Trailer queen, show car, poseur−all derogatory terms placed on any car that’s “too nice.” Sure, these terms are usually bantered about by guys that don’t even have running cars, but the stigma associated with these labels still strikes a painful cord in any hot rodder. Take Pro-Touring cars for example. For a while it looked like they were going to flounder down the same tragic path that Pro-Street did back in the late 80s and 90s.

Cars that looked fast, but never were. A compilation of race parts assembled in a package that just didn't work, relegated to posing on fairground asphalt and cruising the local Dairy Queen. But then something happened—guys started actually taking their corner carvers to driving events and, in turn, more driving events started popping up. Owners were showing that their cars weren’t all form and no function.

Still, the stigma was still out there. Look at the high-end rides found displayed around the SEMA show. Some are so nice it’s hard to believe they even run much less drive. In an effort to see if pretty cars really could kick ass on the track, Hot Rod Magazine teamed up with Optima Batteries and FM3 Performance Marketing to put on a driving event. The plan was to assemble some of the nicest cars in the country and let them battle it out for the top spot.

The event became known as the Optima Batteries Ultimate Streetcar Invitational and the date for the contest was set for the Saturday after SEMA. This made sense since tricked out muscle cars from all over the country would be gathering in Vegas. A couple dozen cars were invited to race before the show and others were recruited during SEMA. In the end, 27 cars signed on the dotted line for a chance at the brass ring.

According to Jimi Day of FM3 Performance Marketing, “The event is a combination of styling, driving, handling, and acceleration/braking. The goal of the event is to bring a group of the best streetcars in the world to the track and put them through their paces, highlighting styling, performance, and overall build quality.” The three driving events will be a 2.2-mile road course, an autocross, and a 0-60-0 event.

The first stop in our journey was getting our Camaro to the Magnaflow display at the SEMA show. With so much left to do on the car it would have been nice to have that week to wrench, but then again it was nice to relax a bit the week for before the race. We did sneak Mike Norris into the car to do a little clandestine tuning, but security had a fit when we fired up the car. We plead the fifth on that one.

The G-Force Design Concepts-built ’69 Camaro owned by Dave Beddome wasn’t in the SEMA show, so Dave had the week to tweak on his ride. Problem after problem, from a fried clutch to a bad power steering pump, plagued the Camaro. But after countless hours and stacks of cash the F-body was fit for duty. Dave even brought out his dyno tuner to get the LS-engine running smooth. That’s dedication!
 

After SEMA we drove the Camaro straight to American Touring Specialties (ATS) where Tyler Beauregard was letting the Optima Challenge participants borrow his lift and tools. While Fuel was occupying the lift we took a moment to put Penny onto the Longacer digital scales we brought along. Our weight without a driver and with over half a tank of gas was 3196 pounds with 52 percent of the weight up front. To put our weight in perspective, all of the other Camaros we weighed came in between 3,500 and 3,600 lbs, so we were feeling pretty svelte. The main problem was our crossweights, which would throw the car slightly out of balance in the turns.

The Rules

Each of the three performance events would be timed and the lap times accumulated into a final score. Think of golf where the low score wins. The build quality and style portion would be judged on a 1-10 scale with one being the best score. Since all of the timed laps counted a single mistake could put a car out of the running. Also, any car not finishing all the events would be disqualified.

On the big course there would be a warm up lap, followed by two timed laps and then one cool down lap. The cars would be sent out individually; it wouldn’t be fender-to-fender racing. The autocross would consist of three timed laps. Hitting a cone would result in a 1.5 second penalty and making a wrong turn in the cones would result in a automatic 40-second run. Hey, it’s better than being disqualified from the event.

The Invitation

In an effort to gather up a strong contingent of Pro-Touring-type cars, Jimi Day contacted several website owners and asked them for cars to represent their sites. We were hit up by Scott Gulbranson, owner of lateral-g.net, to be one of the two cars racing for his site. That was two months before SEMA, so we kicked it into high gear and got to work making our ’68 Bad Penny Camaro as good as we could, in that timeframe, for the race. With the help of the guys over at Best Of Show Coach Works we dropped in a 402 stroker, added some custom-valved Bilstein shocks from Racecar Dynamics, a sweet-shifting T56 from Rockland Standard Gear, and some lightweight 17-inch ZX3R track wheels from Forgeline.

