The ZR-1 is still going strong. For the faithful, it remains King of the Hill, The Beast, and, according to the ZR-1 Net, "...the fastest production Corvette GM has ever built in the 45-plus years Corvette has been around, and one of the fastest production cars in the world, reaching a top speed of 180 mph."
As all conquering as the ZR-1's image is, however, owners of these cars do not have strength in numbers. A total of 6,939 were manufactured over the six-year period of production, 1990 through 1995.
For this reason, members of the ZR-1 Net, the Grand Sport Owners Association, the 40th Anniversary Corvette Registry, Team ZR-1, and the LT-5 Registry have combined forces with any and all other performance and specialty C4s for an annual event they simply call "The Gathering." Held this year at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green from Thursday, May 17th through Saturday evening, May 19th, this year's Gathering proved to be an activity-filled get together, filled with drag racing, autocrossing, barbecuing, banqueting, bidding for memorabilia, tours of the Corvette assembly plant, poker runs, scenic road tours, tech seminars, group photos, and more.
A surprise Friday-night visit from a den of Vipers ignited wildcard street racing. Several of the Viper drivers got a little testy with the ZR-1 guys, who were having their "Owner's Night Out," hosted by the ZR-1 Net crew at the swank University Plaza Hotel in Bowling Green.
Any disputes that lasted overnight got settled the next day at Beech Bend Raceway's dragstrip. Several of the Viper party crashers, who were on their way to a Sunday show, paid their $15 entry fee and went head-to-head against the ZR-1s. This was nothing expected or highly organized, but guess who won?
To the roar of the crowd (which included former C4 Corvette Chief Engineer Dave McLellan and famous tuner John Lingenfelter) the Zees bit the Vipers. We would have liked to see the Vipers go up against the Zees, and especially a tuner Vette or two, for quickest times at Friday afternoon's autocross.
The event organizers sure kept a body busy all day long with events. There was hardly time for the cars to get together for any kind of a "sit-down and bake in the sun" show. Which is great for the kind of Vette people who drive hot C4s. They love to keep on the move. The most relaxing part of the extended weekend was the Thursday evening barbecue at NCM's director Wendell Strode's 1869 farmhouse. Another popular sit-down was the tech seminar held in the air conditioned theater of the NCM, where former C4 "Corvette Action Center" members Gordon Killebrew, Paul Schnoes, Jerry Watts, and Sonny Kilgo joined Dave McLellan to answer questions.
The Gathering ended with a Saturday-evening banquet in the Sky Dome area of the museum. This was a great setting. Surrounded by cars, most of them historic ZR-1s, about 500 people raised $4,000 by bidding on an assortment of memorabilia, ranging from model cars to Corvette fenders autographed by the Corvette team. On top of that, retiring GM Powertrain team member Jack Underwood was presented with the Dave McLellan Cup, a special award that is presented to a Corvette enthusiast who has made "a significant contribution for the betterment of the Corvette community."
An estimated 100 ZR-1s showed up for 2001, about 20 of the '96 model Grand Sports (not bad, considering just 1,000 were built), and at least that number of Ruby Red 40th Anniversary Vettes. Officially, the NCM released a figure of 350 pre-registered enthusiasts, with total attendance exceeding over 1,500 throughout the four days.
Next year's Gathering will take place June 16th to 19th. As word spreads, we expect this show to grow in sheer numbers, as well as in variety of specialty C4s. We saw just one tuner car this year, a Callaway with a Grand Sport origin. We'd really love to see a hundred or so Vipers in the lot, too. ZR-1 owners get the biggest kick in the world out of knocking off the Vipers on the street and the strip. Any party crashing next year should bring about a Clash of the Titans.