We first met Gary Bowler at Katech's semi-annual Track Attack high- performance driving event (see related story), where his serious-looking C6 impressed everyone with its prowess on the Joliet, Illinois–based Autobahn road course. It didn't have the warp-speed-inducing horsepower of some of the Z06s in attendance, but it slithered through the turns with nary an ounce of drama and just plain hauled butt on the straights.
Driving skill unquestionably comes into play, too, and Bowler is a veteran of many high- performance driving events, or HPDEs. He's also one of a growing breed of enthusiasts who regularly run their Corvettes on the track, but don't have an interest in competing in SCCA- or NASA-type races.
"Full-on racing is just not what I want to do," says Bowler. "I want to go out, push my car and myself on the track. That's the experience I want, and that's exactly what high-performance driving events deliver."
Indeed, with its large rear wing, Bowler's dual-purpose '05 coupe—which he's dubbed the C6 Raptor—certainly looks as if it spends all of its time on the track, but it's also a regular sight on the roads in and around its owner's Rochester, New York, stomping grounds. That duality is especially important to Bowler, who has neither the time nor the desire to participate in a dedicated racing program. There's no need for a competition license, either.
"Corvettes are designed and built to be driven hard, and running them on a track is a natural extension of the ownership experience," Bowler says. "High-performance driving events are perfect for me, because they allow me to exercise my car and explore its limits, without the expense and commitment required for racing. And besides, this is still a car I can drive on the street—and that's exactly what I want to do."
Bowler bought the car new and drove it off the Bowling Green assembly line in December 2004. It was the first step in an unending journey to improve the car for HPDE use. The original 6.0-liter LS2 engine, which was originally rated at 400 horsepower, delivers noticeably more grunt, thanks to a set of Lingenfelter-supplied ported cylinder heads and a higher-lifter GT11 camshaft, which delivers 0.631/0.644-inch lift and 215/231 degrees of duration on a 118-degree centerline. New Era Performance in Rochester, New York, did the tuning on the warmed-over small-block. Tested on the shop's dyno, the Corvette put down 456 rear-wheel hp and 427 lb-ft of torque—about 540 horses and 500 lb-ft at the crankshaft.
"It doesn't have the sheer horsepower of some other cars, but the engine feels great and delivers great power on the track," says Bowler. "The Lingenfelter cam is fairly mild, but has a nice lope to it and the idle quality is very smooth, which is great for street driving."
Complementing components for the head-and-cam package include Yella Terra shaft-mount aluminum roller rocker arms, Morel 4708 hydraulic lifers, Comp Cams pushrods, an ATI SuperDamper balancer, an Edelbrock Victor high-performance water pump, a Halltech cold-air intake, LG Motorsports 17⁄8-inch ceramic-coated long-tube headers—blowing into a Corsa exhaust system—and an ARE dry-sump oiling system. As on a production Z06, the dry-sump tank is mounted in the engine compartment, and the battery (a lightweight racing unit) is relocated to the cargo area. An Exedy flywheel and twin-disc clutch setup transfer the engine's torque via an LG Motorsports carbon-fiber driveshaft to one of Quaife's bulletproof torque-biasing differentials.
Of course, horsepower is a valuable attribute for transporting a car between the turns, but the suspension is what enables it to negotiate them, either with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel or the haphazard stabs of a six-year-old playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Bowler's street/track C6 is definitely "board certified" when it comes to carving corners, supported not only by a who's-who roster of suspension parts suppliers, but countless hours of track time that helped dial in and refine its performance.
"You can't just bolt on the parts and expect to go cut a few seconds off your lap times," says Bowler. "It's a trial-and-error process that takes time, but that's also part of the fun of doing it all in the first place. You make the changes, see the results immediately, and adapt to them."
