As a general rule of thumb for car guys, by the time you've got fuzz growing on your face, the hot rodding bug has already bitten hard. While some come out of the womb already rowing gears, others inherit the curse from an irresponsible but way cool relative or neighbor. Either way, hot rodders are predestined to burn their bucks on cars way before they even earn their first dollar. As irrational as this seems, lumping car guys into such rigid categories is a bit shortsighted. That's because there's an entire subgroup of rodders whose gearhead gene doesn't become dominant until their fuzz turns gray or starts to fall out entirely. Don Gonzales is one of these late bloomers. He didn't feel the urge to go racing until the fifth-gen Camaro came along. Now, like a repressed schoolgirl going buck wild in college, Don's making up for lost time in his corner-ripping '10 Camaro, one smoking lap at a time.
To say that Don's never had any interest in cars until later in life isn't entirely accurate. He owned a '69 Mercury Cougar with a 390 big-block and a four-speed in his younger years. However, nothing that the FoMoCo offered inspired him to start turning wrenches, and to him cars were merely modes of transportation. Then he saw the first Transformers movie, and he was one of the two dudes in the room that preferred the Camaro prototype's body over Megan Fox's. "I thought, Man that car looks really cool, and I hope they build it. Not long after that, GM announced that they were going to put it into production," he recalls. "A friend of mine at work is an avid Camaro freak, and all we did was talk about the fifth-gen and drool over whatever pics we could find. One day while we were talking, I made up my mind to buy one. He said, 'You know what, I'm going to buy one too,' so we both drove down to the dealership after work that day and ordered them up together."
Four long months later, Don was laying patch in his new toy. Although he waited until his mid-40s to buy a performance machine, Don admits that deep down inside he always wanted a fast car. The factory LS3 sated his needs for a while, but the car guy in him craved more. As is usually the case with most gearheads, he caved in to the peer pressure to mod. "When I first got my Camaro, I had no idea I would modify and race it. I just wanted to drive around town in it and look cool," he explains. "Now it's turned into a toy that I just can't leave alone. I joined the Camaro5.com forum and a local club called the SoCal Race Team, and watched as other members started experimenting with bolt-on parts. One guy would get some headers, so then everyone else wanted to get them. Then another guy got lowering springs and sway bars, and everyone else wanted to get them. Now it's just become one big mod fest with everyone in our group trying to out-do each other."
Learning from the experiences of those around him, Don focused on acquiring parts that would give him the most bang for his buck. As such, he ripped out the mushy stock springs and shocks and replaced them with a set of Pedders adjustable coilovers. To stiffen up the chassis, he braced the strut towers and subframe with Hotchkis hardware. Sticking the enhanced grip potential to the pavement are 19-inch Forgestar wheels wrapped in Nitto rubber. Don kept things simple on the motor end of the equation, limiting mods to a set of JBA headers, a BBK cold-air induction system, and a custom PCM tune by Haddad Motorsports. As Don explains, the focus on the suspension over the engine was a calculated decision. "The stock LS3 motor is great, but the suspension tuning definitely needs improvement. With the coilovers and Hotchkis bracing, my Camaro is so much more stable and predictable at high speeds," he reports.
While the hard-core fourth-gen Camaro racers tend to look down upon the fifth-gen guys as a bunch of posers, that's simply not the case with the SoCal Race Team. "We just went cruising at first, but then we started autocrossing and got addicted to the sport. It's crazy how one person will put up a post about an upcoming autocross event on Facebook, and then 30 fifth-gen guys show up out of nowhere," says Don. With the explosion in popularity of autocrossing amongst the Pro Touring crowd, it was inevitable that modernized muscle cars and hopped up fifth-gen Camaros would eventually cross paths. In a peculiar reversal of roles, this time it was the lightweight, megabuck muscle cars that had the upper hand in the cornering department. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped Don and his cohorts from going toe-to-toe with their old-school rivals. "When we first showed up at events like Run to the Coast, the Pro Touring guys looked at us like we were crazy. They said, 'You're going to try to keep up with us in a 4,000-pound car?' After seeing how competitive our lap times were, they're much friendlier to us now."
In addition to local racing get-togethers, Don and his buddies hit up the autocross whenever they can at larger venues like the Camaro5 Fest, Super Chevy Show, and NMRA events. The only problem is that while Don's transforming his car into a corner-ripping machine while simultaneously improving his driving skills, so are all his fifth-gen friends. To keep up, he's already planning upgrading to long-tube headers and slipping in a bigger cam. It just goes to show that whether you're 14 or 44, once you get started in this hobby, the obsession to always go faster and one-up your buddies is all the same.
Owner: Don Gonzales Pomona, CA
Vehicle: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Type: GM LS3
Displacement: 376 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
Bore: 4.065 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: Factory GM rectangle-port aluminum castings
Rotating Assembly: Stock
Camshaft: Stock 204/211-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .551/.525-inch lift; 116-degree LSA
Intake: Stock intake manifold, BBK cold-air induction system
Fuel System: Stock tank and pump
Ignition: Stock coil pack, plugs, and wires
Exhaust: JBA 1.875-inch headers, dual Flowmaster 3-inch mufflers
Final Tune: Factory PCM tuned by Haddad Motorsports
Output: 417 rear-wheel hp at 6,000 rpm, 415 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm
Transmission: Tremec TR6060 trans, stock clutch
Rear Axle: Stock GM multi-link independent rear suspension
Front Suspension: Pedders coilovers, Hotchkis strut tower brace
Rear Suspension: Pedders coilovers and subframe bushings; Hotchkis chassis brace
Brakes: Stock 14-inch rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers, front; 14.4-inch rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgestar F14 19x8, front and rear
Tires: Nitto 275/35-19, front and rear
Paint: GM Silver Ice Metallic