Considered by many to be the pinnacle of C5 achievement, the '04 Z06 was much more than a simple carryover from prior model years. Suspension, rather than drivetrain enhancements, were the order of the day, with the targeted goals of refining vehicle dynamics to produce the best-riding and -handling Z of its generation. A combination of higher-durometer bushings in the upper control arms, revised shock valving, and a new rear-sway-bar mount made the car a beast on the road course, while simultaneously providing a less aggressive ride at low speed. Having undergone significant development testing at the famed Nrburgring, the '04 Z06 was the perfect performance car in which to drive to work during the week and play hard on the weekends.
After owning a black '02 convertible for a couple of years, Houston's Stephanie Cemo decided that her longing for increased power and handling outweighed the top-down benefits of a convertible, and she set her sights on upgrading to a Z06. Although the final year of C5 Z06 production was winding down, a nationwide search turned up a Machine Silver Metallic six-speed Z in Atlanta. After taking delivery of the car, it wasn't long before Cemo was afflicted with the racing bug.
"My brother Jason asked me if I wanted to go to the drag strip. It sounded like fun, so off we went," she says. "Although I freaked out when he hopped out of the passenger seat as we approached the burnout box, the starting-line personnel were eager to assist me and got me lined up in the groove. After clocking a 12.5 on the first pass, it started an eight-month love affair with the drag strip, [during which] I would attend four nights a week and eventually post an 11.7 quarter-mile e.t. with just a cam swap and sticky drag radials."
With competition clearly in her blood, the lure of the road course eventually beckoned. Rather than simply attending a track day, Stephanie decided to enroll in the Skip Barber Racing School at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Three days of intense instruction-both in the classroom and behind the wheel of a Formula open-wheel race car-followed, during which time Cemo immersed herself in heel-and-toe downshifting, threshold braking, trail braking, corner apexing, and other performance-driving skills.
"The instruction was tremendous, and I would highly recommend it to aspiring racers and daily drivers alike," says Cemo. "In addition to learning the myriad of techniques used in competitive racing, you also work on the subtleties, such as car control, for smoother transitions that will allow you to achieve faster lap times."
In May of 2005, Cemo took on her first track day at nearby Texas World Speedway in College Station. By the third session, she had advanced from the beginner group to the intermediate category. By the end of the second day, Cemo had graduated to the advanced group. Since then, she has consistently sought instruction to refine her road-race skills and attended every available track day at TWS. Although the learning curve was steep, Cemo is now the course's newest instructor
"I love instructing students," she says. "After all, the perks of being an instructor are free track time!" Asked to explain the allure of road racing, Cemo provided the following overview of a partial lap at TWS: "Turns 1 through 3 are a series of long, left-hand sweepers with lots of track to utilize, allowing for a great deal of speed. As I accelerate down the front straight at 140 in Fourth gear, the Z06 is positioned in a straight line for the tower. I execute some trail braking for a few seconds, then get off the brakes while allowing the car to ride out to the right-hand edge of the track.