There are few names in the automotive world more storied than Corvette. What was a secret project dreamt up by Chevrolet soon spawned into a nameplate that has withstood more than 60 years of the rollercoaster that is automotive taste. As of today, you can purchase a Corvette in just about any desirable trim and spec you want, you just need to know your letters and numbers, ie (Stingray, Z51, Z06, Grand Sport, ZR1). From its humble beginnings with a then whopping 280hp to what is now 755hp, the Corvette has always been able to put a smile across its driver’s face. Chevy had set out to create a car that showcased it prowess in design and engineering. It is therefore no wonder that each and every time a new Corvette is announced, the world stands up to listen.
But like any supercar worth its salt, Corvette has needed to balance their overconfident owners with a bit of harsh reality (that reality being said owners are not racecar drivers with wholly exceptional skills). There are far too many Youtube videos of supercar owners trying to show off, only to crash in utter shame. Corvette knows this all too well and so they have a driving school for their zealous owners. Located just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort & Country Club is the home of the Ron Fellows Corvette Driving School. It offers 3 different track configurations and a host of amenities.
I had the chance to visit the driving school and I have to say that it is fantastic! Firmly ensconced into my own private condominium after a day of traveling, I peered out of my window and looked at the track I was to race and learn on the next day. Spring Mountain has really been thought out well. Each visitor stays in their own private condo and has just below them, a private garage for their car and gear. There is no need to schlep around a truck and trailer, only to be worrying overnight if everything will remain safe through the dark hours. No, Spring Mountain is a community of like-minded racers wanting to eek out the full potential of themselves and their vehicles on the track.
As the sun broke the next morning, I was excited to get behind the wheel of a few different Corvettes. We started our class with a session explaining the track configuration, braking distances and on-board controls. Next we moved to behind the wheel of Stingrays and burned rubber in a series of maneuvers, to better familiarize ourselves with the handling and power of the cars. Diving in and out of cones, we feathered the throttle, trying to achieve a perfect rhythm. Moving on, we switched to Grand Sports and did some barrel racing. If you haven’t done barrel racing before, then you should know that it is much harder than it looks. Coming in too hot or too close to the cone, you will lose a considerable amount of time trying to regain lost speed. One must maintain a good clip, but not over-do it. Racing is like a good jog; don’t go too fast, don’t go too slow. Find a pace and stick to it. That is what wins races.
After several hours of bobbing and weaving, we finally graduated to the big daddy of Corvettes, the ZR1. For those unfamiliar with the ZR1, it is the top of the line Corvette, that hosts a mind bending 755hp from a 6.2 liter V8 engine and has a top speed of 215mph! You can easily tell a ZR1 from lesser Corvettes by its signature massive aero wing hanging off its tail. In addition, the front hood is considerably raised (to fit the massive intake for the engine). Suffice to say, the ZR1 is a bad ass looking vehicle. Lumbering onto the track, I had to wipe my sweaty palms dry. I didn’t want to mess up now. What would people think if I went off the track? How could I live with the shame of losing control? All these thoughts ran through my head as I emerged from the pits and turned onto the track.
The radio in the car squawked with the chatter of our instructor telling us which racing line to follow. A cacophony of hell bent horsepower wailed through the car as I mashed the go pedal. Immediately I was thrust deeper into my seat as the Corvette pulled harder. The speedometer rose ever faster as the world outside seemed to slide by in a blur. There I was, on the back straight doing 165mph! I couldn’t believe it. What had Chevy done to create such a beast? Brake, brake, brake, yelled the instructor as we came to the final chicane. I was heavy on the brake pedal and just as fast as I went triple digit speeds, the ZR1 came back down to barely a trot.
Pulling into the pits, my heart was racing and my focus soon relaxed and I slipped back into the reality around me. Driving the ZR1 is an experience like no other. Racing a ZR1 is a special spot in Heaven surely! Chevy has created another winner in the Corvette lineup and it is definitely a must own car. I have been lucky to experience many cars throughout the years, but nothing has put a smile on my face faster than the ZR1 did. But what truly makes this car special comes from what it took to get to this point.
While at Spring Mountain, Chevy brought along their team of engineers and horsepower whisperers. Over the two days at the track I got to meet and chat with all of them. What struck me most, even more so than the car, the track, the impressive numbers, was the people. You see, Chevy and Corvette in particular is not just some big brand from Michigan. No, it is composed of some of the finest people you could meet. Each and every person I spoke with was passionate. They are passionate about coming to work each day. They are passionate about making the very best product they can. They are honored and thrilled to be a part of something that brings value and joy to consumers lives. Each one of them lives a car enthusiast’s life. They have project cars, they go to car shows, they have families and they want you to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Chevy and Corvette may be a big brand, but it is the individuals who make it worth something and their singular focus is to create a safe, fun and reliable vehicle that will put a grin on your face.
There are literally thousands of hours in test cars that the engineers go through, so you get a vehicle that is perfect in every way. There are sessions in all manner of conditions and roads. Computers line every surface of the car and there are terabites of data that has to be looked over to make certain each element of the car is just right. The math, science and just plain magic that goes into creating a Corvette is truly an enormous undertaking. While driving down the highway, one can go from racecar ready to humble grocery getter with just a push of a button. How does all this happen? By the people who dedicated their time and effort to making something magical. They have achieved far beyond that. So the next time you see a Corvette on the street, don’t just admire its lines, but think about the hundreds of people who, in their each and individual way, contributed to the bigger plan that came together as one. That is something we can all learn from and appreciate.