This event was for production cars, not racecars or kit cars, so things like turn signals and lights had to work. We had never been able to get our LED turn signals to work properly. After some tech talk with Brian Santilli over at Spaghetti Engineering they diagnosed our problem and rushed out some modified Digi-tails LED boards that would be compatible with our custom wired car. With that issue fixed we then chose the tires. Competitors were allowed to run as low as 100-treadwear and we chose the same tire we run on the street—the Toyo R888 R-compound tires.

We went as wide as we could on the front, 275/40/17, but in the rear we sized down a bit from the 335s we normally run. The 315/35/17 would help balance the car a bit and make bringing the back end around a little bit easier. The taller aspect ratio of the tires would help provide more driver feedback and more predictable handling. To knock the weight down even more we removed the steel cowl hood and replaced it with a full carbon fiber one from Anvil Auto. Hey, it’s a race we wanted to be competitive in, so we were going to do everything within the rules to turn in respectable times.

The Drivers

The organizers of the event decided that this was a competition about cars and not car/owner combinations, so it was put forth that the cars competing could have drivers if desired. It made sense since the event was trying to draw “show cars” from the SEMA show and in many cases the owners weren’t at the event or more likely had little to no experience maneuvering around a road course. Of the top six fastest cars on the road course, all had experienced drivers behind the wheels, many of them not the owner of the car.

When I go to driving events I’m generally stuck behind a camera and this event wasn’t going to be an exception. Since I haven’t figured out how to take a picture of myself driving a car, I pulled the trigger and assembled “Team Bad Penny”. This would do two things. First, it would free me up to cover the event and second, it wouldn’t handicap our ’68 with myself as a driver. Yes, it’s humbling to say, but I’m not the best wheelman.

Lined up and ready to hit the track. Passengers were allowed to ride provided they had signed all of the legal paperwork and releases. Here Tyler Beauregard gets ready to take a spin with wheelman David Pozzi. This was his first time ever driving Penny and his first time on this track, but even his warm up lap was fast. David recalled, “Once out on the track Penny drove like a dream— very smooth and nimble and body roll didn’t seem excessive, but I’ve found it’s hard to tell exactly how much roll you have from inside the car.

I found during the practice session I could easily catch the car ahead of me and desperately wanted to pass him but we were warned that passing wasn’t allowed.”  If you want to check out a video of this, and hear Tyler laughing like a lunatic, just hit up You Tube and do a search for “bad penny Camaro”. Don’t forget the “Camaro” part or you will just end up with the band (they aren’t that good).

The car seemed to be running great the first couple of laps, but then a disconcerting smoke appeared under the car. Tom Holt and David Pozzi popped the hood and found the problem. The breathers were filling up with oil and blowing down on the headers. Not enough to start a fire, but enough to make a mess and a bunch of smoke.

I’m competent, but I get far too little practice to be really good. Besides, a wise man, Bret Voelkel, once told me that if you want your car to be really fast then you need to give it to someone that doesn’t care as much about it. While an owner is worried about going off track a driver is more concerned with setting up for the next corner and shaving seconds off the lap.

With that in mind I called up some good friends of mine, Mary and David Pozzi. Mary is a demon on the autocross course and has 11 Solo National championships under her belt. David is a farmer by day, but for fun he likes to compete in fender-to-fender road racing events. They’ve both been helpful with getting the car set up right and I knew they would squeeze every ounce of performance out of the ’68. I was to drive the 0-60-0 event and, much to my neighbors chagrin, had been practicing my hole shots in anticipation.

The Event

The two months before the event flew by, and before we knew it, the time had come to journey to Vegas. The Camaro was running—not great, but good enough and it seemed to smooth out more at wide-open-throttle. So, we loaded up our gear and drove it the nearly 300 miles east through the desert to Sin City. Driving the car did a few things. It gave us a chance to break in the new Centerforce light metal clutch and scuff up the fresh 17-inch Toyo R888 tires. It also gave us some bragging rights. Besides, if the car was incapable of driving to the event, so how could it be expcted to do well in the event?

