ZCON 2020 – Part Two: Track Day

LACar field correspondent Ian Stewart details a candid, personal tale from the cockpit of his 1975 280z around the Corvette Museum’s highly technical track.

ZCON 2020
ZCON 2020

Story by Ian Stewart (Special LACar.com Field Correspondent)

Photos by Ian Stewart, Jeff Agner and Photo Pro Ben Bagwell.

To see part one of LACar’s coverage of ZCON 2020, click HERE.

To check out the plethora of articles celebrating the Z car’s 50th anniversary, see the rest of the ExtravaganZa HERE.

The Corvette Museum Grand Full Course is 3.15 miles of insane technical difficulty. zcon
The very technical Corvette Museum Grand Full Course. 3.15 miles and 23 turns. 

It’s 2020, which means sports car fans have now enjoyed 50 years of Z cars.  What better way to celebrate than a cross country trip with my father from California to Tennessee, home of Nissan North America and host of ZCCA’s National Z Car Convention?

The ZCCA added to the invite: “While you’re here, you can take your Z car to a racetrack…. and not just any race track, as just over an hour away from Nashville, TN, lies Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park Grand Full Course, 3.15 miles and 23 turns of gloriously smooth and twisty tarmac”.  What to do but leave the street Z in the garage and load up my newly acquired 280Z track BEAST and hit the road…

The author of this article is getting BEAST ready. Note the drawing of the circuit taped on the center console. Not visible in the photo, he had another note that read: “Left Pedal: CLUTCH. Center Pedal: BRAKE. Right pedal: THROTTLE.” Behind the car his Dad is thinking: “I could’ve been fishing in Colorado…” zcon
The author of this article is getting BEAST ready. Note the drawing of the circuit taped on the center console. Not visible in the photo, he had another note that read: “Left Pedal: CLUTCH. Center Pedal: BRAKE. Right pedal: THROTTLE.” Behind the car his Dad is thinking: “I could’ve been fishing in Colorado…”

After 3 days of issue-packed (euphemism for problems) cross county trippin’ towing a toy hauler loaded with my race car, followed by 2 days of Z nirvana with the Registration and ZCon Meet and Greet Monday night, attending the Z proto unveiling Tuesday, working Tech at the Hotel and touring the Nissan Heritage Museum on Wednesday, it was finally 7:30 am Thursday morning with my Dad and I standing in the paddock at the National Corvette Museum (NCM) Motorsports Park.

The ZCon competition team talked us through what to expect and what was expected of us as drivers in the day ahead at this epic track that we were about to experience.

A familiar scene at any race track: towing vehicles, trailers and race cars. zcon
A familiar scene at any race track: towing vehicles, trailers and race cars.

I gaze past the crowd briefly upon my gleaming blue beast of fully caged, tubular suspensioned, Rebello L31 powered 75 280Z (that I had never driven on a track before) as I listened to the local hot shoe explain that “this is one of the most challenging courses in the country, so don’t expect to learn the track today” speech I thought, “hmmm, maybe this wasn’t the best idea…”.  

But I’m here at this amazing place with an amazing car with great people and there is only one thing to do…. Go For It!!  

The lovely and always smiling Johnny Gable, Mr. K’s assistant for many years, and Mr. Peter Brock. Always supporting Z events, of course present in Nashville. zcon
The lovely and always smiling Johnny Gable, Mr. K’s assistant for many years, and Mr. Peter Brock. Always supporting Z events, of course present in Nashville.

So, I took the guy’s advice and prepped to concentrate on the slow technical sections at either end of the track and took it easy in the back section sweepers where speed and track ignorance could be a dangerous combo. My 80 year old Dad (yes, he is a trooper!) and I began prepping car and driver (i.e, me) for the first of four sessions that day. Fuel…check, wheels torqued… check, tire pressures…check, race suit… check, belts…. check….. BALLS… CHECK!!!

Being a licensed SCCA road racer, in a car with over 300hp, I was placed in the advanced group with no less than three national champion drivers all in their respective series winning Z cars.  I was expecting to tuck in behind these masters of the art and build confidence, but it was not to be.  The first session out, I started strong on throttle but didn’t make it around track once before the car began to swap ends (and did once) every time I hit the brakes.  So, I dive into the pit lane, head back to the paddock, hop out of the car and start trouble shooting.  Up on jacks, wheels off, I find the right front brake line loose and an empty front brake reservoir. 

The new chasing the old. Step on it!
The new chasing the old. Step on it!

So, I hustle up, tighten the line, fill the system, bleed the brakes, tires back on, back into gear and up for staging just in time for the second session.  The car is gloriously potent in every way, power, brakes, cornering, all my prep pays off as it pulls monstrously to 7K on the tach in each gear,  but I am now on an unknown track, in a gap by myself with the most capable car I have ever driven.  So steady as she goes, learn the track, keep the shiny side up and on the straight LET ER RIP!!

Success! I take the session checker and pull into the paddock where I crawl out of the car drenched in sweat and completely spent as the crew from JDM legends walk up to check out the car that they just heard blistering down the front straight. Eric Josh and Mauricio were great and really fun to talk with even though I could barely speak I was so wiped out.  “Hey dad, I am going to go lie in the truck for a few.”

Guess what brand of car this kid is going to follow in the future…
Guess what brand of car this kid is going to follow in the future…

Several hours later, I wake up having missed the lunch parade laps and my 3rd session, but there is still time to catch the 4th so I suit up. I heard the third session was really hot and it had cooled off by almost 10 degrees by the 4th, where I am rested and functionally comfortable with the track. I put the Go Pro in and I get out on the track where I am again by myself as all the other race cars got their fill in the first 3 sessions and bowed out of the 4th.  

Action at the track. The Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is a splendid scenario for a track day.
Action at the track. The Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is a splendid scenario for a track day.

How could I resist pushing this beastly car to the limit?  I never got a clean complete lap but I got the closest to it. I have shared a video link for your enjoyment down at the bottom of the article.

I went back to the camp site for a beer with Dad and stories about the day. What a fantastic place to race!

David and Angie Bailey with their trophy for Longest Distance Traveled in a Z to the Show- over 2400 miles from Southern California. Congratulations!
David and Angie Bailey with their trophy for Longest Distance Traveled in a Z to ZCON- over 2400 miles from Southern California. Congratulations!

Friday was the AutoX and Karting enduro which were both a blast and Saturday’s People’s Choice Show and Banquet were a great time.  All of a sudden it was Sunday morning and Dad and I are headed West back to California after a truly fantastic and unforgettable adventure.  Thanks to ZCCA and that whole team that pulled off this year’s amazing ZCon and a 50th anniversary celebration through immense adversity! – Ian Stewart

Go-Pro footage of Ian’s run around the course: https://youtu.be/nI_HAh4e5uQ

ZCON 2020 Track Day Event video: https://youtu.be/N5IPrOWvgFE

Featured photo: From Zee to shining Zee. Beautiful shot of the Track Day participants at the Corvette Museum Motorsports Park.

 

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