When the factory supported C5-R racers made their debut in the 1999 24 Hours at Daytona they weren't the only Corvettes on the track. Two specially prepared C5 coupes were provided to Daytona to pace the twice-around-the-clock contest. In the intervening years several other Corvettes have paced many more road races, including the Grand Prix of Texas, where the C5-R earned its first victory, and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Though many features of the various Corvette pace cars changed from one venue to the next, one element remained essentially constant. All of the pacesetters shared a gorgeous graphics scheme featuring a large depiction of the Corvette nose emblem and very prominent checkered flag-like ribbons sweeping across the nose and down both sides. Most enthusiasts agreed that the pace car graphics were far more dynamic and appealing than the graphics utilized on the C5-R racers.
Brian Miller was among those who felt this way, though at first he simply admired the pace cars from afar. When he first saw one he had recently become the proud owner of a new '99 coupe. No stranger to high-performance Corvettes, having owned a '66 roadster, a '68 L89, and a ferocious '69 L88, his goal was to make the '99 a serious drag race competitor with few, if any, cosmetic modifications. In fact, for the first two years his car's only deviation from stock consisted of a broad white racing stripe up the middle of its Torch Red nose.
Earlier this year, however, he decided the pace car scheme was right for him. Only, unlike the vinyl stickers that the actual pace cars wore, he wanted the design painted onto his steed. For that challenging assignment Brian turned the car over to V&J Auto Body in Lindenhurst, New York. Using a die-cast pace car model as their primary guide, the experts at V&J first removed the broad white racing stripe, added a Doug Rippie hood, and then sprayed the white base up front. Following this, they carefully laid out the ribbons along both sides and the extra large Corvette emblem on the hood. After two weeks of fastidious masking and spraying the car was finished. The result is every bit as stunning as the original it is modeled after, and all the more remarkable since it is painted on.
While Brian's C5 is stunning, its beauty is far more than skin deep. Right from the beginning his goal was to turn the car into a formidable drag racer. After competing with it in bone stock condition for a little while he turned to the Vette Doctors, an Amityville, New York, shop renowned for squeezing every last ounce of performance out of C4 and C5 Corvettes.
Initially, the Vette Doctors were asked to increase power output by reworking the engine's upper end. Careful porting of the cylinder heads in conjunction with a competition valve job satisfied that request. At the same time the Vette Doctors also massaged the drivetrain. The differential was outfitted with 3.73:1 gears while the automatic transmission was treated to a full competition rebuild and installation of a Pro Torque 2900 stall speed torque converter.
It was not difficult for Brian to gauge the effects of the work that was done to his car since, on average, he brings it to Englishtown's Raceway Park three times a week. After the upper end and drivetrain were reworked the car turned consistent 12.0 quarters and on a good day it would dip into the high 11.90s.
That was fine for about a year, but then Brian got the itch to take his ride to the next level. Once again he turned to Dennis and Carmen at the Vette Doctors. Out came the original LS1 engine and in went a 383 cubic inch stroker version.
The stroker was built using Brian's original block as a foundation. Because the LS1's cylinder liners don't allow for a bore increase, the block was honed only enough to clean up the cylinder walls and true the bores with a torque plate bolted in place. The original internals were shelved in favor of a Lunati stroker kit that included a forged crankshaft, forged rods, and forged pistons anchored by full floating pins. A custom ground camshaft replaced the factory stick and shortened pushrods were substituted for the originals.
Because the custom camshaft has higher lift than the factory unit, and because the cylinder head castings were milled to bump up compression ratio, valve actuation geometry was significantly changed. By specifying shortened pushrods, engine builder Dennis was able to maintain the proper rocker arm ratio and rocker arm tip to valve tip contact pattern. Rather than allowing critical clearances to fall within an acceptable tolerance range, Dennis makes sure every one is exactly where he wants. Main and connecting rod bearing clearances, for example, are carefully set toward the high side of their acceptable range in order to maximize the thickness of their oil film.
Every performance junkie knows that improved breathing is one of the keys to unlocking horsepower. To that end the engine was outfitted with a ported LS6 intake manifold, a ported mass airflow sensor, and a larger throttle body.
At the other end, custom-designed Vette Doctors headers speed the exit of exhaust gases. Because the engine routinely sees high rpm usage, ATI underdrive pulleys were installed. And to help control engine temperature, Brian opted to go with a Ron Davis aluminum radiator.
The final power making move involved the car's electronics. Its stock engine management system was reprogrammed with custom tailored fuel and ignition timing curves to take full advantage of all the other modifications. Finally, in the interest of occupant safety, the Vette Doctors welded in a Kirk Racing rollcage anchored to the car's structure at six points. Also in the name of increased safety they added a five-point Simpson harness.
The Corvette's original wheels got treated to high quality chrome plating and wear street tires for occasional road duty. A spare pair of rims fitted with Mickey Thompson ET Streets is put on the rear for added traction at the race track.
After the engine stroke and all ancillary work the car remains entirely civilized. It starts immediately, idles sedately, drives well, and offers up all of the creature comforts Chevrolet engineered into it in the first place. But when Brian puts his foot into it, all semblance of civility is abandoned as evidenced by the car's consistent 11.20 quarters. With that kind of speed, this Corvette really sets the pace for all of its competitors!