Going Fast on the Salt

Last August, Gail Phillips of Pismo Beach, Calif., shattered the 183.904 mph record I set at Bonneville 29 years ago driving a 1979 Mazda RX7 in the E/GT class. While my pride should be wounded, Phillips is such an avid Corvette enthusiast and speed demon, I can only congratulate her on the way my record fell.

Phillips graduated from driving top-flight vintage Corvettes to racing a 1999 coupe at Bonneville last year. She chose a Corvette because it has one of the lowest aerodynamic drag coefficients of any production automobile.

As such, it’s a natural to go to Bonneville with a minimum amount of changes.

So what does it take to make a Corvette go fast on the salt? Doug Odom, Phillips’ car builder and the owner of POP Motorsports, started with a theft-recovery Corvette and stripped it down. Then he added a roll cage, a height-adjustable suspension, a polycarbonate windshield and back window, and steel and aluminum cockpit plating.

To optimize aerodynamic performance, Odom lowered the Corvette’s ride height and installed side exhaust pipes configured to block air from flowing under the sides of the car. Ducting helped reduce the amount of air entering at the front to the minimum needed for cooling and combustion. Odom also incorporated aero lessons learned during his NASCAR racing years; small longitudinal fences and a hinged panel were added to the roof to discourage flight in the event Phillips’ car got sideways.

These safety measures were never needed. During five passes down the salt, Phillips reported no hint of wheelspin or wobble. Her No. 427 Corvette ran arrow-straight in spite of the low coefficient of friction between slick racing tires and the graded salt. Odom’s data recorder revealed that both axles showed slight increases in down force at speed. All the aerodynamic development Corvette engineers invested in the original fifth-generation car paid off handsomely.

Phillips’ two-way average speed of 190.154 mph sent my record packing. By the time this issue goes to press, she will have attacked the 209-mph D/GT record in the same Corvette, but only after the 4.2-liter, 450-hp small block that earned her E/GT record is replaced by a 5.0-liter, 600-hp engine built by Odom.

I feel lucky in one respect: Gail Phillips won’t have broken my one remaining Bonneville record, set in a twin-turbo RX7 — at least not this year.

Bonneville Corvette

photo courtesy of POP Motorsports

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