Since this magazine's re-launch last year, we've taken pains to incorporate scenic drives and destination stories into our editorial plans as frequently as possible. Modern Corvettes are toweringly capable sports-touring machines, goes the reasoning, so why not put their cosseting capabilities to good use out on the open road?
1 The hinterlands of south...
1 The hinterlands of south central Georgia offer few diversions to the quicken the pulse of the discerning road-tripper. The Ashburn Chevron’s (I-75 Exit 84) giant cow statue—complete with unsettlingly realistic udder veins—is a rare highlight.
2 Stopping just off I-24...
2 Stopping just off I-24 in Chattanooga afforded us the opportunity to recharge after a long first day on the road. Taken early the next morning, this photo from the aptly named Starview Lane provides ample evidence of the drastic elevation change along our route.
3 Located just west of Chattanooga,...
3 Located just west of Chattanooga, the Nickajack Reservoir was formed when its namesake dam was erected in 1967. Today, the 46-mile-long lake is a popular tourist destination, offering camping and boating facilities maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
In the months that followed, our Corvette peregrinations carried us to the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., across Death Valley to Las Vegas, over the undulating pasturelands of Wisconsin, and down some of the lesser-known shunpikes of Southern California. But while these destinations all provided a chance to enjoy the car in a relaxed setting, none supplied the performance-minded Vette owner with an opportunity to experience Chevy's speedy two-seater the way Mr. Duntov intended. What we needed was a road trip capable of satisfying both halves of the sports-touring equation.
An opportunity eventually materialized in the form of the 2011 Holley LS Fest, held near the speed-parts manufacturer's headquarters in lovely Bowling Green, Kentucky. Launched last year, the Fest is a multipart motorsports event open to all LS-powered vehicles, regardless of make or vintage. When GM agreed to lend us a Jetstream Blue Grand Sport convertible for the week, we blocked out our calendar and made plans to take the 12-hour drive from our office in Tampa to deep into the heart of horse country.
Aside from an unprovoked wasp attack outside the Shell station in Manchester, Tennessee (Vols fans, doubtless), the 1,673-mile round trip passed without incident, reaffirming our opinion of the latest C6 as a road warrior extraordinaire. Indeed, whether traversing somnifacient stretches of Interstate in northern Florida, surmounting red-clay hillocks in central Georgia, or wending through the rock-walled defiles of the Cumberland Plateau, our Grand Sport never failed to comport itself in the manner suggested by its ambitious appellation. And while insurance restrictions prevented us from entering the car in any of the Fest's motorsports activities, it was clear that, even in showroom-stock form, it would have fared respectably in every category.
4 Driving in the clouds:...
4 Driving in the clouds: After soaring to its apex point in Monteagle, I-24 noses over to plunge nearly 2,000 feet into the Upper Elk River watershed. Engine braking from LS3 and six-speed automatic are sufficient on the 4-6 percent grade, but keep an eye on your rearview for 18-wheelers with overcooked brakes.
5 Beech Bend dragstrip is...
5 Beech Bend dragstrip is but one part of a larger complex featuring an oval track, a campground, and an amusement park. This terrifying structure is the Kentucky Rumbler, a 96-foot-tall, colubrine lunch-launcher that’s been ranked among the country’s top wooden coasters every year since it opened in 2006.
6 Our chariots await: We...
6 Our chariots await: We preferred the effortless power of the Grand Sport in most instances but were slightly less impressed with its ditch-fording ability.
If you've always wanted to experience your LS-powered Corvette to the fullest extent of its abilities on both the road and track, a road trip to the Holley LS Fest in Bowling Green should be at the top of your motoring to-do list. For complete results from the 2011 Fest, and up-to-date information on next year's event, visit www.holley.com/lsfest.
Total Miles Traveled:
Average Fuel Mileage: 22.23 mpg
Arby's Market Fresh Turkey Sandwiches Consumed: 5
7 Beech Bend’s website claims...
7 Beech Bend’s website claims the facility opened in 1898, and the dragstrip bleachers appear to have been erected not long after that. No matter. What it lacks in modern amenities, the park more than makes up for in laid-back atmosphere and retro charm.
