Wearing #8, Louis Chevrolet’s old racing number, the new, 2018 Camaro ZL1 race car debuted in its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series guise. Sadly, at least in my opinion, these are not as stock as they should be. Long gone are the days when NASCAR stock car racing was truly stock. We will never see the likes of Chevy Chevelles and Dodge Coronets with the doors welded shut, running on the high banks, let alone watching “The Fabulous Hudson Hornet” dig into the sand at Daytona (that would be the literal beach, not the track).
Rolled out by NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson (“Mr. Seven Time” as he’s known) and Mark Reuss, the Executive VP from GM Global Product Development, the NASCAR Camaro ZL1 had all the presence of a bazooka; i.e. not something you’d want to have pointed at you. The reveal happened at Chevrolet’s headquarters in Detroit, so yeah, this guy has full factory backing.
“The new Camaro ZL1 is a great looking race car with a lot of heritage behind it, which will make it a big hit with fans,” Johnson said, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. “And as someone who’s enjoyed the ZL1 on the street, I’m really looking forward to getting this new race car on the track.”
And boy, what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in the passenger seat when Johnson “enjoyed the ZL1 on the street.”
Racetracks & Main Street
The ZL1 had the full treatment applied to it by Chevy’s engineers during its gestation. The slide rule guys smeared on a range of engineering paraphernalia like computational fluid dynamics analysis and reduced-scale and full-scale wind tunnel testing. Ultimately, the ZL1’s design character was maintained and aerodynamic performance optimized.
The ZL1 designation actually comes from the 1960s factory-developed, all-aluminum racing engine that Chevy used to dominate road racing (think of Mark Donohue’s Trans Am Camaro). Somehow the thing got lose off the track and onto the streets, thanks to a few, uh, “imaginative” dealers that used Chevrolet’s special-order system to get the ZL1 engine installed in regular production ’69 Camaros. Those cars became terrors on the street and dragstrip, and now live on in a mythical Valhalla of cool stuff that factories once produced.
40 years later, Chevrolet reintroduced the ZL1 as the ultimate performance Camaro, offering blistering track performance from the showroom floor. That’s mainly because of the 650 horsepower, supercharged engine paired with an array of aerodynamic properties.
The 2018 Camaro ZL1 race car looks to build on a winning legacy already established by the Camaro SS. The previous Chevrolet Camaro has 70 Cup Series wins so far, and had a hand in Chevrolet earning a record 39 NASCAR manufacturer titles. And yes, that included 13 consecutive titles from 2003 to 2015 and Jimmie Johnson’s Cup championship in 2016.
Also at the roll out of the Camaro ZL1 race car were representatives from Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, and Leavine Family Racing. So, all you racers running Fords and Dodges, that’s what you’re up against. The 2018 Camaro ZL1 race car will make its competition debut this coming February at Daytona Speedweeks, kicking off the 2018 NASCAR season.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias toward lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.