On Saturday morning we caravanned with a group from pro-touring.com and lateral-g.net the 60-miles, through the mountains, from Vegas to the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. When we arrived in town it was dark and cold, so we filled up the car with gas, grabbed some coffee, and waited for the festivities to begin.

With the first timed track sessions set to start at 9:30, the morning was pretty frantic. There was a driver’s meeting to go over the rules and all the cars had to go through tech inspection and be judged for styling and build quality. At around 8:30 all of the cars got a chance to go out and drive around the 2.2-mile track and get to know it a bit. This was a good thing for us since David had never sat behind the wheel of our ’68 before.

Unfortunately, due to a problem with the equipment, the 0-60-0 was cancelled and an additional two timed laps on the road course were added in. Good news for David, bad news for me. Oh well, it was still fun practicing. At 9:30 sharp the first timed laps started and rest of the day was a blur of steel, rubber, and gasoline. Of the 27 cars that competed, at least four were lost to mechanical issues including a blown radiator, snapped distributor gear, failed clutch slave, and a sudden loss of oil pressure.

I’m competent, but I get far too little practice to be really good. Besides, a wise man, Bret Voelkel, once told me that if you want your car to be really fast then you need to give it to someone that doesn’t care as much about it. While an owner is worried about going off track a driver is more concerned with setting up for the next corner and shaving seconds off the lap.

 Fresh off the SEMA floor James Shipka’s ’67 One Lap Camaro still smelled like wet paint. It was amazing that with only a few hundred miles on the clock he was beating it around the track. Our kind of guy! The ’67 is fitted with the best of the best in regards to performance parts including an LS7 engine, Three-link rear suspension, and ATS modified front subframe. Plus, it’s nice enough to win any car show. Transmission and brake problems haunted James throughout the day and kept him out of the running, but he had a blast and can’t wait to get the car sorted out and back on the track.

With our oil issues resolved David was eager to get back out on the track. So far he had turned in some of the fastest, and most consistent times of the day, but he thought he could do better. We sure weren’t going to argue with him.

If we didn’t have pictures nobody would’ve believed that this ride was actually flogged around the track. Winner of the GM Design Award at the ’08 SEMA show this ’71 Camaro was built by Jesse Greening of Greening Auto Company in Cullman, Alabama. Most people wouldn’t even think they drive it on and off the trailer, but these guys don’t coddle cars, they drive them! Fitted out with a DSE suspension and Bear brakes, the guys at Greening even managed to make the LS1 under the hood look pretty. With almost no miles on the brand new car they didn’t put down any stunning times, but they get a big thumbs-up for coming out and really pushing the high-end Camaro. To top it off, Jesse was one of the cars that came directly from the SEMA floor and had no advance notice of the event. If you want to see more visit www.greeningautocompany.com and look in their “projects” section.

Tales Of The Black Box

During our fun at the track we were data logging the Camaro with our Racepak G2X GPS data acquisition system. We found out several interesting things. First, our Camaro was much better at left hand turns compared to rights. In left turns we were pulling over 1.2g while our right-handers were netting just over 1g.

This was due in large part to the corner weighting issue we didn’t have time to resolve. Secondly, we could also see that we were running out of gear in several spots on the track. Because shifting to fourth takes time we were slowing 100-feet before we really should have been, costing us time. Since the event, we’ve raised the rev limiter from 6,600 rpm to 7,000 rpm.

This should let us stay in it just a bit longer. During the winter we will be doing some calculations to see if we should stay with the 3.90 gears or go down to some 3.70s. On the big straight we were hitting between 112 and 114 mph, but the Racepak data shows we were near 100 mph in many of the sweeps, especially those to the left.

After Action Report

The main problem with making so many changes to the car in the short two months we had was that some things just didn’t get done. One was the alignment, which we wanted to make a bit more aggressive, but instead it ended up at the same -.80 camber and toe of .02-inch, which is way on the sedate side. Messing with these setting would have certainly helped the Camaro get around the track a bit faster.

