When you hear the words “bachelor party”, what stereotypes immediately come to mind? Vegas. Clubbing. Maybe strippers? That might work for many people out there. But it’s not for me.
I wanted nothing to do with that. Instead, I’d prefer to go hiking with my friends. The chance to disconnect. To escape reality with the guys closest to me. My friends know this. So we all migrated out to the hills of Pennsylvania for the weekend to celebrate the end of my life as a bachelor. I was told that we’d be doing many thing I love… but I wasn’t told what one of them would be. If you’re guessing “cars?” here, you’re on the right track.
Two days in Pennsylvania with my nine best friends. I was told nothing but to wear jeans and closed-toed shoes and to bring my driver’s license. Based on this I had a hunch that it would be car-related given my hobbies are largely of the automotive sort and all of the attendees knew this very well. Set up by my brother, best friend, cousin, and with consulting from another of my closest (one of the more car-proficient of the group), the location of the morning’s festivities were still unknown to me when we, in a rather hungover state as a group, set out that Sunday morning.
My best friend navigating from the passenger seat. I had a sense that we were heading in the direction of Long Pond. Years of riding ATVs in the same vicinity of the eastern corridor of Pennsylvania will give you knowledge of the area, and when we got off the exit I knew we were close by a race track.
Then it came into view: Pocono Raceway. One of the breeding grounds of my automotive enthusiasm. As a kid, my dad would take me to races there, my young mind fawning over the speed, color, and sound of NASCAR in the tail-end of its glory days, the 1990s. Jeff Gordon and his Rainbow Warriors were my favorite, and my fandom backed by my father’s own long-time enjoyment of the sport unquestionably helped mold me into the enthusiast I am today. Though my following of the sport has declined to nearly zero interest, I still appreciate it for all it did for my childhood and my development of hobbies. Some memories are irreplaceable.
Turning into the infield entrance at the back of the track, we signed a waiver and passed under the track. To our left we saw the flash of bright-colored, fast-moving cars and upon rolling down the window heard the matching sounds. It became clear that this was an arrive-and-drive exotic-car experience type event. I was ecstatic. Heart rates rose as we walked over for the “driver’s meeting,” signed another waiver, and picked up helmets and balaclavas in preparation for our time on the course.
Having done a few days of trial-period work at Gotham Dream Cars’ Dream Car Sprint back in 2013, I was already familiar with how these arrive-and-drive exotic car driving events go. The way it works is that a few vehicles are out on track at the same time, the number of which depends on the length of the course, but it’s usually 2-3. So if there’s, say, six available cars, three or four are in the pits at a time. When it’s your turn, you choose from those lying in wait.
For a few minutes on the cool, overcast September morning we stood there watching and listening to the cars rip around the track. The variety of vehicles was wide, but I was already mentally preparing for those in which I wanted seat time. None of the choices were bad; they were anything but. And yet, I knew exactly which I wanted to hoon.
Balaclava and helmet on, it was time to hit the track.
Each session was only five way-too-short laps, but you can learn a lot about a car in that short of a period. Not everything, but enough to have some major impressions and enough to write about them. I didn’t intend on writing about the experience because, well, I didn’t know it was happening…but immediately upon arriving knew I would have to. So keep in mind that these aren’t long-term impressions, but rather takeaways from five minutes spent full-tilt.
Finally it was time to drive. With three options of vehicle to choose from when it was my turn to go , I stepped up and chose the brightest, most journalist-favorite/forbidden-fruit car of the bunch: the Ferrari.
Ferrari 458 Italia
Bright red, roofless, loud, and probably the most “exotic” feeling of the bunch. The Ferrari stood out as the car that seemed the least attainable in real life and existing in a world that’s the most foreign and out there even for journalists.
Roof down for the sake of aural drama, climbing in the 458 was reasonably easy. The seating position was surprisingly easy, too; nearly upright and with a dash line much lower than I expected. Engaging the car in drive was a bit frustrating, though it may have been the fault of the non-cooperating right paddle shifter that does the job of putting it into 1st, but then once in gear the fun begins.
From the get-go the 458 wants you to know everything. I left the transmission in full automatic mode but that didn’t stop gear changes from having slam-you-back-in-your-seat force. The transmission is truly telepathic, maybe even better. It upshifts before your brain can tell your hands that it needs the next ratio, and it downshifts going into every turn like it’s coming into a corner at LeMans.
The whole thing was entirely visceral.
Though the reviews very much said the 458’s controls were light, just how much so did still come as a surprise. You could easily turn a quick lap time using one hand or even one finger. This doesn’t mean that you don’t get full feedback through the steering wheel though; it’s exactly the contrary. In the 458, you tell the car what to do and it does it.
And the exhaust note, especially with the roof down, is simply to die for.
Of all of the cars present it was the McLaren that seemed the most outlandish and untouchable. The most track-focused and ready to bite; the most ready for competitive racing.
It feels it from the moment you open the door. Climbing in nearly requires the skills of a contortionist and you sit so low that the majority of your view is cabin and not the road around you.
The 12C’s gearbox was much smoother than that of the 458. It, with the relatively low visibility, helps to mask the speed in a way I had never experienced before. You don’t feel like you’re going as fast as you are but then the instructor riding shotgun tells you to brake hard and the next apex is already there in front of you. The stretches between corners simply disappear.
Handling capabilities are more of the same. You point the front end, give the car the appropriate amount of gas, and it just goes. No fuss, no drama. A one-to-one ratio between input and outcome.
