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1999 Z06 Corvette - A Dash Of Salt

David Pilgrim and his land-speed racing C5 set The Salt Flats ablaze.

David Featherstone Jan 9, 2012
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For David Pilgrim, going as fast as possible is as important as eating and sleeping. It's his calling in life to beat the record. With his Corvette and his Harley, he's achieved more in the world of land speed racing than most folks could ever imagine.

This particular brand of motorsports is not filled with beauty queens, outrageous sponsorship deals, or the micro-management style employed by NASCAR to accommodate cable TV. Land speed racing is one of the last remaining automotive challenges, pure and simple. It has been evolving for 80 years at dry lakes and racetracks where ludicrous speeds can be run in relative safety, and it lures those diehards who have a record-beating spirit.

Pilgrim's passion for those speeds is fueled by the desire to be the best at what he does, to go faster than anyone else has, and to take home the coveted red hat that's awarded to the sport's elite. At the Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 2010, Pilgrim and his team ran both a Corvette and a Harley Davidson in pursuit of numbers that would make most folks shudder.

Pilgrim's purpose-built '99 Z06 Corvette is a land-speed-racingûdedicated machine. While it might look like any other Corvette you'd see cruising down the freeway, the resemblance ends there. Under the skin of this Torch Red coupe is a monster, boasting more than 1,200 horsepower and enough torque to do damage to the record books.

Based on a stock Corvette chassis at 108 inches, the car was built over two years with the help of crew chief Carl Stubbs in Pilgrim's hometown of Rockport, Texas. The suspension was reworked with Pfadt Race Engineering coilovers and steel bushings replacing the OEM hardware. This allows Pilgrim to easily set the coupe's ride height so he can have the car as tight to the ground as possible, moving the air out and around the body, not under it.

The rear features a custom Dynatech Engineering transaxle assembly running a 2.56-geared spool with heavy-duty axles and driveshaft. The brakes are stock Z06 all around, but the battery was moved to the trunk to improve weight distribution and balance.

The cabin is enclosed with a massive 12-point safety 'cage, which surrounds the intercooler's 60-gallon aluminum ice-water tank mounted in the passenger compartment. The driver seat is now a fully harnessed lightweight aluminum unit that sits lower than the OEM bucket. Pilgrim has neatly installed five lead ingots--molded using early small-block Chevy valve covers--on the floor in front of and behind the seat to help even out the weight distribution. In the rear space under the back window is the multi-tanked fire-suppression system.

The airbag steering wheel is gone, replaced with a removable unit. The dash is reworked with instrumentation and warning lights and override switches. It's a complex and tightly fitted interior that's been purpose built with safety in mind.

What really makes this an exceptional performance specimen is hidden under the hood. There, you'll find a C5-R block that has been punched out to 440 ci by MTI in Houston, Texas. The moving mass is centered on a Lunati crank and rods, along with Wiseco 9.25 pistons fitted with Hastings rings. The fully balanced and deburred block runs an ARE dry-sump oiling system.

The motor is topped with AFR LS1 heads featuring valvetrain operation courtesy of a Comp Cams bumpstick. There are matching roller lifters as well as Jesel 1.7 rockers with two Comp springs per Ferrea stainless-steel valve. These latter pieces measure 2.08 inches on the intake side and 1.60 inches on the exhaust.

Putting the mixture to the engine is a rear-mounted STS turbo system built by Rick Squires and his crew, featuring a pair of STS 67mm turbochargers. These supply pressured air at 17-20 pounds through the intercooler to the motor via a complex air-ducting system. That air enters the top of the engine through an Edelbrock LS1 manifold, while 85-pound injectors supply fuel. The exhaust is a handled by a set of Kooks headers, which dump into a 3-inch exhaust and deliver pressure back to the aft-mounted turbos.

The history of Pilgrim's Corvette proves it to be a veteran worthy of the automotive equivalent of a Purple Heart. Early on in its racing career, it suffered a major engine fire that destroyed the body forward of the doors and demolished the rear bumper. In March 2007, after it was rebuilt, it made its first 200-mph run at the Texas Mile, with a 202-mph pass.

Pilgrim and Stubbs then hauled the Corvette to the salt for its first all-out land speed race. Classed as an A/BGT (440- to 500ci/Blown Grand Touring Sports), the car aced its two license runs (150-175 mph and 175-200 mph). Pilgrim promptly set a 197-mph record, then bumped the mark to 212 mph. Only two months later, at the World Finals in Bonneville, Pilgrim pushed his A/BGT benchmark up again, this time to 236.664 mph. By setting a record speed of more than 235 mph, Pilgrim had finally realized his lifelong dream of entering Bonneville's exclusive 200 MPH Club.

The Corvette was unable to compete on the Salt Flats the following year, after a rear tire failed during a pre-racing test and caused extensive rear body damage.

In 2009, Pilgrim and Stubbs came back to Bonneville for Speed Week and managed to qualify the Vette twice at above 250 mph. Unfortunately, the car was plagued with mechanical issues on both back-up runs. Undaunted, Pilgrim and Stubbs returned for the 2009 World Finals and pushed even harder, running an amazing 262.042 mph and qualifying for a return record attempt. On this pass, while running at close to 250 mph, the Corvette spun out and lost its windshield, side glass, trunk lid, and driver's door. Pilgrim was unhurt, and undeterred.

Back at the 2010 Speed Week, the Pilgrim & Stubbs Racing team--including Pilgrim's wife, Debbie, and crew member Craig Schkade--helped urge the car to a 255.936-mph trap speed, qualifying it for another record run. This time, Pilgrim's exit velocity at the 5-mile mark was 265.561 mph--a personal best! Although the transmission failed on the back-up record run, he was still able to coast through the traps at 237 mph. This run combination gave him a new record of 246.148 mph, bettering his old mark by 10 mph.

The history of this Corvette is unique and exciting. It's been to the Maxton Mile, the Texas Mile, and Bonneville. Along the way, it's set a list of records that are discreetly displayed inside of the Pilgrim & Stubbs Racing trailer door--a list that's sure to impress anyone who loves land speed racing.

High-Speed Hog

Pilgrim also races a vintage Harley in land speed events. At the August 2005 Speed Week, he managed to set three new records before the event was rained out. In succeeding years, his ôBonneville Bobber,ö built from 1937 and 1955 Harley parts, has set new records at each race. Pilgrim has also managed to get some seat time on the Harley at both the East Coast Mile and the Texas Mile.

Vemp 1201 1999 Chevy Z06 Corvette C5 Land Speed Racer 10 11/11

Pilgrim & Stubbs Racing Crew Members


David Pilgrim American Cycle Fab
Debbie Pilgrim STS Turbo Systems
Carl Stubbs Dynotech Engineering
Daphne Stubbs Nelson Performance
Craig Schkade Geno McCarty Allen Nelson Pfadt Race Engineering



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