Decades had gone by since my last pass down the 1320 and apprehension weighed heavily on my mind. Would I remember what to do? But that concern was trumped by my desire to see if an ordinary owner could match Chevy's '01 Z06 quarter-mile specification of 12.6 at 114 mph. After getting a quick brief on staging procedures from an experienced driver and borrowing his helmet, I staged the Z06. First pass was 12.53 at 116.24 mph. Then four more, all but one beating the Z06 spec. My best run that day was 12.47 at 117.39 mph. I was pumped.
It was particularly reassuring that lessons I'd learned in the '68 427 were still embedded in my instincts and muscle memory, and they remained relevant. Traction was still crucial; the clutch and throttle still required finesse; and fast, precise shifts at the right rpm remained keys to the e.t. And this time I was wearing rubber-soled shoes with a good grip.
The results of my belated return to the dragstrip presented an opportunity. I might be the right guy to find out how quick and fast a Z06 could be. I just needed to optimize my driving while keeping the car unchanged. After mulling it over a few days, the perceived opportunity became the quest.
A committed, rigorous engineering approach was needed to identify the optimal techniques for absolute best acceleration. What I lacked in traditional on-board data acquisition hardware and the support of a professional team, I had to make up for in life experience. That included an engineering degree, 25 years of analytical and program management experience in the intelligence services, and six years running a software company. My physical fitness would help, too.
Stage Me Ranger prepares...
Ranger prepares to stage his '01 Z06 at Cecil County Dragway, Rising Sun, Maryland, in September 2001. This pass was 12.14/115.85 on stock tires; bone stock except for the addition of a cold-air intake.
Ridin' High Ranger after...
Ranger after setting the record of 11.55 at 117.69 for a stock Z06 with a cold-air intake and drag radials at Maryland International Raceway, Budds Creek, Maryland, November 2002.
Ready...Set... Ranger prepares...
Ranger prepares to heat the drag radials on his '02 Z06 at Atco Raceway, Atco, New Jersey, November 2004.
With the goal now set, my attention turned to making passes at my local strip, building a comprehensive logbook, and learning from the performance data I collected. Over the next nine months, I accumulated about 100 passes in that first Z06, refining techniques, grooving my launch and shift skills, and chipping away at the e.t. Still on stock tires, the progression was 12.42, 12.35, 12.29, and then 12.14. Along the way, I learned to ignore the car in the other lane and just run my own pass. For my purposes, bracket racing would be a distraction.
On the final day of the '01 racing season, I mounted my first pair of drag radial (DR) tires on the car and headed for Capitol Raceway. I got some badly needed last-minute coaching on the burnout procedure for heating the DRs. I then cranked out an 11.94 at 116.65-mph pass and received the coveted 11-second timeslip on literally my last pass of the season. That 11.94 run remains the record for an '01 Z06 with just a cold-air intake and drag radials.
Six months later, I made the transition to an '02 Z06 with its 405hp motor and a Chevy quarter-mile spec of 12.4 at 116 mph. My first day at the drags, with 515 miles on the odometer and still on paper tags, the car ran a 12.16 at 116.47 mph, stock on the stock tires. Seventeen months and 200 passes later, it ran 11.81 at 117.26 mph, the record at the time, though later eclipsed by 0.03 seconds by another driver.
I campaigned the car at three different tracks most weekends during the fall of 2002 with the car sporting just a cold-air intake and drag radials. My driving improved as I continued to wring wastage from my techniques. And my e.t.'s continued to drop: 11.82, 11.72, 11.68, 11.61, and, finally, 11.55 at 117.69 mph. This latter pass is on video and remains the best run I've ever driven. the elusive perfect pass was made with 363 rear-wheel horsepower in average weather conditions.