8 Track workers here claim...
8 Track workers here claim to use more traction compound than their counterparts at any other dragstrip in the country, and launches like this would seem to bear that out. Does the car look familiar? It’s Lingenfelter’s notorious 9-second ZR1, now owned by RPM Transmissions in Anderson, Indiana.
9 Mark Carlyle’s IPS Motorsports...
9 Mark Carlyle’s IPS Motorsports Z06 was easily the class of the Corvette drag-racing field. The car’s turbocharged 427 generates more than 1,500 hp, enough to hurtle it down the 1,320 in 8.17 seconds at 172 mph.
Drag Races with Late-'80s Nissan Sentras Declined: 2
Speeding Citations Received: 0
Notes from the Road
To avoid unwanted attention from law enforcement, we set the Grand Sport's cruise control to 9 mph over the speed limit while on the highway. The tactic proved effective, as we sailed through several speed traps without incident during the course of our trip.
Kentucky is not an indoor clean-air state, so be sure to specify a nonsmoking hotel room if you prefer one.
10 A well-populated manufacturers’...
10 A well-populated manufacturers’ midway offered LS Fest attendees the chance to do some performance-parts shopping between rounds. This LS3 cross-ram intake from Holley would look right at home under the hood of a C3 vintage-racer clone.
11 Lewis Roberts drove his...
11 Lewis Roberts drove his Fairway Green ’98 coupe up from Gallatin, Tennessee, to compete in the LS Fest Dyno Challenge. Armed with a hairy, solid-roller-cammed 383, the car spat out 502 horses and 454 lb-ft of torque to take the win in the Naturally Aspirated category.
12 The National Corvette...
12 The National Corvette Museum is located just a few miles down the road from Beech Bend, making this side trip a no-brainer. The NCM has undergone extensive renovations over the past couple of years, making it an even more compelling destination for the Corvette faithful.
Beech Bend may be the only motorsports facility in the world whose entrance is patrolled by a battalion of miniature goats.
With the top up, our Grand Sport's trunk ingested one large suitcase, a laptop computer, and an average-size electric-guitar case, leaving the passenger seat free for camera gear and road food.
Nissan drivers near the carmaker's manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tennessee, are strangely confrontational on the road. Wave them past and live to race--legally--another day.
The Grand Sport's only interior demerit arises from the hard plastic framing the center console, where a taller driver's knee will naturally tend to rest. On the plus side, fully inflating the driver seat's lumbar support is wonderfully effective at warding off lower-back pain during extended periods behind the wheel.
13 The National Corvette...
13 The National Corvette Museum is located just a few miles down the road from Beech Bend, making this side trip a no-brainer. The NCM has undergone extensive renovations over the past couple of years, making it an even more compelling destination for the Corvette faithful.
14 Luke Hawkins piloted his...
14 Luke Hawkins piloted his ’02 Z06 to a win in the autocross, topping a well-populated field of Corvettes in the process.
15 In the Speed Stop contest,...
15 In the Speed Stop contest, competitors accelerate flat-out down the dragstrip before braking heavily to stop inside a box outlined with traffic cones. The car that makes the quickest pass without breaking out of the box wins. James Rowlett topped the (ABS-equipped) Corvette contingent in his ’99 FRC.
VETTE Magazine Award Winners
Mark Carlyle / '07 Z06
Quickest Autocross: Jeffrey (Luke) Hawkins / '02 Z06
Fastest Speed Stop (ABS): James Rowlett / '99 FRC
Fastest Speed Stop (Non-ABS): Jeffrey Cleary / '63 Coupe
16 Rain temporarily put a...
16 Rain temporarily put a stop to Sunday’s drag-race program, but the autocross passes continued unabated. Donald Miner capitalized on the opportunity to have his C5’s undercarriage detailed.
17 No, it’s not a Corvette,...
17 No, it’s not a Corvette, but this LS-motored dune-buggy-thing did manage to arrest itself in the general vicinity of the Speed Stop trap. Sadly, it fared less well in the all-important “not practically flipping over and killing everyone” category.
18 For those who preferred...
18 For those who preferred slightly more sedate fare, there was the Fest’s car-show area, where we spotted Eddie Raines’ clean LS1 ’70.