Buy a used Z06, impress your friends, win races, and beat Porsches!
by Right Foot: Rob Krider
When I was a kid I saw a movie that changed my life forever. That movie was Corvette Summer, starring none other than Luke Skywalker. In reality it starred actor Mark Hamill, who plays a high school auto shop kid who chases car thieves that stole his fourth period vocational class project car, a C3 Corvette –complete with ridiculous hood scoops and gold flake paint. The film also featured hot rod vans and prostitutes. For a young impressionable boy, it was an awesome night at the drive-in.
After watching the film I knew that someday without a doubt I would own a Corvette. Of course, after watching Star Wars I knew someday I would own an X-Wing fighter too. Obviously Mark Hamill had a large influence on me as a kid. It turned out scoring a Corvette at a used car dealership was much easier than finding an X-Wing.
Corvettes aren’t cheap and the odds of me owning a brand new one were like $75,000 to one that I wouldn’t own one. However, when the new C7 hit the market, the prices on C6 Corvettes fell as fast as the stock price of Blockbuster video. I did some late night Internet searching and found a car dealership with a used 2006 C6 Z06 for $30,000. Yes, 505 horsepower of carbon fiber beauty, a car that will do 11 seconds in the quarter mile bone stock for just $30,000. That is a steal! Comparatively, a brand new Honda Pilot SUV with much, much, much less horsepower, and much, much, much less cool factor costs well over $30,000. It was a deal I couldn’t pass up. When the C6 Z06 came out it was a hundred thousand dollar super car, a car the average wrench turning hot rodder couldn’t afford. But suddenly that same car cost less than a new pickup truck. I got up the next day and headed right to the dealership.
When I arrived at the lot I saw the car was a legitimate Z06, wide body, aluminum frame, big brakes, 427 cubic inch engine. The guy at the car lot said I could give it a test drive as long as he sat in the right front seat. Riding shotgun with any idiot who wants to test drive a Z06 seems like an occupational hazard, but that was his personal choice. As I started the car and heard the rumble of that 7.0 liter engine, I knew I was in. The car dealer said, “When we jump on the freeway and you get on it, watch out, the car is going to Hulk out on you.” “Hulk out?” I’d never heard that term before. I immediately discounted the warning and got to the freeway onramp and punched it. The car threw me back in the seat like a sledgehammer to the chest. We were MOVING! I was actually a bit scared, and to be honest, the car… it… it…Hulked out on me! I grabbed third gear within seconds, and I was approaching fourth gear quickly. The car was going so fast I felt like I was driving into the future. The car was ludicrously fast. “Sold, I’ll take it.”
The first thing I did once the papers were signed and I had the key fob in my hand was take the Z06 out to a parking lot and lay down some tasty donuts. I thought the stock Goodyear tires on the car were crap so before I would replace them, I decided to put about ten thousand miles on them in about ten seconds. The Corvette can melt tires, fat rear tires, like nothing I had ever driven before. Some people see the number 8 in the photo above. I see a happy face –my happy face. My wife thought the purchase of the Corvette made me look like I was a middle aged douchebag. I didn’t care what she thought it made me look like. I would be going so fast in it, nobody would actually see me. Lookout everyone this douchebag is in a Z06.
This is the monster, the LS7 – 7.0 liters of dry sump ass kicking fury that can transport you to nearly 200 miles per hour. Everyone these days is motor swapping LS motors into everything. I even saw a Pinto with an LS swap at a car show recently. Motor swaps are a lot of hard work. I say press the easy button and just buy a used C6 Z06, because the biggest LS engine Chevrolet ever made comes in it for free. They even put it right in the front so you can’t miss it.
The car needed a nickname. The silver color and the shape of the C6 Z06 (and the absolute brutality of it) reminded me of a great white shark. So I named it Bruce, from the shark from Finding Nemo. Why not? Calling the car Jaws does seemed gratuitous.
After destroying the stock tires, the next thing I did with my new-used Corvette was race it. I wanted to drive it at its limit, but I wanted to do it in a safe and legal place. Nothing is cheaper and safer in motorsports than a local autocross. I slapped on some Hoosier slicks, some vinyl stickers (adding ten more horsepower, of course) and entered an SCCA National Tour event.
What I learned quickly about “Bruce” the C6 Z06 was that it was always trying to kill me. The car loved being backwards. I spun the car at every event I went to, smashing cones, destroying courses, and loving every power over-steer minute of it. The best part about it? Beating the snot out of Porsches. Porsche dudes hate losing to Corvette dudes, especially used Corvette dudes who only spent $30,000 to beat a $150,000 911.
After some tweaking with the ride height (which is adjustable in stock form) and getting some really good advice from other Z06 racers (the car needs rear toe-in, desperately) I started to calm the car down enough to not spin all the time and put down some really fast laps. In the Z06 I finally had the chance to set the Top Time of Day at an autocross, something I had never done before. Thank you General Motors. That is something I never would have accomplished in a Honda CRX. After that I felt comfortable enough to consider taking ole Bruce to a closed course circuit.
Taking the car to a closed course meant more safety equipment would be required to be added to the car pursuant to sanctioning body rules. I was all for that since the car had a history of Hulking out and going backwards. A proper helmet, a Nomex suit, a set of Autopower harnesses, and a fire extinguisher from I/O Port Racing Supplies got me ready for prime time. I would unleash Bruce on a real race track.