The other must-do item that didn’t happen was having the new 402 LS2 dyno tuned. The install was finished on Friday and we had to be in Vegas on Sunday, so that left Saturday to get it done. Unfortunately, due to noise rules, Scott Brown of VanGordon and Brown in Upland, CA isn’t allowed to dyno tune on the weekends. So, we did basic tune and drove the Camaro from SoCal to Vegas. It wasn’t right and the car surged the whole 300 miles but it made it there.

After the event we drove the car back to Vegas and because I didn’t feel like surging all the way back home we had Intercity Lines bring it back to our shop. To get the problem fixed we drove it over to Westech Performance and strapped it to their dyno for a baseline run. The first pull was a decent, but certainly lackluster, 389 rear-wheel hp and 393 lb.-ft. or torque. Eventually Ernie Mena found the problem.

The spark plug on the number five cylinder was all busted up. It must have happened when we lifted the engine to fix the oil pan. A new plug netted us a gain of 94 hp and 79 lb.-ft. of torque! That extra torque would’ve certainly been welcomed at the event. With that sorted out we’ve already begun working on a plan for next year. We’re pretty sure that the competition is going to get tougher.

<table style="width: 340px;"> <thead> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td valign="middle" align="left"><span style="font-size: 16px;"><strong>Results</strong></span></td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></strong></td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2"><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Fastest 2.2 Mile Lap Times<br /> </span></strong> </td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Name</span></strong></td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Vehicle<br /> </span></strong> </td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Best Time<br /> </span></strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">David Pozzi<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'68 Camaro BP<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">1:52.66</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Kevin Sittner<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'68 GT350<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">1:53.20</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">Steve Kepler<br /> </span></td> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;'06 Z06 'Vette<br /> </span></td> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">1:53.70</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">Mark Frazier<br /> </span></td> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">'69 Corvette <br /> </span></td> <td colspan="1"><span style="font-size: 13px;">1:54.10 <br /> </span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Mario Matos<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'04 Porsche GT3<br /> </span> </td> <td><span id="UniqueID1236622738878" style="font-size: 13px;">1:54.20</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Phil Gerber<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'70 Chevelle<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">1:56.70</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2"><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Top Autocross Times:<br /> </span></strong> </td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></strong></td> </tr> <tr> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Name</span></strong></td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Vehicle <br /> </span></strong> </td> <td><strong><span style="font-size: 13px;">Best TIme <br /> </span></strong> </td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">&nbsp;</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Kyle Tucker<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'70 Camaro<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">29.50</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Mary Pozzi<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'68 Camaro BP<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">29.52</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Phil Gerber<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'70 Chevelle<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">30.10</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Mark Frazier<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">'69 Corvette<br /> </span> </td> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">30.50</span></td> </tr> <tr> <td><span style="font-size: 13px;">Ron DeRaad<br />

Ray Young of Mead, Washington brought out his sweet ’69 Camaro just for the race. This ride was stunning and is a consistent show winner wherever it goes, even ending up in the top five for Street Machine of the Year at Goodguys. So it was even cooler that he was willing to trash it on the track. Unfortunately, a blown radiator took him out of the competition early on, but it was still cool to see it being used.

Kyle Tucker of Detroit Speed is good at a lot of things, but near the top of that list is wheeling a car though an autocross course. His ’70 Camaro is the companies test car and besides being fitted out with every turn-hard part in their arsenal, it’s also packing a 615hp L92-headed LS engine. His best time of 29.50 was enough to beat our ’68 by a razor thin 200ths of a second. Congrats on the win Kyle!

The only changes we made in preparation for the autocross was to drop six-pounds of air out of the tires. With that done, Mary Pozzi flung the Prowler Orange Camaro though the cones. She was the poster child for consistency with a 29.9, 29.5, and a 29.5 as her times. Mary relayed, “I ran my first run mostly in second gear, but applying the go-pedal didn't reward me with that ‘shot out of a cannon’ feel I had felt before. Without the torque, I lost the ability to use throttle to position and move Penny around, so I ended up running the next two laps in first gear. Penny handled and braked well yet I felt the car wasn't 100-percent.” Luckily for us the driver was 110-percent.

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