Dr. Jerry Onks loves competing in his race-prepared Z06. And since he doesn’t have the resources to field a major road-racing effort, he turned to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to fulfill his motorsports dreams. The SCCA provides the perfect venue for amateur racers with limited resources. Two competition categories are offered—regional and national—and Onks competes in the latter. The top class finishers each year are eligible to appear in the SCCA’s annual runoffs. The runoff winner is crowned national champion of his or her class. It’s a prestigious achievement for any amateur driver.
Teams usually show up at the track with minimal equipment and work on large tarps laid on the grass near the pits. In fact, the name “grassroots racing” grew out of this method of car preparation. Not all teams fit this profile, however. Some come with the latest race cars from Europe, stored in first-class transporters. The racetrack is a great equalizer, though, as it takes talent to get around the course quickly and safely.
Onks is just this type of talented driver, having won multiple division races. He built his Corvette at his own shop, maintains it at the track, and typically races it 10 times a year. His crew consists of himself and his girlfriend, Debbie Belue, who serves as his crew chief.
Onks’ path through the world of Corvette racing is actually quite interesting. After becoming a successful veterinarian in his hometown of Smyrna, Tennessee, he leased a new C4 Corvette in 1994 and was so impressed with it he began competing in local autocross events. He got hooked, purchased a ’96 Collector Edition, and converted it into an autocross racer. In 2003 he made a major lifestyle change when he retired from his veterinary practice and formed a new company called VetteSport (www.vettesport.net), located in Smyrna. Today, VetteSport has expanded to include computer tuning, fabrication, and competition setups for Corvette customers.
Onks eventually bought an ’02 Z06 and drove it to Second Place at the National Pro Solo SS Championships in 2004. During his autocross years, he became close friends with multi-time autocross champion Danny Popp. In 2005 the pair built a ’99 FRC to compete in the annual One Lap of America road rally. Relying largely on skill, they bested scores of ultra-exotic iron to finish Third overall. Realizing that the cost of competing in the One Lap was high, with comparatively low returns, Onks returned to the SCCA to race a showroom-stock C5 Z06 in the T1 production class. He finished Fifth with that car in the 2008 National Championship and won the Southeast Division T1 Championship in 2009.
For 2010 Onks moved to a new class called STO. He purchased a wrecked ’07 Z06 from an insurance company and built it to fit the new class. STO, or Super Touring, features late-model, production-based vehicles, allowing specific non-production modifications to their drivelines and bodywork. In Onks’ first year of STO racing, he won his division championship and finished Third at the national runoffs at Road America.
We caught up with Onks and his crew chief earlier this year, while they were preparing the ’07 for a Double National SCCA race at Sebring International Raceway. Asked what it was like to drive a lightly modified Corvette on the notoriously challenging track, he replied, “Sebring is rough! We set the car up so it absorbs bumps. The track tests your equipment, so if anything is weak, it will fail, and if it’s loose, it will come undone. Everything needs to be working well to finish.
“This track is also tough on brakes. I thought Road America was hard, but at Sebring you are always braking, and the brakes get hot.”
We gave Onks’ Corvette a close inspection and were surprised at how stock it is. The front and rear suspension systems use the factory-style monoleaf springs with stock upper and lower control arms fitted with Van Steel bushings. Penske shocks handle the bump control, and large front and rear stabilizer bars minimize body roll. Wilwood brakes are used on all four corners. Onks added an APR Performance aero package that includes a rear wing and a front splitter for added downforce.
Inside, the car retains its stock instruments and factory carpet on the driver side to reduce cockpit heat. A full rollcage strengthens the chassis and protects the driver. The dry-sump oiling system was also moved into the passenger compartment for better weight balance. Race-ready, the car tips the scales at a hefty (for a race car) 3,300 pounds.
Races were held Saturday and Sunday for the eight STO entries, with 34 starters taking the green flag for both races. (STO runs in Group Six, which includes six other classes.) Onks qualified second in STO behind a full-race FIA GT3 BMW and ahead of a Ferrari 430 and a Viper coupe. He finished Third in both races after a hard-fought battle with the Ferrari and the BMW.
“I’m happy with the Corvette’s performance in the first races of the season,” he said afterwards. “We will continue to make changes to get the car more competitive so we can win the championship.” Based on what we saw, it’s clear that Jerry Onks has an excellent chance of bringing home the gold for Corvette in 2011.