess that'd be all the "pointers" I was to get that day.
Van Dorn helped me strap into the old ZR-1, then pointed out the master switch, the fire system button, the ignition, pumps, and other important switches. He fastened the window net and quipped, "The rev limit's 7,500. Have a blast, dude."
I flicked on all those switches, pushed the starter button, and the LT5 roared to life. It settled to a 1,000-rpm idle, and I daydreamed as 10 quarts of oil warmed up.
Set the Way-Back Machine for 1992
Only two ZR-1s have been successful in professional racing. One is the Morrison Motorsports/EDS/Mobil 1 World Record car currently in the National Corvette Museum. The other is the racer I was sitting in.