There was not a lot of smack-talking beforehand, but I think everyone who works for Source Interlink Media, parent company of Super Chevy, Hot Rod, Car Craft and Camaro Performers, wanted to dethrone Nick Licata in the Goodguys Editors Challenge Autocross, help on Saturday, March 14, at the annual Goodguys event in Costa Mesa, California.
Nick, editor of Camaro Performers (Super Chevy's sister publication), held up the honor of the Bow Tie brigade last year when he drove Detroit Speed & Engineering's fabulous '69 Camaro to the top spot in the event. Steven Rupp, who toils under both Licata and me on SC and CP, would be bringing former cover car "Bad Penny," his gorgeous '68 Camaro g-machine. Since I'd flown in from my new hometown of Tampa, I'd have to borrow some wheels. I took a lap in Air Ride's '66 Chevelle, but would have been sharing it with five other journalists. It would have been impossible to get any consistency going in that kind of environment.
Then I spotted DSE's second-gen Camaro sitting there all alone, fresh off its robust performance in our 2008 Suspension & Handling Challenge. I knew it would offer all the performance I could ask for. All I had to do was be up for the challenge from behind the wheel.
My first pass on cold tires was a decent 33.something or other. Not a bad get-acquainted run, but I knew I could do better. While waiting my second turn, Stacy Tucker of DSE asked my how the car was performing. I relayed it was pushing. She had her tech make a tire pressure and rear shock adjustment. Wow--I felt just like Earnhardt!
Whatever they did worked. I knocked over a second off my time, to a low 32. My driving improved with every pass (11-time autocross champion and Super Chevy contributor Mary Pozzi was giving us all tips) and soon I was in the 30-second bracket, but in third place behind Rupp and Licata. Ugh. One thing I realized from the car (and which Mary and Stacy recognized from the paddock) was that I could get more aggressive with the throttle coming off the corners. Stacy also told me to stay on the loud pedal longer going into the finish line. I'd been lifting a little early because the finish line was positioned just before a concrete building that housed the restrooms. "Stay on it. The brakes will get you stopped."
With thoughts of women fleeing the bathroom with their pants around their ankles after the nose of the Camaro broke through the wall, I went for broke. At this point Licata was in the lead with a 30.01, Rupp second at 30.11 and me third about a tenth back. I drove it like I stole it. The LS-powered second-gen was amazing. The DSE suspension took every ounce of throttle I could give it. It was unflappable. For better or worse, the six-piston brakes kept the blue F-body out of the ladies room, though I went through the finish line slightly sideways.
The scoreboard lit up with a 29.96. The crowd went nuts. The announcer boomed, "The old guy can drive!" I was in first place. The clock was running out. People were overdriving after they saw this performance and my sub-30-second pass was standing strong.
I knew I was doomed when people started telling me I had it wrapped up. The kiss of death. I saw the look on Rupp's face in Bad Penny. I told David Freiburger, editor-in-chief of Hot Rod, to sneak back there and let the air out of his left rear tire. He chuckled, but didn't. Rupp ran a 29.68 on the last run of competition to win the event.
I couldn't fire Rupp no matter how badly I wanted to. He's too good a writer and photographer. I guess I was happy for him. He got a trophy, bragging rights, and we both finished ahead of Licata, who was (typically) brilliant again behind the wheel.
As editorial director of Super Chevy and Camaro Performers, how could I not be pleased? Team Super Chevy rolled to a 1-2-3 finish ahead of guys from Hot Rod, Car Craft, Street Rodder, and other publications.
I'll get my revenge next year.
(Web Editor's Note - Shortly after the event, Steven Rupp's car mysteriously exploded while he was trying to start it. No cause for the explosion has been found - just kidding!)
2nd Annual Editor's Challenge Cup:
1. Steven Rupp - Camaro Performers Magazine - '68 Camaro - 29.694
2. Jim Campisano - Super Chevy Magazine - '70 Camaro - 29.978
3. Nick LiCata - Camaro Performers Magazine - '69 Camaro, 30.107
4. Jeff Smith - Car Craft Magazine - '66 Chevelle, 31.783
5. Robert McGaffin - Popular Hot Rodding, '66 Chevelle, 31.877
6. David Freiburger - Hot Rod Magazine - '65 Chevy Malibu - 32.849
7. Travis Noack - Muscle Car Power - '66 Chevelle - 34.299
8. Kev Elliot - Rod & Custom Magazine - '46 Ford Pickup - 34.906
9. Liz Miles - Popular Hot Rodding - '66 Chevelle - 35.804
10. Matt Degen - Orange County Register Auto Editor - '70 "Supernova" - 35.869