1999 Chevrolet Corvette - Got Salt?

Gail Phillips' Land Speed C5 Shakes Things Up At Bonneville

Christopher R. Phillip Aug 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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(From left) Al Phillips, Wayne Villard, and Crewchief Doug Odom minister to the car in the pits at Bonneville.

Sanctioning body rules dictate that a Corvette racing in the Grand Touring (GT) class must be stock-bodied, with no spoilers or wings added unless those items came factory installed. The motor can be of any size as long as it is a Chevrolet engine. The only other changes allowed to cars in this class are safety modifications such as a rollcage and polycarbonate replacement panels for the factory glass.

According to Gail, her Corvette weighs 3,375 pounds with her in the driver seat and has an excellent .029 coefficient of drag (cd). It's set up to run numerous classes, all with strict engine-size requirements. A special safety feature borrowed from NASCAR is the airbrake fabricated into the top of the car. This piece is designed to keep the car on the ground in the event of a spin. Gail had a chance to test its effectiveness when she hit a hole on the Bonneville Salt Flats and spun several times at approximately 180 mph.

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The Vette assaults the salt at over 175 mph. Phillips holds land-speed records in both the D/GT and E/GT classes.

Currently, the Vette runs in the E class, which dictates a maximum engine size of 260.999 cubic inches. Odom destroked a 0.030-over 283 to get 258 cubes. "The motor made 445 hp on the dyno at sea level," he says. "Bonneville is 4,200 ft, so we lose about 13 percent horsepower on a good day. A lot of days, the corrected altitude is 7,000 ft. It takes about 385 hp at the flywheel to make a C5 go 190 mph."

Unlike road-race enthusiasts, Phillips and company will never have to spend big money-or any money, for that matter-on front brakes. Says Odom, "Land-speed cars use parachutes to slow down because of the small area of tire on the ground. Brakes on a land-speed car are used mostly to not run over someone in the pits. [The cars] are only driven under their own power from the starting line to the end of the course. They are pushed, pulled, or trailered everywhere else."

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The POP Motorsports crew: From left are Wayne Villard, Doug Odom, Gail Phillips, Al Phillips, and Kelly Pusley.

At her first Bonneville Speed Week event with the Vette in 2006, Gail broke a 28-year-old record (of 184 mph) by going 190.194 mph in the E/GT class. In August 2007, she challenged the D/GT record again in the Corvette, this time with a 300ci SBC making 500 hp, and achieved a race speed of 202.434 mph.

Gail and Al find that land-speed racing, like drag racing, is one of the few motorsports in which almost anyone can participate. "Land-speed racers create their own success from family budgets and home garages without big sponsors like in NASCAR," Gail says. They believe it is this individual spirit that has created the world's fastest speed trials.

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"I have often been asked what the difference between drag racers and land speed racers is, and while there is a commonality between both types of racing that can't be denied, the differences can be profound. Both need to manage their vehicle, horsepower, skill, and courage to the nth degree. Land speed racers go faster for longer periods of time with less horsepower, living on that razor's edge for 60 to 90 seconds, alone, which can feel like a lifetime to the driver. Distance allows time for reflection as you focus on the horizon, and no matter the speed, it's always just out of reach."


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