OK, we confess, nothing gives us more joy than watching classic Chevys getting beat on at the track. Yeah, the roar of engines, the smell of abused brakes, and that unmistakable scent of melted rubber and fried clutch disc is nearly intoxicating. Given our love of objects in motion, we host an annual event where modified classic Chevys get put through a series of tests. Like last year, our event was held at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The 2017 Classic Industries Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge presented by Falken Tires went off pretty smoothly even though the air temp got above 110 degrees. Even worse, surface temps on the track topped 150 degrees! Yeah, that’s hot and the heat was as hard on drivers as it was on the cars.
We’re not big fans of rules so we kept them simple. First, all the cars had to run the same sticky Falken RT615K 200-treadwear performance tire and had to be licensed and insured for street use (and have the basics like headlights, brake lights, etc.). During the course of the Muscle Car Challenge we allowed only minor changes to be made (i.e., no spring or sway bar swaps). As for drivers, we didn’t care, but the same driver had to pilot the car throughout the event. The cars were driven by whomever the various entrants wanted to bring to the dance. One car had Robby Unser and another had Kelly Collins (ex-Chevrolet team driver). Why allow hot shoe drivers? Simple. The driver aspect is never “fair” and the main focus of the Muscle Car Challenge was to show off cars so having a good driver will let the car shine to its full potential. Of course, many wanted to drive their own cars so there was a wide range of skill sets in play for the tests.
The Muscle Car Challenge consisted of three driving events: road course, slalom, and 100-yard dash. The Classic Performance Products (CPP) sponsored road course portion took place at Auto Club Speedways’ infield course where each car was given seven laps to nail down their best time. The slalom was a zigzag run through a 420-foot gauntlet of cones, which is harder than it sounds. The 100-yard dash is a newer event. Think of it as a short “street style” drag sprint. Each car launched from a dead stop (on unprepared asphalt) and blasted 100 yards through a set of timing lights. Between these three tests, the cars—and the Falken tires—were pushed hard in terms of forward and lateral performance.
We had wide variety of builds this year, from all-out track terrors to daily drivers. Cars ranged from ones with a lot of track time logged, including competition in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, to fresh rides finished just before the competition. As it often happens, the field was thick with Camaros since it’s a hugely popular platform to build a performance car on. We had a Chevelle, an early Nova, a Vega with a secret under the hood, and even a few trucks to spice things up. Over half the field was brought or sponsored by aftermarket automotive companies with the rest being rides we wanted to see flogged around the track. It made for a great day of Chevys being used as God intended.
The cars were divided in half with the first group going to the CPP Road Course while the second group tackled the slalom and 100-yard dash events. At lunch they swapped. At the end of the day points were awarded based on the standings for each event (20 points for first, 18 for second, 17 for third, etc.). So, there was a maximum of 60 points up for grabs. What ended up happening was that cars that dominated in one event didn’t do as well in the others. Our baseline car this year, a 2017 Camaro SS 1LE, ended up finishing around mid-pack in terms of overall points.
So who won? Well, we had a few $200,000 cars with over 650 horsepower battling lower-buck bolt-on cars with sub 400-horsepower mills. That made the competition a bit “unfair”—but then again, most of life is unfair—so we did have an overall winner, even though the main goal was to test these cars against the baseline cars (the other baseline car being a nearly stock 1969 Nova). And that winner was Jake Rozelle representing Detroit Speed Inc. in his white 1969 Camaro.
But it was close; just two points separated Rozelle in First from Robby Unser in the 1967 Speedway Motors Camaro (53 vs. 51 pts). Third place went to the orange 1972 Camaro piloted by Brian Hobaugh and sponsored by Wilwood Engineering. Fourth place was a bit of a shocker since it had everything “wrong” with it from a “how to build a track car” standpoint. Just off the podium was the Global West-sponsored four-door 1967 Chevelle with a heavy 454 big-block, a bench seat, and a non-overdrive TH400 transmission. Obviously the Internet is wrong about how you have to build a fast track car. Rounding out the Top 5 was the 1970 Camaro driven by Nick Relampagos, and representing Energy Suspension, actually tied with the Chevelle for Fourth. We’ll have all the juicy details, including times for all the cars and trucks, including how they did against our 2017 Camaro SS 1LE in the individual features that we’ll be rolling out throughout the year.
When these events go down, we tend to get tunnel vision and just focus on all of the go-fast engines, turn-hard suspensions, stop-fast brakes, and other performance parts. What gets glossed over are all the other parts needed to weave these performance systems into a kick-ass, track-ready ride. That’s where Classic Industries comes in. Yep, our competitors might have had many different performance parts installed, but they all needed a slew of restoration bits to end up looking good as well as going fast. Of course, Classic Industries also sells a huge array of handling and performance parts so you can go fast as well as look good.