And that’s my biggest problem with it. You feel like a hero behind the wheel but it doesn’t make you feel special. It’s an alien spaceship built to devour tracks and churn out amazing lap times, but not to stir your soul. It’s incredible to look at and be around, but it’s a machine built for speed and that’s about where it ends.
(Again, I didn’t have much time with the cars, so this was my initial takeaway in a closed-course environment)
C7 Corvette Z06
Holy mother of fuck.
Having just sold a C6 Grand Sport, I didn’t think the C7Z would be too far from what I had recently spent a significant amount of time in. Okay, that’s not entirely true; I knew the interior was much improved and I expected a lot from a similarly-sized and similarly-heavy car but bearing over 200 horsepower more. But I didn’t expect anything near what I got.
The C7Z present was even the exact same color scheme both inside and out as was my C6GS. But if C7 is the younger, more athletic and even strong brother to the C6, the current-gen Z06 is the full-on bodybuilder that is just as agile and light on its feet as the C6GS. It’s on absolute onslaught of sensation for your ears and eyes and nervous system as the Z’s massive power sends the car flying forwards at speeds I had yet to experience before.
I thought I knew what fast felt like, but that was until the C7Z put a whole new perspective on things.
Pulling out of the corner and rolling onto the throttle revealed power from the LT4 that just never ends. The exhaust bellows and the transmission slams gears while the horizon doesn’t get closer as much as you plant your foot and just arrive there. Leaning back on its haunches, the Corvette is a rocket propelling as fast as you have the guts to tell it to. It’s a fucking monster.
At the end of the back straight on Pocono’s infield course there’s a section where you immediately go from full throttle to getting hard on the brakes. Glancing down at the Z’s Heads Up Display just prior to getting off the gas showed me the highest speed I had seen: 113 MPH.
It truly shocked me. Living with 436 HP in the C6GS got me accustomed to LS-power on a daily basis but this was something completely different. The new engine and supercharger makes for a beast of a machine. You could easily bring the back end out and loop the car like it’s on ice, or you could send it sailing off the track like an airplane that couldn’t get lift. Thankfully the traction control is as advanced as the car surrounding it.
The LT4 is something unlike I had ever experienced before. Luckily the brakes are up to the task. I knew they would be good; just look at them. A car this powerful and this wide would only be sold by GM with the stopping power to match the engine. But what also shocked me was the grip. It was the most surprising of the power/braking/grip trio, enough so that my C6GS was comparatively tame and limited vs the Z.
It has to be said though: the gearbox is still steps behind the rest of the car. Given, this individual C7Z could have been an early build and it literally lives its life getting abused, but downshifts were so slow and clunky that it actually caught me off guard after the wizardry of the 458’s transmission and even the 12C’s smoothness. Upshifts are more than fine but felt harsher than what would have been ideal for momentum and weight transfer just before a turn. Downshifts are borderline pathetic for a car of this price.
Surprisingly, the car also felt taller than my C6GS. The seating position was good but much more so than the other cars you feel like you sit on the C7Z rather than in it. That’s extremely so when compared to the McLaren.
But none of that– not the downshifts, not the seating position– matters when you’re blasting down the back straight, foot pushing the accelerator into the floor, quad exhausts blaring “MURRICAAAA” at full throttle and the braking zone is coming up quicker than you had any idea it even could.
After parking and exiting the C7 Corvette Z06, one word was all I could mutter.
Everything about the car– the acceleration, the handling, the gear changes, the braking – was of such a high level of performance and of such high levels of information to the driver and of so much visceral awareness that all I could come away with was thinking that it was violent. It’s a full-on assault to your senses in every sense of the concept. It’s a brutal car, not for the faint of heart. I can’t imagine what the ZR1 is like.
Which was the favorite of the day? The McLaren was honestly somewhat disappointing. Maybe on a longer track with more seat time it would have yielded different results. The ability to take advantage of its race cred would have made for something of a more fulfilling experience in the 12C. As-is, it just felt tame.
The Z06 was shocking. It’s the car I would have wanted a full day to learn the limits of, to take more advantage of the power of, and to make me laugh and cackle with the exhaust as it echoes off anything within a half mile’s range. The Z was the car that had and has me repeating, “Holy shit” whenever it comes up in conversation.
But it was the Ferrari that was the most “wow”-ing. The most communicative, the most enjoyable to drive, and the one that was the easiest to mesh with. It’s the car that was the easiest to get comfortable in, the easiest to drive quick, and the easiest to be in. The Ferrari shocked me for how approachable it was. Where the Z06 was asking to be tamed, the 458 was asking to be pushed. It’s everything you want from a car on track.
Still, the Z06 just did it for me. A short amount of time was all it took. I don’t want to own one– hell, I don’t want to own any of these three as they’re truly too much car to enjoy on even a semi-regular basis– but it’s the one that I can’t get out of my head. The C7 Z06 is truly something unlike I had ever experienced before, in that it turned something I knew up to 11. As familiar as it was, it reprogrammed my brain for what speed can feel like.
Driving these cars in 2018 was a bit like seeing the Avengers in 2018…which I still need to do. Though all the journalists have driven these and the replacements for two of them time and time again for years, it was my first crack at any of them. After everyone had finished their sessions we found a local brewery, laughed about the speed of the cars, compared drivers’ notes, and remedied our hangovers with delicious beer and food. The bachelor party would have been a wild success even without the driving aspect, but it made it that much better and was truly a great surprise.
To all of the guys who were there with me that weekend: thank you.
And to everyone else: find a way into a C7 Z06. It’s astonishing.