The summer of 2012 went down in the record books as one of the hottest and driest on record, with hundreds of cities across North America setting high-temperature and low-rainfall marks. In America’s heartland, the heat and drought seemed to focus on Indianapolis as if it were trapped under a magnifying glass in the sun, but the conditions weren’t enough to parch the enthusiasm of Gen 5 Camaro enthusiasts, who gathered for the third Camaro5 Fest. More than 1,000 Camaros rolled through the gates. Their owners trekked from all corners of the United States and several Canadian provinces, all seemingly un-phased by the oppressive heat and tropical humidity. The camaraderie among fellow Camaro-files and the opportunity to put their modern pony cars through their paces on both the drag strip and autocross course brought a decided sense of chill to Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
As any of the MBAs in charge of Chevrolet’s marketing will tell you, the fifth-generation Camaro has attracted an all-new wave of customers, from those who have rekindled an affair with the car they enjoyed years earlier – having sat out the third- and fourth-generation models – to a new generation of fans who have never owned a Camaro before. In many cases, they’ve never owned a Chevrolet or American car before. And while they are all linked metaphorically by their favorite car, at this event, they were all linked digitally by the Camaro5.com Web site that has become the online town square for everything related to the fifth-generation Camaro.
Randall Pequeen, from Mobile, Ala., exemplifies the Gen 5 jockey who found himself unexpectedly and undeniable attracted to the car. “To be honest, I didn’t care for the fourth-generation cars – they didn’t do anything for me,” says the 42-year-old family man. “But when the concept of the fifth-gen car came out, I fell in love. I absolutely had to get one.”
And get one, he did. His 2010 SS coupe sports a MagnaCharger supercharger system, hotter camshaft and other performance bolt-ons – all installed by Pequeen himself (except for the camshaft). At Indy, the supercharged SS, with 560 horsepower and 558 lb.-ft. at the tires, was running respectable 12.1-second e.t.’s at 117 mph, in terribly fat air that had an equivalent altitude density higher than 4,200 feet. “No, I’m not going to turn the best times this weekend, but that wasn’t the point in coming here,” he says. “I’ve been to all three [Camaro5 Fest] events and I come because of the people and the cars. This is a car that’s made to modify and that keeps me in it.”
Representing the other end of the spectrum was 30-year-old James McGhee, who traded in a Toyota 4Runner on his V-6 Camaro coupe. Rather than performance modifications, styling enhancements are how he has expressed his Camaro enthusiasm. It features Lamborghini-style scissor doors, a completely customized engine compartment, LED halo headlamps and other lighting elements.
“It was like the car I’d been waiting for,” says the Bentonville, Ark. resident. “I’d always liked Camaros, but the Gen 5 really did it for me – and when I was finally in the position to buy one, I jumped at the chance.” McGhee admits high-performance isn’t a big priority with him – and he found plenty of other like-minded enthusiasts at the event. “The number of cars here is overwhelming and it doesn’t matter if you’re into horsepower or styling upgrades, because the people are here because of the Camaro – and not how fast your are,” he says. “It’s my first time to the Camaro5 Fest, but I’ll be back.”
The mix of performance-minded enthusiasts and those more interesting in styling made for a great blend of personalities. And for those who came to exercise their Camaro, the drag strip and autocross course offered a surprisingly number of competitors who brought great depths to the respective tracks.
We don’t typically think of the Camaro5 Fest as a drag strip showdown, but RPM Transmissions – based only about an hour northeast of the track – stunned everyone with a blistering, record-setting 8.943-second/154.40-mph e.t. in that awful air. It was 0.003-second faster than the previous record for an IRS-equipped Gen 5, which was set only a couple of weeks earlier by the American Racing Headers’ Camaro. Shortly after the big run, a wicked thunderstorm blew through Raceway Park to put only a literal damper on the event. Figuratively, it did nothing to dampen the emotion of the new “high water” mark.
“We are overwhelmed to achieve this performance in a full street car. The guys involved with this project have spent many hours making changes and testing this combination – and we have resisted the temptation to remove any interior parts, the air conditioning or other street components,” said RPM’s Kenny Johnson. “We have used this car to further our testing with our Level 7 4L65E transmissions and cannot be any more pleased with the outcome. With over 70 passes on the transmission and only one minor hiccup along the way, we feel that we really have a handle on what it takes to make this transmission last with big power and weight.”
There was strong competition on hand, too, with the former record-holding American Racing Headers ProCharger-fed Camaro dipping into the 9s, while Lingenfelter’s well-known and former record-holding black LS9-powered car running hard, but also stuck in the 9s. Regardless of how long the IRS record holds, competitors can consider the gauntlet thrown down and RPM Transmissions is daring them to pick it up.
By the way: American Racing Headers’ crew deserves a pat on the back for helping a Canadian couple whose car was damaged in the rear, taking out its exhaust system. While wrenching on their own race car, the American Racing guys bolted on their display exhaust system to the couple’s yellow coupe, allowing the couple to drive the car home. It was a great gesture.
The action was fast and furious on the autocross course, too, although the timers weren’t exactly reliable and the impromptu course, which consisted of “corners” inserted into basically paved paths in the parking area next to the drag strip, probably wouldn’t pass muster in SCCA. Cone placement tended to shift throughout the weekend, making it hard to compare early and later runs. Nonetheless, it was a fun and adrenalin-raising way to explore the cornering capabilities of one’s Camaro – and most exited the course with newfound and personal understanding of the term “understeer.” Hot shoe and OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car contender Danny Popp, however, threaded the course like a supercharged Singer sewing machine, showing everyone how it was done, driving a Pedders Suspension-equipped, Lingenfelter-powered SS and throwing it around as if it weighed 1,000 pounds less than all the other SS and V-6 cars in attendance. The car sounded mean, too – like the NASCAR over-dub for the Trans Am in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
The afternoon storm on the event’s second day did nothing to wash out the exuberance of Camaro owners looking to open their wallets for instant personalization or more power. There were so many cars lined up in front of ORACLE Automotive Lights trailer, where their small army of techs was installing scanner lights, halo headlamps and other LED accent lighting, you would have been excused for thinking the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders were filling up them up with free gas.
A couple of rows over, a more unassuming vendor was just as busy. Steven Hines drove up from Florida with trailer full of his recently introduced HEX Vents – functional hood vents that provide a path for hot underhood air to escape. Well, that and they look pretty damn cool, too. At $349 a pair installed right there on the spot, Hines could barely keep up with demand. His trailer wasn’t the most comfortable place at Indy as the temperatures rose, but it was heartening to see an inspired entrepreneur get off on the right foot in a tumultuous marketplace.
“We did 24 installations in two days and went home with only two pair leftover,” Hines says. “We were delightfully surprised at how busy we were – and if we’d had another set of hands, we’d have sold every set we brought. It definitely wasn’t comfortable in that trailer all weekend, but the response was terrific.” Indeed, by the close of the event, it seemed half the cars on the grounds were sporting the HEX Vents.
The speed demonstrated on the tracks, the personal creativity evidenced in the show field and the countless parts offered in the vendor area, however, paled in comparison to the camaraderie of the participants. The epic “get together” in the host hotel parking lot after the close of the first night at the track – with “refreshments” handled by the Texas-based gang at ADM Performance – lingered into the wee hours and is already the stuff of legend, headaches and blurry eyes.
As we went go to press with this account of Camaros in the Heartland, the location of the fourth Camaro5 Fest had not been selected. Wherever it takes place, it will have plenty to live up to – but it doesn’t have to top itself with the thermometer. The cars and their owners generate plenty of heat on their own.