When the C5 rolled out of the Bowling Green assembly plant for the first time and replaced the Fourth-Gen. Corvette as the new toy, the attention it got was tremendous. With the new Vette speeding down the roads of America, it took little time before a certain group of people living in the Crossroads of America took notice and named the new Corvette as the next Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500. And so, on November 6th, 1997, Chevrolet made the announcement at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) meeting in Las Vegas that the Corvette would indeed pace the 82nd running of the Indy 500. This marked the 11th time a Chevy had been picked to lead this prestigious event-the fourth for Corvette since its first appearance during the 25th anniversary in 1978. The Pace Car was piloted around the track by golfing great Greg "The Shark" Norman-a perfect match if you've even seen the green next to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The pilot Vette used on the track was an essentially stock beast. A few minor modifications included the addition of a steel rollbar along with strobe lights behind each seat. This latter add-on was done with the aid of slight bulges in the tonneau cover. The strobes themselves were then encased in a tinted plastic shell through which the flashing lights were visible when activated. The Pace Car also included the new RPO JL4, Active Handling System to help "enhance Corvette's already nimble handling with added accident-avoidance capabilities." Backed with a Competition Mode for more "aggressive driving" on such places as the track and autocross, GM couldn't have picked a better place to unveil the new option than at Indy.
With exception to the yellow wheels, Radar Blue paint, and Indy graphics package, the outside was as expected for the C5 with no major modifications made. The interior was also left alone (if reworking the seats with yellow seat covers counts as "left alone"), and the engine remained as an off-the-shelf LS1 that produced 345 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Linked to a 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission, the track-used Pace Cars were the same reliable vehicle Chev-rolet offered the previous year-and just as stock. However, "stock" is not how we'd describe Walker Bower's Pace Car replica, number 884 of 1,158.
With Chevrolet planning to release near 1,200 replicas of their newly designed Indy car, this Harrison, Tennessee, resident was quick to act on what would be his first Corvette. And in February 1998, what would become Walker's C5, job number 19,450, rolled out of the assembly plant and into his garage that April. What were his reasons for picking this particular Vette as his first? "It's the ultimate street-driven Indy Pace Car and a convertible with no compromises," Walker, now a NCM Lifetimer as well as member of the C5 Registry, told us. But it wasn't too long before the new owner decided his ultimate street ride needed to be something more.