Special LACar field correspondent Jeff Agner covered ZCON 2020, which celebrated the Z-car’s 50th anniversary this year, as the LACar ExtravaganZa continues!
Story by Jeff Agner (Special LACar.com Field Correspondent)
Photos by Jeff Agner, Ian Stewart and Ben Bothwell
Day 1, Check-In, Suds & Shine, Opening Banquet and Texas Chili Party:
For most travelers, the hotel check-in process is one of the more forgettable elements of a trip as it entails hunting for an elusive parking spot, waiting in line to get your room key and aimlessly wandering a maze to find your room.
This is not the case when you are at ZCON. You take a slow cruise through the majestic sea of Zs, checking around back even, just to see what might be hiding.
You are greeted by a pair of fine specimens in the hotel lobby, a Gold Medallion-winning Jägermeister 240z and a freshly imported 432 variant, courtesy of Randy Jaffe and Mike Rogers, respectively. You almost don’t notice the hotel receptionist patiently holding out your room key as you are too busy reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. You didn’t come all this way to spend time in your room anyways, so you head out back to get a better look at what’s being washed and detailed by the proud Z owners in the parking lot.
At some point of course you do have to have to locate your room, unpack and get down to the Opening Ceremony in the main ballroom.
ZCCA President/ZCON Chairman, Chris Karl and his team talked about how excited they all were to share what they had in-store for this year’s pilgrims. Nissan totem “Mad Mike” Taylor even made a surprise cameo to add some laughter to the proceedings.
After an energizing preview of what was guaranteed to be an incredible week, the Z Club of Texas and the people from CourtesyParts.com treated all in attendance to a taste of some real southern hospitality with their Texas Chili Party, a ZCON tradition.
Day 2, Judged Car Show and Z Proto Reveal:
In a year of constant adjustments in response to a debilitating pandemic, organizers and attendees took changes to the regular ZCON program in stride.
An early-in-the-week Judged car show meant that entrants had to shuffle and break out their cotton swab and chamois packs to put their babies on display. The showing of this year’s trophy Z car lineup was as impressive as the Sycamore Barn property that hosted the event.
This unique venue provided clean blacktop, manicured lawns and a serene water feature- the perfect backdrop for a great car show and a live edition of Adam Carolla’s weekly CarCast podcast, featuring an interview with Nissan Sports Car Division Communications Manager, Jonathan Buhler.
Adam and Jonathan were just the beginning of the night’s guest list as ZCon got ready for the special virtual reveal of the new Z Proto. Telecasting live from Yokohama, Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida introduced the drive-in audience, and the rest of the world to Nissan’s best kept secret via Zoom. Head Designer Alfonso Albaisa, aided by Chief Product Specialist/Z club pen-pal, Hiroshi Tamura peeled back the car’s cover and proceeded to answer the world’s questions regarding this exciting new chapter in the story of the Z car.
Day 3, Distillery Tours, Lane Automotive Museum’s Nissan Heritage Collection Tour and a “Hump Daze” Celebration:
Wednesday was the day to do as the Romans-err-Tennesseans do. Wine and whiskey excursions offered us Z day-trippers the chance to explore and sample local wineries and distilleries.
The lucky holders of special VIP tickets were treated to a tour of the Lane Automotive Museum’s fabulous basement which houses many examples of Nissan’s storied automotive history- including the burnt orange 1999 Z car prototype than revived the legend and paved the way for the 350Z.
Later that evening, the ZCON team arranged an intimate soiree back at the Sycamore Barn. Aptly named “Hump Daze,” this was an opportunity to sample hand-crafted libations by ZCON staffer (and temporary Tennessee liquor license holder) Josh Lyman, while enjoying good food and even better company.
Day 4, Track Day, Parade Lap and Downtown Nashville InvaZion:
After a long, loud day at the National Corvette Museum (NCM) Motorsports Park over in Bowling Green, Z fans traded rides in Zs for rides in charter buses and descended upon “Music City”. Equal parts “social” and “distance,” with a splash of honky tonk for good measure, the Broadway Historic District offered world-class entertainment and barbeque for the convention’s thoughtfully masked entourage.
Day 5, AutoCross, Karting Endurance Races and Nissan/Datsun Tech Talks:
With the thrills and stresses of late apexes and trail braking behind them, a return trip to Bowling Green rewarded attendees with a chance to flatten some cones on the autocross course and trade some paint on the Karting track. Organized by David Palermo and supported by the Z community’s fine vendors and sponsors, any ongoing Z camaraderie was quickly discarded and the intense sense of competition and pride was uncaged. Any opportunity was taken to burn rubber and rib a (any) fellow Z lover- it was said by many to be all in good fun!
Adrenaline mostly used up, the excitement of the day was still enough to carry the crowd back to ZCON home base and gather to hear more lies (and some truths) at the highly anticipated “Tech Talk” event.
JDM Legends Eric Bizek, Mauricio Rosales and Josh Martin shared the stories behind their passion, fame and growing project legacy. Another legend, Peter Brock, treated the audience to the ups, downs, sidewayses (is that a word?) and stack of victories that he and his vaunted BRE team endured during their quest to establish Datsun as a dominant force in American motorsports lore.
Day 6, People’s Choice Car Show, Awards Ceremony and Closing Banquet:
When Nissan scratched their headquarters as the location for the larger People’s Choice Car Show due to COVID-19 and other concerns, they softened the blow to Z Car Club of America by connecting them with the great Nashville Cars and Coffee team, who quite cordially opened up their parking strips to Z car owners from around the country.
Five decades of Z cars filled the venue, which included vendor booths, food trucks, music and a special corral to showcase an amazing collection of Z33 (350Z) Nismo vehicles, including car #0001 owned by ZCCA president Chris Karl and his wife Karen.
Hundreds of owners and aficionados came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Z car. Raffle ticket prizes and handshakes were distributed, visors and glove boxes were autographed and camera shutters worked overtime.
As the show wound down and each generation of this storied Japanese sports car filed out of the show grounds, a long procession could be seen leading back tothe host hotel, Embassy Suites, for the Awards Banquet and Closing Ceremonies.
Nashville-themed trophies were presented to very some deserving Z car caretakers including Southern California natives David and Angie Bailey who drove their 240Z and 50th Anniversary 370Z over 2400 miles, earning them the coveted “Longest Distance Traveled” trophy.
A special Zoom-call with Hiroshi Tamura, showing everyone a 1/64th scale version of the Proto Z, added to a very elegant and emotional dinnertime celebration.
As all good things (even ZCON) came to an end, Z-friends bid each other adieu, but not before making plans to do it all over again next year in Colorado Springs.
Hope to Z you next time around!
To read up on our collection of ExtravaganZa articles, click HERE.
Featured photo: A section of the early Zs area at Nissan HQs in Franklin, TN.