During the 80-mile cruise to Road America, the SAM-built 461 big-block ran nice and cool,
From the first turn of the wheel, the chassis didn't disappoint. Our man McGaffin ran a total of six laps, and laid down a best time of 49.28 seconds. He then tossed the keys to Kyle Tucker of DSE, who pared that down to 47.86 seconds on his first lap out, which was good for a Ninth Place finish in the event. For reference, the fastest time of the day was 46.27 seconds, which was posted by Brian Finch's second-gen Camaro. Likewise, DSE's own second-gen Camaro shop car recorded a best lap of 46.88 seconds. Considering that the DSE Camaro is powered by a 615hp L92, and weighs 200-300 pounds less than our big A-body, we were very pleased with how well the Cutlass performed. "In stock trim, the Cutlass pitches and rolls so badly that it's very difficult to set it up for a corner. It understeers a lot, and never has enough power to really get going," McGaffin says. "With the DSE suspension, big-block, and five-speed, the difference is night and day. The balance is very neutral, and the car remains extremely flat and predictable in the corners. The frontend doesn't push at all, and the chassis puts down the power very well when exiting corners."
If drag racing is hard on the motor and driveline, road racing is hard on everything. Considering this event was McGaffin's first road course outing, we weren't expecting to light up the timing equipment. Our time of 2:15 was quite a bit slower than the 1:47 lap posted by the First Place DSE second-gen Camaro, but it was a great learning experience nonetheless. As luck would have it, several mechanical gremlins quickly surfaced, cutting our seat time short. "After completing my warm-up lap, I started pushing the car a little harder as I got more comfortable with the track. On the second timed lap, the oil pressure suddenly dropped as I hit the brakes coming down the hill approaching Turn 8," McGaffin says. "I've seen five big-block cars blow up over the last year on a road course due to oiling issues, and I wasn't about to become the sixth. I pulled off the track into the pits to diagnose the problem, and it turned out that oil was puking out of the breathers, and the dipstick tube had worked its way out of the block. I bolted the dipstick back up, and the oil pressure seemed fine, but I decided against turning more laps on the road course."
Road America is one of the most challenging and intimidating road courses in the country,
Like our abbreviated run on the road course, mechanical woes limited our time competing in the brake challenge as well. Interestingly, this wasn't due to any shortcoming of Project Olds' four-piston Baer brakes, but rather brakes that worked too well for the rest of the car to handle. "The braking competition was conducted on an 800-foot course with cones marking off the final 300 feet of the track in 100-foot increments. The goal was to accelerate as hard as possible, and then start braking anywhere between the cones placed 300- and 100-feet from the finish line without overshooting," McGaffin says. "On my first pass, the brakes grabbed so hard that they starved the carb of fuel, and the motor shut down. Once the car lost brake vacuum, I overshot the finish line. The top finisher of the day completed the course in 8.18 seconds." [Editor's note: This is not an uncommon problem, and is the subject of our story, "Corner Capable," on page 76.]