Border collies are herders by nature. They get antsy just sitting around the house with nothing to do. Many owners will take their dog to a farm and let it herd sheep for an afternoon, allowing the pooch to do what it was bred to do. It sure beats intervening when the well-intentioned pet tries to herd neighborhood children at the park, which has been known to happen.
Corvette ownership is pretty much the same way—except, of course, for the bit about herding children at the park. What we mean is Corvettes are bred to run fast and hard, and putt-putting around to work and maybe your favorite seafood restaurant on Friday night is the equivalent of letting a border collie sit on the porch all day.
Rather than a field full of sheep, Corvette owners can turn to track-day events to exercise their cars. One of the most enjoyable and skills-enhancing track events we've encountered in recent years is the Katech Track Attack, held at the Autobahn Country Club road course, south of Chicago, in Joliet, Illinois. Given the company's longstanding motorsports involvement—including building Corvette Racing's engines until only a couple of years ago—having Katech overseeing the event is the equivalent of Guy Fieri showing you how to cook a steak on your own grill, as Mike Holmes builds a new deck off the back of your house.
The latest Track Attack brought about 50 cars to the sprawling Autobahn facility. For two days, participants enjoyed expert, in-car instructions from the likes of former Corvette racers Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O'Connell, along with almost unlimited track time. Roc Linkov, the National Corvette Museum instructor for that facility's high-performance driving events, was also on hand. Thoughtfully, participants were grouped into three categories: novice, moderate experience, and experienced, and they didn't mix with one another on the track, which made for safer, stress-free track time.
For Corvette owners who didn't have aspirations of quitting their day job to go racing professionally, the couple days in Joliet scratched an itch that that had been building for quite a while.
"This event is a great way to have fun with a car that has way more capability than cruising down Main Street," says Art Bell. "I don't want to actually race my car competitively, but I want to have fun with it, making the most of what it can do, and improve my driving skills. That's why I'm here."
Bell, who traveled from his home in Maryland, met friends Ron Turnbull, Gary Bowler, and Jim Beaton at Autobahn. They came from New York, Virginia, and Ottawa, Ontario, respectively—and it wasn't the first time.
"The National Corvette Museum's driver academy got a lot of us started, and we've become friends at other track events," says Bell, who says the group has met up at more than a dozen track events across the East Coast, Midwest, and Canada. "The camaraderie factor is a big one when it comes to track days, because these people share your passion and become close friends."
Bell slid behind the wheel of his first Corvette during the C4 generation, and his garage currently contains his fifth and sixth Vettes.
"I had gotten to the age when my wife said I'd either get a mistress or a sports car, so she preemptively bought me a Corvette," he says, laughing. "She probably made the right decision!"
With countless hours of experience at track-day events over the years, Bell says Katech's Track Attack event is different.
"There are other track day events, but Katech is doing something unique for a company that actually works on Corvettes," he says. "They're here, hands-on, with their customers. You get a degree of involvement that I just haven't seen before with other events."
Indeed, the small army of Katech representatives and technicians stayed busy for the two-day session, answering questions and offering advice, making suspension adjustments, and completing minor repairs. The company also invited suspension manufacturer Pfadt Race Engineering and the air-induction gurus at Halltech be on hand, to field inquiries.
"The time and resources these owners have made in their cars is significant and takes their performance to much higher levels," says Jason Harding, Katech's marketing manager. "Track Attack is our way of helping our customers make the very most of their investment and have a lot of fun doing it."
Participant Gary Bowler—one of the quartet of traveling track-day buddies—summed up his time at the event simply: "It was a blast."
Bowler's 2005 Chevy Corvette was one of the few cars on hand that wasn't a Z06 or ZR1, although it has been re-skinned to look like a Z06. It's been modified eight ways from Sunday, too, with the bespoke Pfadt suspension components, a modified LS2 engine, and other parts. Bowler has participated in track day events since 2006, so he straddled the line between intermediate and advanced driving groups.
"I did the first day in the intermediate group to make sure I learned the track," he says. "I also needed to see how my work on the car over the previous winter was going to perform for me."
That work included LG Motorsports dropped spindles, Pfadt spherical control-arm bearings, and Zip front and rear bumpsteer kits. The LS2 also sports ported heads, a mild cam, and a dry-sump oiling system.
"The car performed great, and the enhancements I'd made were a complete success," Bowler says. "My LS2 car was down on power compared with most of the other cars in the advanced group, but it sure made up for it with terrific handling."
For other, less-experienced drivers, the chance to learn from professional drivers was the highlight of their experience. We overheard a participant in the paddock exclaim, "Wow. Andy Pilgrim just drove my Corvette. Talk about awesome."
That pretty much puts the Track Attack event in perfect perspective. We're looking forward to the next one. Visit www.katechengines.com for more information.
Track Day Dos and Don'ts
If you've been bitten by the track-day bug and want to participate with your Corvette, you'll find they're held often, at just about every road course in the country. Log on to your preferred track's website and check for open track days, or link up with your local Corvette-club members and ask if they hold any. The National Corvette Museum's High-Performance Driving Events are excellent venues, too, with top-notch instruction. Once you've signed up for a track day, you'll want to arrive prepared and ready to run, and you'll immediately get off on the right foot if you keep in mind the following:
- DO bring a helmet with a minimum Snell SA 2005 rating. Most tracks have spares to borrow, but don't count on it. Bring your own—and note that those with a basic DOT rating aren't acceptable at most facilities.
- DON'T worry about a full racing harness. The factory three-point safety belts in your Corvette are fine. And don't show up with a racing harness for the driver's position only: Many tracks insist that the passenger's restraint match the driver's.
- DO tighten your lug nuts to 100 lb-ft of torque. They'll check at the event. You'll have to remove the center caps when running on the track, too.
- DON'T leave junk in your trunk. The interior of your car must be free of loose items, and for some tracks, that even means the console and glove box.
- DO inspect your car for fluid leaks and windshield cracks. If they're noticed during the tech inspection, you're out.
- DON'T forget to check your brake system. The fluid should be full and clean, and you'll want a good set of pads. If you run hard for a day or two, you'll probably need to replace them afterward, too.
- DON'T bring racing-compound tires/slicks if you've never run a road course before. Stick with street tires at first, and make sure there's at least 3⁄32-inch of tread depth.
- DO read the track and/or event's driving rules and follow them to the letter. That means learning the meanings of different flags, where the passing zones are, and even where to stage your car.
- DON'T hesitate to ask questions. Every driver has his or her first time on the track, and the instructors and course personnel are eager to help.
Finally, you may want to double- check your insurance policy, because an accident on a race track typically isn't covered. You can usually obtain coverage for the days you'll be on the track, but it'll definitely cost a few bucks.
All About Autobahn Country Club
If the term "country club" conjures images of funny hats, golf carts, and white shoes, Autobahn Country Club may just alter your opinion. Located on 350 acres in the countryside around Joliet, Illinois, Autobahn is a regional lodestone for those who'd rather drive their Corvette than a golf ball. There are two road courses—a 1.46-mile north circuit and a 2.1-mile south circuit—that, when linked, become a single 3.56-mile course with 22 turns. Autobahn offers daily track time to members, racing schools, driver-improvement schools, and more, and just like traditional golf country clubs, membership fees apply. There are even condominiums on the grounds, for the truly hard-core. More information is available at www.autobahncc.com.