You might know Danny Popp from the win at the 2011 Optima Ultimate Street Car competition in his white '06 Z06. Not a surprising outcome. Danny's been at it for nearly 20 years, most notably as an SCCA Solo II champ (also Pro Solo national champion and '12 Goodguys Street Machine Auto-X champ). He comes by his pointed avocation quite honestly, following in the steps of his driver dad and hot-shoe mom. When Herb Popp plucked this car in 1973, it was a year old. Danny was 3. He might as well have been born in it.
"All of my fondest childhood memories came from the passenger seat of this car. My father bought it to strictly autocross in the SCCA and NCCC, winning regional and divisional championships," Danny says. "My mom [Judy] would race in the women's class. Dad [Herb] would beat everyone and she would beat everyone but him. You could say that I was raised in a parking lot."
Somehow, Herb just knew that the cars were a great bonding agent between father and son. "As I turned 16, my father allowed me to drive the family Corvettes, including this one," Danny says. "The car was pretty much a stock LT-1 Corvette with headers and different wheels and tires. Regionally, it was competitive, but as I started running more national events, the car preparation became paramount, hence the evolution of it from nearly stock to completely modified. I was a quick study to my father's successes and loved running this particular Corvette.
"This car has competed solidly for three decades and [with him driving] has won seven SCCA national championships. At the beginning of the 2002 season, we parked it to compete with newer Corvette platforms. It's interesting to note that during the last two championship series, the C3 was beating the C4s and C5s. The car sat for nearly a decade but at the wishes of my sponsors [Van Steel, JRi, Wilwood, and Forgeline] was resurrected to run Pro Touring events to illustrate how competitive a stock-frame Corvette could be in this arena.
"It's a distinct pleasure to get this car out of mothballs, as it is way too cool to let sit. And it's great to have an arena to play with it for 2012 and beyond. They just don't make ‘cool' like this anymore. This car will never be sold and my son will inherit it as I did."
A flawless pedigree is one thing; a completely sanguinary countenance is another. There is nothing shiny or soothing about this Stingray. Stingray it is. How many other Pro Tour cars push a 315-section front tire on a wheel that's too large for the back of most other cars? Check out that front three-quarter view and tell us the Corvette doesn't look bestial, carnal, and at once, downright sensual.
Danny's the Corvette specialist at McCluskey Chevrolet in Cincinnati, and anybody who knows Ohio knows that the southern part of the state is far wilder and more frontier-like than the chumps up by Lake Erie. Herb and Danny formed Raft Motorsports as their station to enable Corvette soldiers. Their mission is primarily the C3 series but all walks of Corvette life are open to their interpretation. And while they could have become absolute slaves to the LS architecture, they walked back with an all-iron small-block crafted with period-correct components. So, three decades in the making, nice days, and proving the worth of the combination on copacetic proving grounds. They're not done yet … and never will be.
Engine & Drivetrain
About the motor, Danny is emphatic: it's an all-iron small-block infused with period-correct components. The '70 350 block got a 0.030-inch cleanup so that it displaces that magical (at least back in the day) 355ci formula. Bischoff Engine Service (BES) in Cincy did all the machine work and balanced the rotating assembly of the LT-1 short-block. Parts include a 1082 forged-steel crankshaft, OEM "pink" connecting rods, TRW 2304F pistons with a dome that cultivates a compression ratio of 12:1 and Childs & Albert Zero Gap second-ring packs (a proven midrange torque maker). Danny took the freshly shorn parts and put them together, fitting a GM "off-road" mechanical flat-tappet camshaft (0.493/0.521 lift, 257/269 degrees at 0.050 inch), COMP Cams pushrods, and double-roller timing gear. BES cranked on the angle-plug 292 Turbo cylinder heads, increasing port flow and velocity, sinking 2.055/1.60 one-piece stainless valves in the sockets and setting up the K-Motion valvesprings. Danny sealed the bottom end with a Melling M55A high-pressure pump and a Canton aluminum road race pan. Irrigation is based on an Edelbrock Super Victor intake plane, Holley 830-cfm annular discharge carburetor, and K&N filtration. Fire is lit by an MSD Pro Billet distributor (set at 38 degrees total) and a Holley Annihilator hot box. There is no exhaust system extending from the floor of the Corvette; it all flows through 17/8-inch primary by 4-inch collectors into the Hooker side-mount exhaust. There was no dyno testing but Danny conservatively estimates output: 420 lb-ft at 5,400 rpm and 460 hp at 6,800 rpm. In a car that weighs but 3,040 pounds, this translates (depending on final drive ratio) to 12.0/120 quarter-mile tramp. There's no slushbox here. Danny implements a '72 Hurst-controlled M21 four-gear (2.20:1 Low) via a Quarter Master 8.5-inch diameter dual-disc clutch and flywheel combo. The 12-bolt receptacle, carrying a 4.56:1 final drive and Positraction differential, is bridged by a fortified but otherwise-stock OE driveshaft.
Though street-driven on occasion, the C3 is a primarily a track dog. Danny is hugged by a Sparco seat and Simpson harness. His digits wrap the LaCarrera late-model Corvette steering wheel while empirical input comes from OE gauges and an Auto Meter recall tachometer. Creature comforts aren't available. Although the original AM/FM radio is still in place, we'd bet there isn't a fingerprint on it.
Although the C3 was never infested with rats, sequestered for years beneath a moldy tarp, or defaced in a traffic squabble, it's no stranger to elective surgery. Along the way, the Corvette got some encouragement to cover those monstrous meats—L88 flares all around are juxtaposed by an L88 hood. Corvette TLC in Columbus, Ohio, did the smoothing and handwork and then applied the PPG Targa Blue and the LT-1 hood stripes.
Wheels & Brakes
Since the Corvette is a relative lightweight, Wilwood 6P and 4P calipers on 13x1.25- and 13x1.00-inch rotors manage its braking dynamics with ease. Too bad you can barely see them behind those formidable 18x11.5 and 18x12.5 GA3R Forgelines and 315/30 and 335/30 Michelin PS2 rollers.
Given Danny's road race experience, there's lots of good stuff here that you never heard of; he and Herb built it as a Raft Motorsports project. The frame is original and unchallenged. Their contention was that readily available aftermarket components were all they needed to turn the Stingray into a surly hammerhead shark. A Borgeson Universal Company power-assisted steering cohabits with stock spindles and from there it gets hairy. Van Steel in Mooresville, North Carolina, supplied the core: upper and lower tubular control arms with offset shafts monitored by inverted JRi (Clearwater, Florida) double-adjustable dampers and 800-lb/in Hypercoil springs. Body movement is checked by a Rancho Suspension adjustable antisway bar. In the critical (for an IRS vehicle) rear quarters, Danny used Van Steel offset trailing arms and a camber-control bracket that facilitates roll center adjustment. JRi dampers are mounted upside down and fitted with 600-lb/in Hypercoils. Depending on the venue, the stabilizer bar is either OE or a Rancho Suspension adjustable. The Popps found a measure of chassis stiffness in the removable four-point rollbar.