If you’ve been a reader of Super Chevy for any amount of time then you’re pretty aware that we’re big proponents of “drive your car!” Yep, while we love checking out a nicely done Chevy, what really gets us fired up is seeing those cars in motion. Given this, we decided years ago to host an event where classic Chevys filled with aftermarket handling bits would be driven hard and compared to a modern performance offering from Chevrolet. The 2018 Super Chevy Muscle Car Challenge presented by Falken Tires went off pretty smoothly under the warm California sun and, like last year, the event was held at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Some of the cars had never been on track before so each session started with some lead/follow laps to warm up the cars and drivers.
The rules also stayed the same from last year. All the cars had to run the new, stickier Falken RT615K+ 200-treadwear performance tires and the cars had to be licensed and insured for street use (and pass a basic safety check). The new Falken RT615K+ tires are great, with just the right mix of track performance and street manners. As for drivers, we didn’t care who you brought to the party, but the same driver had to pilot the car through all three segments. We also limited what could be done to the cars during the event to keep it more of a “run what ya brung” type deal. So tire pressure changes, shock adjustments, and repairs of broken bits were the only wrenching allowed.
Fifteen modified Chevys and our baseline ’17 Camaro SS came out to play in the SoCal sunshine. This included 10 manufacturer-sponsored cars and 5 local “average Joe” rides invited out to thicken up the field a bit.
The Muscle Car Challenge consisted of three driving segments: road course, slalom, and 100-yard dash. The Total Cost Involved (TCI) sponsored road course took place at Auto Club Speedway’s infield course where each car was given five hot laps to nail down their best time. The slalom was a zig-zag run through a 420-foot gauntlet of cones, which is harder than it sounds and is more about maintaining a consistent speed than accelerating through each cone. The 100-yard dash is set up to test the tire’s forward bite and how well the car launches from a standing start. Think of it as a short “street style” drag sprint. Each car launched from a dead stop (just asphalt, no VHT) 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 lateral and forward performance. This is the first year we’ve been able to run Falken’s new RT615K+ tires and we could certainly feel the improvement in traction.
After checking in, each car was assigned to a run group and could use the garage area for prep. Hey, we run a first-class operation at Super Chevy.
The cars were divided into two run groups with one group going to the TCI-sponsored road course while the second group tackled the slalom and 100-yard dash. The groups swapped at lunch. At the end of the day, points were awarded based on the standings for each segment (20 points for First, 18 points for Second, 17 for Third, etc.). So, there was a max of 60 points up for grabs. The bonus point for winning a segment factored into the final results with just two points separating First and Second place! The winner, Chad Ryker in his Wilwood-sponsored ’68 Camaro, nabbed First Place in both the slalom and road course events, but struggled a bit in the 100-yard dash with a Fifth Place finish for a total of 55 points. Second Place was grabbed by Efrain Diaz, who finished Second in the slalom and 100-yard dash and Third on the road course. That’s a solid performance in all three events, but the bonus points for first place help Chad Ryker take home the trophy and the bragging rights this year. Third Place went to the nearly 1,000hp chameleon-colored ’69 Camaro sponsored by Speedway Motors and driven by Ken Thwaits. Ken locked in a Second on the road course and a traction-limited Third in the 100-yard dash, but couldn’t find his groove on the slalom (remember how we said it was harder than it looked) with a Ninth Place finish.
Our baseline car was loaned to us by our friend Tim Lee. Considering the car only had 1,600 miles on the clock we’re sure he was a bit worried. Wilwood’s Mike Hamrick was the man behind the wheel, and the eight-speed automatic 2017 SS was driven in Track mode. For the 100-yard dash he didn’t use launch control. Different from all the other Chevys at our event, the SS rolled on its factory rubber.
The cars at our event were very diverse. We had everything from insane $100,000 cars to low-buck builds and engine outputs from 1,000 hp down to 350 hp. Some of the cars had been tracked for years, while others were fresh builds with zero track miles. Even our drivers were a diverse mix in terms of wheel time. Given this, comparing the cars to each other, while entertaining, really makes little sense. So, to give you a way to gauge the cars we compared them to a baseline car. This year it was a bone stock LT1-powered 2017 Camaro SS owned by Tim Lee of Don Lee Auto, in nearby Rancho Cucamonga, which finished Tenth overall. Driving the ’17 Camaro was Wilwood’s Mike Hamrick who had a best TCI road course lap of 1:20.30 (Eighth) and set the benchmark for the rest of the cars to try and beat. Now, the SS—with all the 21st century bells and whistles—is no slouch on the track, so we’re impressed when any vintage Chevy iron can come close to, let alone best, its performance.
Every year we invite a few locals to come out and enjoy a free track day. Why? Well, because we can easily accommodate more cars and besides, more cars equals more fun. Casey Cronin brought out his recently painted 1972 Corvette and did remarkably well with consistent finishes in all the segments, which left him tied for Fourth Place overall!
Overall, the day went well. There were a few off-track excursions and more than a few cones suffered on the slalom course, and aside from the small fire and a few engine and parts hiccups, everyone had fun wringing out their modified Chevys and showing that old dogs can be taught new tricks thanks to the performance aftermarket. And that was the whole point of the exercise. So, if you have a Chevy at home in the garage get it out and drive it! We don’t care if it’s at an autocross, road course, dragstrip, or a cruise through the countryside. You can thank us later for the advice.
Another editor invite was Michael Cuthbertson and his widebody ’68 Camaro. Michael is a regular competitor in the Optima series so he gets lots of track time in his Camaro. He finished Fourth on the TCI road course, but couldn’t find his groove on the slalom. The Camaro has a fairly stock LS2 engine, so he was down on power for the 100-yard dash compared to many of the other cars.
