I always chuckle this time of year when the Super Bowl is approaching. It seems that the NFL has decided to forbid the use of the championship game’s actual name in advertising. So in spots and signs for everything from large-screen televisions to displays of chips and salsa at grocery stores, it’s called “the big game.”
Well, the auto racing equivalent of “the big game” is arguably the Indianapolis 500, held every year on Memorial Day weekend. And while I’m not sure how the Indy Racing League feels about advertising a special price on Doritos for fans’ Indy 500 parties (as if), they do license one new automobile each year to be the official pace car of the race.
This May, the vehicle that will lead 33 open wheel cars around the track as the green flag waves will be the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible. There are monetary deals made in the selection of the car, of course, but the sporty Chevy is in the right place at the right time. GM is paying back its government loan guarantees, sales of its cars are up, and the convertible version of the Camaro is debuting this year.
Naturally, General Motors will take full advantage of the pace car duties by offering a special “replica” version of the car to just 50 consumers. Those will feature a similar paint scheme as the 1969 Camaro pace car – a white-and-orange combo. That classic is now a true collectible, with an instant recognition among car enthusiasts whenever one shows up at some kind of vintage car show.
For the 2011 cars, the orange paint is muted a bit to be more of an orange-y red. And while there is orange in the interior in the form of leather bucket seats, Chevrolet’s designers resisted the temptation to revisit the ’69 pace car’s rather “out there” orange hounds tooth fabric.
The Camaro pace car’s track time will be great exposure for it. While the actual pace car (probably with a back-up or two) gets some modifications for safety, the engine is the stock 6.2 liter V8, which has more than enough power to lead the field of screaming race cars out of Turn 4 and onto the start of the race. In the years of weak-kneed cars in the late 1970s and into the ‘80s, the pace cars had to have their engines modified for more power.
The replicas will be completely stock, save for their special color schemes and graphics. Those cars will do light duty at the track in order to certify their Indy 500 provenance, and are officially referred to as “Festival Committee” cars. The first one has already been auctioned off for charity to the tune of $225,000 to benefit the David Foster Foundation. The other 49 will likely also become stars of auctions, either immediately or many years from now.
Chevrolet will also build a limited number of pace car replica coupes (the number is “up to 200” to be sold by only the top Chevrolet dealers in the country), which are also certain to become collectors’ items themselves. In addition to the aforementioned 1969 Camaro pace car replica, Chevy has done them in 1982 and 1993 as well.
If you want a replica of the Camaro pace car, you’d better get ready to write a big check. The rest of us will just have to enjoy the car on our televisions on May 29th as it gets plenty of camera time in pre-race festivities and during any caution periods.
The good news is that the Camaro convertible is back, and standard versions of that go on sale next month. I hope to get behind the wheel of one soon enough, although I’ll be moving at a more leisurely “pace” in a conventional one.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net