Corvettes and road racing have gone together since the first "SR" factory racing parts appeared on the Corvette option list in 1956.
And, as Corvettes have evolved, so have the courses--and types of races--they run. That includes open-road racing, which appealed to Tom Whalen when the Corvette in his garage was a '66 Sting Ray. "I was living in Flemington, New Jersey, and I was in the restoration mode at the time," he says. "Cruise nights, car shows, and stuff like that."
Those static events held Whalen's attention--until he read about a dynamic one. "I saw a magazine article about the initial Silver State Classic. I looked into it and thought, 'That would be fun,'" he recalls. "I was bored with the cruise night and show routine, and I initially thought that I'd modify the '66 for something like that. But every time I started calculating what the costs would be, they were prohibitive."
By 2001, Whalen had relocated to Frisco, Texas, from New Jersey. "I was busy with work, and the years dragged on," he says. "Then, in 2001, the Z06 came out. The next thing you know, I bought an '02 Z06, and I tried open-road racing with it." As a member of the Lone Star Corvette Club's Open Road Team, Whalen drove his unmodified Z06 to his first open-road event. "In 2004, I did the Big Bend open-road race, and I was in the 125 mph class with a 140 (mph) target," he remembers. Though it was his first open-road race, Whalen was far from a rookie driver. "The way that I was able to qualify for that was to give them my background," he recalls. "I had done four or five track days with Panoz, who at that time was at Texas Motor Speedway, and then my track days with the Texas Driving Experience." With those qualifications, Whalen was approved for a 140-mph tech speed; he passed the driving test and finished Fourth. He adds, "What was amazing was, I was within maybe two seconds of perfect, but that's how competitive it was in the timed classes."
It wasn't long before Whalen began upgrading his Z06. "By the time I got around to my next race, I had headers on the car, and a better tune," he says. "Within two years, I had a Lingenfelter 500-horsepower head-and-cam package. But that's a little misleading--that's 500 hp at the crankshaft, which was probably 385 or so at the wheels."
The LS7 that's now under the Z06's hood is capable of even more. "When I talked to Katech about putting the engine together for me, the goal was 600 hp at the crank," says Whalen. That goal was reached, for all intents and purposes, when the Katech "Street Attack" LS7 was installed and tuned, and the Z06 placed on a chassis dyno, where 515.5 rwhp was the peak on its very first pull.
Along with the powertrain and chassis hardware, the '02 Z06 got plenty of needed safety equipment, like a Katech 10-point rollcage, Sparco seats with Simpson five-point harnesses, and a Katech onboard fire-suppression system. (You can also count the Motor City hood and Specter Werkes rear fascia and spoiler, which help hold the Z06 down at speed.)
Also going in: data and video recorders, to document Whalen's performances. "The data overlay on my video allows me to see what I did each turn at, what kind of g's I was pulling when I did it, and what the attitude of the car was," he says. "So, I'm able to do a better job of rating the turns before I run the course." It's added up to more than a few podium finishes, with the first one seen in these pages. "The first time I appeared in VETTE, it was in a story about the Big Bend Open Road Race itself," Whalen recalls ("Flat-Out Fun in Texas," June '10). "That year, I won the Super Sport 160 class. The following year, I won in my first Unlimited class run at Big Bend, and this past year I did it again." He followed that up with an overall win in the '11 Sand Hills Open Road Challenge. All this, with a car that's still street driveable (though its air conditioning did come out to make room for the dry-sump oiling system). "It's inspected, and I drive it occasionally on weekends, says Whalen. "Sometimes, when I do a track day, I still drive it to the track." He adds, "It is street legal, and used on the street from time to time, but not as much as it used to be."
Does the thought of hitting high speeds in your Corvette in an open-road event inspire you? "My advice to anybody would be to try it," says Whalen. "Once you try it, you're hooked!"
Don't expect to run in the highest-speed classes right away, though. "Most of the time, [people] want to start out in a class they're not allowed in. You have to pay your dues," he says, while noting that an SCCA or NASA license will enable you to move up the ladder easier.
He adds, "That way, there's less chance of an incident, and the fewer incidents there are, the more likely the race will be run the following year."
And, along with it, another C5 Z06 in the field. Maybe yours?
|Owner||Tom Whalen; Frisco, Texas|
|Engine||Katech "Street Attack" LS7|
|Heads||Modified LS7 aluminum|
|Valves||Stock LS7 2.200 titanium/1.610 sodium-filled|
|Camshaft||Katech KAT-4727 hydraulic roller|
|Pistons||Katech forged aluminum, 11.4:1 compression|
|Crankshaft||Callies forged steel|
|Rods||Manley forged steel|
|Oil System||ARE Stage 3 dry sump|
|Intake Manifold||Stock LS7 composite|
|Fuel Injection||Stock LS7|
|Fuel Pump||A&A high-capacity electric|
|Ignition||Stock LS7 electronic coil-on-plug|
|Exhaust System||Kooks headers and X-crossover pipe stock Z06 titanium mufflers and tailpipes|
|Transmission||RPM Level 5 six-speed manual with 0.83:1 Fifth gear and 0.70:1 Sixth gear|
|Suspension||Pfadt Racing coilovers with spherical bearings, front and rear|
|Brakes||Stock '02 Z06|
|Wheels||CCW modular aluminum; 18x10.5-in (front), 18x11.5-in (rear)|
|Tires||Nitto 55RII (285/35R18 front, 305/35R18 rear) or Michelin TS2 (275/35ZR18 front, 295/35ZR18 rear)|