The basics were covered when Bowler installed a set of LG Motorsports Bilstein-based coilovers with lightweight aluminum housings and T1 stabilizer bars from Chevrolet Performance, along with front and rear tie-rod bumpsteer kits from Zip. The bumpsteer kits replace the factory inner and outer tie-rod ends and joints with heavier-duty components that enable a higher degree of toe adjustment. This helps ensure that the tires stay in proper alignment during hard cornering. Also contributing to optimal tire placement on the tarmac are a Pfadt camber kit and complementing bushings.
"The car really responded well with these components, and the on-track experience was like a night-and-day difference," says Bowler. "I've received tons of great advice and support on the suspension's setup from Tom Leonard of Speedsouth, Anthony Forney at LG Motorsports, and Aaron Pfadt at Pfadt Race Engineering. These gentlemen didn't just sell me parts. They followed through with the advice and experience to help make the most of them."
On their advice, the most recent suspension upgrades came last winter, with a set of dropped spindles from LG Motorsports, which lowered the car without affecting the suspension geometry. Pfadt's spherical bearings and racing ball joints (for the control arms), meanwhile, work cohesively to enhance traction.
"Roc Linkov from the National Corvette Museum was my instructor at the Katech event. I'd never driven the Autobahn course before, so I needed to feel out how the latest round of suspension mods would perform," says Bowler. "By the second day, I was driving in the advanced group because the car was performing so well. I did two days without the need to give a point-by. The upgrades were totally successful, and I was thrilled."
Braking duties fall to a complete StopTech big-brake kit with 15-inch, two-piece, drilled-and-slotted rotors up front, clamped by six-piston calipers. They're supplemented by a pair of 14-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers, along with LG Motorsports–supplied SKF racing bearings and a brake-cooling kit. Bowler has also taken pains to ensure that the car will keep its cool during a long weekend of non-stop lapping. Cooling modifications include a high-capacity Ron Davis radiator and oil cooler, an LG Motorsports high-performance silicone hose kit, and a Doug Rippie Motorsports fluid cooler for the Quaife diff.
The Corvette's powertrain and suspension mods figuratively and literally meet the pavement on a set of Hoosier R6-wrapped CCW forged aluminum wheels. They measure 18x11 inches in front and 18x13 inches in the rear. The sticky Hoosier gumballs are sized 315/30R18 in front and 345/35R18 in the rear, contributing to tremendous grip, especially when they're warm.
There are unmistakable exterior enhancements on the car, as well, not the least of which is the Z06 body kit that stretches the fenders over the wide CCW rims. It's complemented by a carbon-fiber front splitter and rear wing, along with a featherweight MCM carbon vented racing hood and a Lexan rear hatch window. Phoenix Racing tow hooks are functional and add to the Corvette's racetrack aesthetic.
Inside, a set of Caravaggio racing seats, which have become almost de rigueur for serious street/track enthusiasts, keep Bowler and passenger planted, as do matching Sabelt six-point harnesses. There's also a Pfadt rollbar for safety's sake. An MGW shifter provides quicker, more positive-feeling shifts of the factory Tremec six-speed transmission, but the rest of the interior is pretty much as Chevrolet intended.
"I've done all the work on this car myself in the winters, with some help from my cousin Jeff, when needed," says Bowler. "It's been a very satisfying project, and experiencing the results of that hard work is an even better feeling."
With years of driving experience throughout North America, including The Glen, National Corvette Museum events, Virginia International Raceway, Trackmasters, Putnam Park Raceway, Mosport, and more, Bowler has wrung every ounce of performance from his Corvette and keeps pushing its limits—and his.
"Car shows are great for some people, but I love participating in the high-performance driving events, because it gives you a rush that you have to experience to appreciate," he says. "I've made great friends through these events, and I feel like I'm getting the very most from my Corvette."
In other words, Bowler says, "Try it…you'll like it," about HPDEs. We wholeheartedly agree and hope to see continued growth in the trend. As this homebuilt track star demonstrates, the possibilities are endless—and so are the rewards.