Mark Martin's U.S. Army Chevrolet Races Beyond NASCAR
By Jim McIlvaine
The 2007 Nextel Cup season was marked by transition, right down to the title sponsor's name, which would change to Sprint the Following year. NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (CoT) also began running at selected tracks and Mark Martin found himself funning a part-time schedule with Ginn Racing after racing 19 seasons for Jack Roush. One of the cars prepared for Martin's 2007 campaign was this Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS.
This car was built to run on NASCAR's two road courses, but NASCAR opted to run CoTs at those tracks in 2007 and Regan Smith drove the Army car for Ginn Racing at both events. As a result, this car may not have seen any action with Martin's name on the car, although it most likely did in the previous season, with Joe Nemechek behind the wheel.
When NASCAR mandated that all 2008 races would feature the CoT, the previous era of race cars soon started finding new homes with ARCA teams or private collectors. This particular car changed hands a few times, before arriving at Gene Felton's shop in Roswell, Georgia. Gene Felton Restorations, www.genefeltonrestorations.com, specializes in restoring old and out of service stock cars and the list of cars he's had through his shop include those driven by the biggest names in NASCAR.
Gene typically prepares these retired race cars for racing in historic and vintage race events, track days at road courses, and SCCA events. This car had a different destiny and that's where Cam Douglass came into the picture. Cam is the Director of Product Development and Marketing for Johnson Controls' Optima Batteries Division and a true car guy. Some of the many events Optima Batteries sponsors include open road races where racers compete in timed classes on closed public highways.
Cam has raced in these events for several years and decided it was time to find a vehicle that was built specifically for racing at sustained speeds of 150 mph or more. Since most former stock cars were built to run at that speed for 500 miles or more, they are frequently sought out for this type or racing, where events typically run anywhere from 50 to 130 miles.
Although most of these courses involve vast expanses of straight roads, there are a few areas with curves, which makes cars set up for road courses the preferred option. Felton says a racer can acquire a race-ready vintage stock car for anywhere from $25,000 all the way up to $70,000, depending on the race history of the car and the quality of the components.
That may seem expensive, but Felton claims running a vintage stock car is a much cheaper alternative to running a retired sports car from IMSA or ALMS. "These cars are built tougher," says Felton, "and there's rarely a suspension or drive train problem." Gene also claims maintenance costs are much cheaper as well because NASCAR teams are constantly turning over barely-used parts and selling them for pennies on the dollar.
"NASCAR teams may get ten hours on a part that we can run safely for 100 hours," claims Felton. "They typically change out these parts after a fixed amount of time, whether they need to or not. The stakes are so high; they can't afford to take a chance. Plus, their budgets enable them to do all this."
Douglass wasn't planning on running the Chevrolet in historic events and since virtually all open road racing rules focus on safety-related items, he bought his car with a larger, 380-cubic inch SB2 motor, which produces 786 horsepower and 591 lb-ft of torque at 6,200 rpm. Gene also installed Penske shocks, Brembo brakes, a Jerico transmission and 3.90 gears, which are better-suited for sustained, high-speed runs.
Douglass has to be pleased with the way his car turned out. He recently competed in both the Silver State Classic Challenge and the High Noon One-Mile Shootout, presented by Optima Batteries. The Mote Carlo SS ran flawlessly all weekend, posting a second-place finish in the One Mile Shootout, with a standing-mile top speed of 170.2 mph. He also averaged 149.9692 mph in the 150 mph class at the Silver State Classic, which was good for eighth place in a 23-car field.