When we put out the word that we were looking for cars to invite, Mike Sullivan from FiTech jumped at the chance. His ’67 El Camino is a real low-buck performer and shows you can have a lot of fun without having to sell a kidney to fund it.
Another wallet-friendly Chevelle pickup truck at the event was Arlo Karikomi’s cool ’65. This was his first time on track, and going by the smile he wore all day we’re pretty sure he’s hooked.
Another first-timer was Joel Rode in his beautiful ’67 Chevelle. His lack of any road course experience showed during the TCI road course segment. He also found out the hard way that a transmission cooler is a good idea when pushing things really hard. Joel does know how to drag race and he managed to run the Chevrolet Performance ZZ454 big-block–powered A-body to a Seventh Place finish in the 100-yard dash against cars, that in most cases had a lot more power and a lot less weight.
Chris Holstrom had engine-tuning gremlins throughout the day in the Detroit Speed-equipped ’69 Camaro owned by Joe Gahms. While the handling was solid, the engine was problematic, eventually fouling out the plugs and keeping Chris from even hitting the TCI road course. The car has a ton of potential and we can’t wait to see it run once the engine is firing on all eight.
Another car with “teething issues” was Jason Scudellari’s ’63 Nova. We’ve been building this sweet Chevy II at Super Chevy for some time now and Jason got it on the road a week before the event. In the 100-yard dash, the ProCharged Chevy couldn’t find traction and in the other segments a suspension gremlin, which turned out to be a disconnected sway bar, killed his handling. A competitive track day isn’t the best place to beta test your newly built car, but he still had fun and once we get the car sorted out we will get back to the track for some testing.
“Fresh build” also accurately describes the ’72 Chevelle sponsored by Aldan American. How fresh? How about finished the day before the event? Like the other fresh builds, the Chevelle suffered from needing to be sorted out, and finished just behind our baseline 2017 Camaro in the overall standings.
The ’68 Camaro representing Speedway Motors was beautiful in its simplicity. No frills and patina’d paint made for a sweet ride that any gearhead could aspire to own. The car is owned by Chris Holstrom (who was driving the orange ’69 Camaro) and was built at his shop in just six weeks! The ’68, driven by Nate Pierce, tied the baseline ’17 SS in the 100-yard dash, easily bested it in the slalom, and was just 0.34 slower on the TCI road course!
Greg Thurmond runs his Vette quite a bit and the car’s low weight and high power (from the built LS7) helped Greg win the 100-yard dash. Unfortunately, a loose bracket in his IRS killed the car’s handling, resulting in him being tied for Sixth overall. The good news is that he was able to find and fix the problem before competing in the Fontana Optima Ultimate Street Car event the following weekend.
Classic Performance Products (CPP) had been furiously working on their ’67 Camaro for our event and we weren’t sure they were going to make it; but they did! Finished just a couple of days before, it was driven by hired hot shoe Canaan O’Connell, who is a pro racer and an instructor at the Bondurant Racing School. So you had a fresh car piloted by pro that had never driven it before. Even so, CPP’s ’67 finished Fourth in the slalom and Seventh on the TCI road course. The lack of power from the stock, iron 6L LS engine didn’t help their 100-yard dash times, but still managed a solid tie for Sixth Place overall.
Chris Smith brought his super-nice ’70 Camaro all the way across the country to run in our event and represent RideTech, which he did ably all the way to a tie for Fourth Place. We had just seen the car run the week before at the Holley LS Fest East in Kentucky and Chris was using this as another chance to tune and sort out his SEMA-bound ride. The F-body trounced the baseline car, finishing Fourth in the 100-yard dash and Fifth on the road course where Chris only got a few laps before suffering a slight fuel issue
Pro Tip: If you want to get into a magazine story, just catch on fire. It pretty much guarantees it! Fortunately, Chris had a fire suppression system that, in addition to the quick response of the track safety crew, saved his Camaro with only minimal damage.
The ’69 Chameleon Camaro sponsored by Speedway Motors and owned by Speedway’s Dave Wallace was insanely badass. We heard it recently ran 196 mph in the standing mile thanks to its all-aluminum, 1,000hp big-inch big-block mill, and that was without even touching the nitrous. Helming the Camaro was guest driver Ken Thwaits, who has lots of track experience, but who had never driven the pissed-off Camaro before. Traction was an issue, but brute force took the Camaro to a Third Place finish in the 100-yard dash. On the TCI road course he managed a solid Second, just 0.34 seconds back of the winner. Ken hates our slalom course, but even with that Ninth Place finish he still landed in Third overall!
Efrain Diaz was at our event last year as an editor invite and did so well (Fourth overall) that Total Cost Involved (TCI) signed him up to represent them this year. He was solid in all three segments, finishing Second in the slalom, Second in the 100-yard dash, and Third on the TCI road course. Add it all up and he landed in Second Place overall by a comfortable margin.
One thing this year’s winner has in common with runner-up Efrain Diaz is that they both log lots of track time in their Camaros, which goes to prove that practice makes you a hell of a lot closer to perfect. Chad Ryker, in his Wilwood Brakes-sponsored ’68 Camaro scored wins in both the TCI road course and slalom events, but struggled a bit with a Fifth Place in the 100-yard dash. Still, the wins and their accompanying bonus points, gave him a final score of 55 out of the 60 points that were possible. I’m sure he’ll enjoy the bragging rights and the trophy for some time to come.
Our ’71 Chevelle wagon has been patiently waiting until after this event so it could start its transformation consisting of a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis, a ProCharged Shafiroff Racing stroker LS3, and a whole lot more. For this event, the wagon was perfect for setting up cones and doing the lead/follow on track. Next year though, watch out.
Photography by Steven Rupp, Taylor Kempkes, Nick Licata, and Robert McGaffin