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1500 Miles in 5 Days in the ZR1 Pace Car

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1500 Miles in 5 Days in the ZR1 Pace Car

Words by Dr. Jamie Meyer

For nearly two decades, The Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour has been going strong, and with a massive turnout for its 18th annual running in 2012— the tour shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. For those of you just checking in, the Hot Rod Power Tour is a seven-day, seven-city, traveling car show that, in recent years, has focused on entertaining locals throughout America's heartland.

At each stop of the tour's annually changing route, thousands of the world's finest muscle cars, hot rods, street rods and other motorized creations, pull into town for daily car shows and other related events, where both Power Tour long-haulers and locals can share in one of America's favorite pastimes: the love of the automobile. Dreamed up and fostered by Hot Rod Magazine editor in chief, David Freiburger, and pumped up in every issue of Hot Rod magazine, it has become a “must do” on every car guy's bucket list.

This was my fifth Power Tour as an employee of Chevrolet Performance, and while it looks like loads of fun (it is!), there are moments of exhaustion, frustration, and many a late night. Serving the marketing needs for the company, my role in recent years (with the emergence of social media) has shifted more towards communications. This year, I was tasked with running ahead of the tour, working with the Hot Rod magazine promotion company that puts on the event (Family Events out of Indy) to appear on television affiliates morning shows in order to help promote the 5,000-strong hot rod caravan that was only a few hours behind us.

This year, the Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour spanned from GM’s Milford Proving Grounds (in the Detroit area) all the way down to Arlington, Texas – an over 1500-mile tour of horsepower, performance, and American ingenuity. The Chevrolet Performance convoy that led the tour included several of our new performance variants: a selection of project cars that showcase how our crate engines, transmissions, and electronics are integrated into a hot rod, as well as a couple of static show cars including the Hot Wheels Camaro and the COPO Camaro concept. This year's array of vehicles was perhaps the most well balanced selection of cars that we have ever shown on the Power Tour.

I began the tour in the Dale Earnhardt Chevelle – a nasty black, re-popped ’70 Chevelle that showcases our LSA Crate Powertrain System. Day 1 was a quick, three-hour trip to Muskegon, Mich. with little issue. I worked the show for a few hours, and then the trip captain gave the go ahead to depart for the next day’s market. It would be a five-hour blast down to Champaign, Ill.

“You’ll be taking the Pace Car,” said the trip captain.

And, with that simple directive, my five-day affair with a 638-horsepower supercar was underway. I tossed my luggage in the ZR1 Corvette, fired up the GPS, and the road trip began.

Leaving the venue, I immediately realized the one quality of this car that is completely under emphasized in any description I’ve ever read about the ZR1: It is an amazingly docile street car when used for routine transportation. The seats are comfortable, the visibility is surprisingly good, the clutch is light, the steering is perfect– and, well, you get the idea.

Now, a road trip in a ZR1 sounds like a dream job. And, it is. But, keep in mind; I was driving the actual Pace Car from the Indy 500. The Simpson lap belts were still in the car, the light bar worked, and the stickers were authentic. It took all of about five minutes to realize that this wasn’t just any ZR1. No, this was a parade float that was capable of going over 200 mph. Hence, it’s ideal for attracting attention. That’s great for working the morning television talk shows, but it’s bad for local authorities or other drivers pining for a picture on their cell phones.

The first night’s drive went by without a hitch, and a well-deserved steak at Ribeye’s in Champaign gave me fuel for the early morning gig. Jessica Hubley, who had been assigned to watch over me for the production company, got things lined up with two of the local affiliates, and the Pace Car, indeed, made for some “great television."

Day 3 was going to be a crusher. I had reunited with the main Chevrolet Performance team as they arrived in Champaign. We were off to St. Louis – a fun drive that the Corvette handled without any issues. And, as things were just starting to heat up on the Hot Rod magazine stage at Gateway International Raceway (one of my favorite drag strips), our traveling media show left the venue to help sell day 4's Power Tour stop in Miami, Okla. At 5 p.m., we started the two-car caravan to Joplin, Mo.– a five-hour trip into the night.

Now, a ZR1 is the fastest, most exciting vehicle Chevrolet has ever sold. It’s loaded with high tech features and maintains a focus on weight savings. Part of this strategy is the integration of carbon fiber throughout the car, including a full aero package that provides very little ground clearance. Approach a curb at the local diner just a little too close, and you’ll peel that gorgeous carbon fiber splitter right off the front of the car.

I tell you this so that you can imagine my horror while on the road to Joplin when the Impala in front of me (driven by the production company’s Emily Boden) kicked up a shredded tractor-trailer tire. I watched in slow motion as the five-foot piece of rubber tumbled in midair, and headed straight for the right front portion of the ZR1. The rubber piece hit the Corvette, and we immediately pulled over to examine the damage. Much to my relief, there was none. Did the advanced aerodynamics of the car force the piece under the tire? I'd like to think it did.

We traveled the next 200 miles with little incidence. There was the stop for fuel that had a 12-year old come over and start listing ZR1 stats to me. I finally stumped him on the torque rating (602 ft-lbs.), but he knew as much about the car as I did. As we forged on, everything was going smoothly, that is until we missed our hotel driveway entrance in Joplin. Ravaged by a tornado the previous night, this rebounding city, like so many others, has some dark corners. And, Emily drove us right into one in an attempt to get turned around.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that there was anything illegal going on with the eight young men that were down that dark alley, but let’s just say that it kinda, sorta, looked like they might have been trading baseball cards when we rolled in.

Imagine the scene, if you will. A nondescript Impala pulls in with its headlights pointed at the gentlemen, followed right behind by a vehicle decorated by “police lights." Everyone stood up straight, awaiting our “freeze” direction – which never came. We got turned around, spent a safe night in Joplin, and went on our way in the morning.

Mileage on this trip amazed me. There were several legs of journey where I observed 27 mpg in the ZR1. It’s a supercar, people! One that knocks down almost 30 mpg. Amazing!

Spend a few days on the road, with repeated 5 a.m. casting calls, and things begin to blur. Surprisingly, the ZR1 makes for an amazingly comfortable driver – even for long trips. I’m 6’3” with a 36 inseam, and I was concerned about my knee banging into the center stack. But, it never bothered me. In fact, the car was so becoming that I’m looking to put a Corvette in my garage on a permanent basis.

But, as I mentioned previously, it’s still a low car, and it can be a problem. For instance: In Oklahoma City, they have these interesting tollways where you have to have correct change. The bill breaker is positioned for the height of a SUV, and the ZR1 had me balancing on the doorframe trying to crack my two last dollar bills. One of which was ultimately too limp. But, I’d be more than happy to send the city that 15 cents that I owe them. Honestly, making my way through this toll a little short had so many lights and sirens going off that I thought I'd won the bonus round on a big slot machine.

Those were just a handful of highlights over the course of the 2012 Hot Rod Power Tour. I’ll never forget the week that I spent in the ZR1 Pace Car ZR1. Over the course of 1500 miles, it was a well-trusted friend who never bored me and did all that I asked. I’d give my driving an A- with one, errrr, yellow light run (I had to keep up with the production company), a few rolling stops, and two nights spent in parking spaces with blue signs on them.

If you ever have a chance to drive a ZR1 or own the very best that Chevrolet Performance has to offer, I suggest you go for it. It’s the ultimate ride from the world’s leader in performance. The 2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Pace Car – you will always have a special place in my heart.

Check out some pictures from my epic journey, below, then head on over to the Hot Rod Power Tour Forum to let us know what you thought of this year's tour!

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