The first time trial style closed course race track event I took the Z06 to was the Corvette Challenge at Buttonwillow Raceway in Central California. The track is very fast and technical with plenty of room for the car to try and Hulk out. There were tons of other Corvettes at the event, hence the name, Corvette Challenge, meaning there were no rich guys in Porsches to beat. I drove the Z06 hard, somehow kept it on the track and also going in the right direction, which allowed me to win the event. But I found out quickly the big LS7 liked to get a bit hot on track. That was bad news. It also liked to crack brake rotors under extreme braking. And with the Corvette’s ludicrous power, extreme braking was required to slow the monster down before the tight curves.
I solved the rotor problem with some brand new genuine GM rotors (which were not cheap, I’ll admit), Carbotech brake pads, and some ProSpeed RS 683 brake fluid. The engine heat issue was resolved with a Lingenfelter thermostat, all water in the radiator, and never shutting the car off between sessions. The LS7 likes to idle with all its fans blowing. It doesn’t want to sit and heat sink. Easy enough. With those issues simply resolved it was time to find a new challenge.
The Lone Pine Time Trials credits itself for being the fastest and longest autocross in the United States, maybe even the world. And after going to the event I can attest, it is certainly the fastest autocross I have ever seen. The course was so long, instead of walking it, we drove it in parade laps. I needed a course map just to remember where to go. It was epic.
Once again the mere possession of a Corvette Z06 was the deciding factor in winning the event. I set the overall best PAX time (PAX is an adjusted overall score based on car horsepower to weight), won my class, and set the fastest trap speed (well over 100). And yes, I got to beat dudes in Porsches, who were really not happy about it. Even better. Bruce was on a winning streak.
People would always ask me, “What is the fastest you have ever gone?” and my answer would always be, “I don’t know.” On the freeway the fastest I ever went was the speed limit. On the race track the fastest I ever went was as fast as it would possibly go between one corner to the next corner. I was always so on the edge with the car I never looked down through my helmet to see what the number was on the speedometer. It was irrelevant. If I took the time to look down I probably would have missed the braking zone and the Z06 would have been nothing more than a pile of carbon fiber and aluminum. So to come up with an answer to “how fast,” I took the car to the Mojave Mile.
At the Mojave Mile ole Bruce went 180 miles an hour. Nope, I still didn’t look at the speedometer. They had to give me a time slip for me to actually know how fast I went. The course ran out at 1.5 miles and I was only in 5th gear. I still had a whole other gear, just not enough track to go faster. For you European nerds, 180 miles an hour is 289 kilometers per hour. I’m bummed I missed the 300 mark by a mere 11 kilometers. I just needed a bit more track for that.
Forget how fast I went in the Z06. A better question is: What was the dumbest thing I ever did in the Z06? That is an easy answer: The Hoopa Hill Climb. Hill climbs don’t have guardrails or safer barriers. They have telephone poles, trees, and cliffs. Running a car like an underpowered BRZ up a hill at the limit is a thrill. But running a C6 Z06 up the hill at the limit is a dance with the devil.
As I was peddling the Corvette up the mountain, trying desperately to set a class record (and for the record I didn’t,) I nearly totaled the car. From the outside looking in, or from watching my GoPro camera, the over steer I endured near the finish line seemed minor. However, perspective is everything, from my butt puckering driver’s seat, the slip angle I was enduring and the speed I was at, and how narrow the road was (with trees on my right, and a cliff on my left) I thought the car was lost. I figured I would wake up in the hospital with the bank asking me to pay off the $30,000 I owed them for the loan while my wife served me divorce papers for getting hurt at “some stupid car race.” Luckily for me, the Hoosier tires stuck and I got what we call in racing “very lucky.” Other drivers would say talent saved them, but I know it was luck, not talent.
You watch the video of the 2.2 mile climb as the Corvette Hulks out and decide for yourself, luck or talent?
Since the Z06 (and my ass) survived the hill climb, I decided to enter the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car series. This was an event for the fastest street car in America. I was pretty sure I had that sitting in my driveway. More stickers gave me more horsepower and I went through the different events Optima hosts: autocross, speed stop, time attack, car show, road rallye, and when it was all said and done I won the GTS class at Thunderhill.
Well, I shouldn’t say I won, actually Bruce the Z06 won. I just sat behind the wheel while the Corvette Hulked out, went fast as hell beating Vipers and of course, more Porsches. All these victories with a nearly stock used car for less than the cost of your average SUV. Not too shabby.
Winning my class in the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car got me an invitation to put the car in the SEMA show and compete in the Optima Invitational in Las Vegas. That was a good time. I got to drive the Z06 in a parade down the strip, beat the hell out of it at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and stay up all night in Vegas drinking too much and losing money at the craps table. It was a dream come true, all thanks to a used C6 Z06. You truly can’t beat the performance per dollar value of a used C6 Z06.
So where is my Z06 now? I dunno. I did everything I wanted to do with it and then sold it for $28,000. I took all the stickers off of it and put an add on Craig’s List. “For Sale, used 2006, Corvette Z06, low miles, never been wrecked, well maintained.” The guy who bought it never asked me the question, “Was this car ever tracked?” So I never told him. He had no idea it was a racecar. Was it tracked? “Uh, yes, it was tracked like every damn weekend! And it was awesome!”
So, if you recently bought a used silver C6 Z06, there is a pretty good chance your car has quite a bit of racing heritage. His name is Bruce, and be careful, that car does like to Hulk out.
Photos by Jeff Balliet and Shawn Brereton
Rob Krider, author of the novel Cadet Blues, is a factory pilot for Double Nickel Nine Motorsports. He covered his adventures with Bruce on Zo6Life.com. To read more stories from Rob go to robkrider.com.