July 3, 2007 > Auto Review
1999 Busch Chevrolet stock car
This week's test car is a little out of the ordinary. It's not for sale, you can't buy it. A racing friend (John Davis of San Jose) let me test drive it at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA.
This car was originally driven during the 1999 Busch season by Brett Bodine. However, in November of 1998, the Busch Grand National Stock Car Series held the last of three exhibition races in Japan. This car's baptism by fire was actually at that race on the Suzuka road racing circuit in Japan.
If you don't know too much about stock cars, here is some info on the car. Is it really a 1999 Chevy? No, its pure race car. Its frame is made from many steel tubes welded together to form a solid, strong, safe structure. The racing front suspension is hung on the two front corners of the tube frame.
The solid rear axle with the locker differential is attached by leaf springs to the rear of the tube frame. A full race, 358 cubic inch V-8 with 650 HP is attached to a Jericho 4-speed racing transmission. She weighs in at 3400 pounds with the driver. Is anything on this car a stock Chevy part? I don't think so.
A question everyone asks is, "How fast will she go?" And the answer is...it depends. There are many choices of transmission and differential gears for various race tracks. On a super speedway, 190 mph is probably possible, but at most road race tracks, 150 mph is about the limit.
It's time for our first session, so let's get in. But first, put in the best set of ear plugs that you have. Slide through the window just like you see Jeff Gordon do it on TV. You force your back into the bucket seat, and it snaps around your ribcage like a vise. Hooking up the 5-point racing belt system completes the squeeze play, and you strain to breathe. Reach up on the dash, grab the detachable steering wheel and snap it into place. Give it a tug to make sure it is firmly attached and won't come off entering the track's fastest turn.
Now, time to fire up and head out. Turn on the master switch, the ignition switch, and flip the starter lever up. From the bowels of the beast, a deep rumbling escapes to the atmosphere. Even at idle, you are glad that you remembered your ear plugs (at 7500 rpm you REALLY need good ear plugs). The clutch goes in with little effort. Reverse is a little hard to find at first and backing out of the parking spot is no sweat.
As we head out from the pit, the noise level climbs. During the first lap, I slowly tested the controls, learning how the car responded to my inputs. All preconceived stock car notions started to evaporate. I thought the car would be hard to steer, hard to shift, hard to turn, and just plain hard to drive. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The car was a dream to drive. It went anywhere I pointed it. The power steering made it easy to steer. 650 HP made it easy to accelerate. The throttle/brake pedal setup made it easy to heel and toe. The Jericho transmission made it easy to shift.
She was light on her feet and really fun to dance with. I went slowly to start; I didn't want to look like an idiot or bang up John's toy. By the end of the first session, I was comfortable with the power and acceleration. I was comfortable with her turn in and stability in the turns. I quickly learned where the car's corners were.
Speed started to build, and I knew seconds were coming off each lap. A few times, I thought of flat-footing it through Turn 8 and then chickened out each time. We were going about a million miles an hour and running off the track was not a pretty image. Besides, if I didn't die in the crash, John would have ripped my heart out.
Every lap brought more respect for the guys who built the car. It was really easy to drive. It didn't do anything scary (I did a few things that brought the pulse rate up, but the car was not at fault).
The only unusual (to me anyway) character trait I found was mid-corner, throttle induced push. Turn 2 at Thunderhill is a large, constant radius 180 left. It's a great place to test how a car handles. I would turn the Chevy in, she would take a set, and I could gently power up. However, she really didn't like big changes in the throttle position. If you over throttled, the locker would lock up, drive both rear tires hard, the front tires would say, "I have had enough of this," give up, and the turning radius became a straight line.
A stock car like this is complex, and things happened very quickly, like getting the rear end to step out. In the lower gear, slower, sharper corners, an early call to the engine room for more power was not the best thing to do. Turn 11 is a second gear 90 left. There, I learned that it was highly recommended to get the Chevy pretty much pointed in the final direction that you wanted to go before mashing the throttle. They weren't really bad tank slappers, but they could have been if I was running hard.
A big challenge was using the brakes to their full potential. The only thing about the Chevy that made me uncomfortable was the brakes. Not that they were bad. It's just that the car was so fast (and heavy) that I needed to rethink the brake points that I used with my 825 pound, 55 HP racecar.
Now, how would you like to go for a ride in a Historic Stock Car? Have I got a deal for you! The San Jose Grand Prix at Redback Raceway is a race weekend held on the city streets July 27th to 29th. The Historic Stock Car Racing Series is offering rides during their 10-lap exhibition race during the weekend. All the necessary info is at www.rideofyourlife.net. The information for the San Jose Grand Prix can be found at www.sanjosegrandprix.com.
I have to say thanks to John Davis and his Air Systems Foundation team for giving me this opportunity to try a ride on the wild side.
By Dick Ryan
Freelance Automotive Journalist
Member of the Western Automotive Journalists