Detroit to Daytona in a 2016 Chevrolet SS
Weaving through NASCAR country in one of Chevy’s best
Detroit to Daytona. It's a road trip that holds some sort of mysticism, beginning in the cradle of U.S. automakers and curving its way down to the home of the year's biggest NASCAR race. Chevrolet decided the best way to celebrate both its involvement in the Daytona 500 and changes made to the 2016 Chevrolet SS sedan was for us to embark on a Detroit to Daytona sojourn of our own.
The plan was simple: Chevrolet dropped off a 2016 SS at our office in frostbitten Detroit on Tuesday, and we had to be in Daytona Beach, Florida, that Friday. No directions, no predetermined road route, and no instructions other than a date and the address of a hotel. If you take the path of least resistance, it's a journey of a little more than 1,100 miles. But I made plans to wring out Chevy's muscle sedan on some of the best driving roads in the country, adding nearly 700 miles to my route, so I needed a co-pilot. I enlisted my dad, a native of Dallas. He's an engineer with an eye for details, so he was the perfect choice for my navigator.
Our ride was a fittingly NASCAR-appropriate 2016 Chevrolet SS. Though this is only the car's third year on sale, Chevrolet has blessed it with a steady stream of updates. For 2015, that meant the introduction of a six-speed manual transmission, along with GM's trick Magnetic Ride Control suspension. For 2016, functional hood scoops, a new dual-mode active exhaust, and a fresh set of redesigned wheels further increase the Chevy's aggression.
We took off midday on Tuesday and set a course for Cambridge, Ohio, where we spent the night. Why such an out-of-the-way locale? Having taken other cars through this area, I'm quite familiar with some choice backroads that wind through a belt of hills in the Wayne National Forest.
The next morning, we made our way to Ohio State Route 26, a 67-mile squiggle of pavement that runs from Jerusalem down to Marietta. While the sky was relatively clear, temperatures hovered around the high 20s, and slow winds blew eddies of snow across the road. We were thankful Chevy had the foresight to fit aggressive Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32 winter tires on the SS, so we had plenty of grip on the cold, snowy roads and survived to refuel the thirsty SS in Marietta.
We gingerly cruised through most of West Virginia and Virginia, doing our best to avoid attracting attention from the notoriously draconian road patrol. Again thankful for the winter rubber, we carved our way through the snowbound Virginia Route 16, a route colloquially known as The Back of the Dragon. The turns were as sharp as the 25-degree wind, so we maintained a vigilant lookout at the wheel. The road was challenging, the drop-offs were severe, and the sunlight was fading, but we emerged on the other side of the mountains with nary a scratch, thanks in part to the Chevy's responsive steering and powerful Brembo brakes. We hung our coats for the night in Bristol, Tennessee, right on the Virginia state border.
We made our first stop the next morning at Bristol Speedway, which at the time was in the middle of a construction project. We dodged forklifts and construction workers to snap a quick photo of the SS in front of some Bristol Speedway signage. As we were driving a 415-hp muscle car to a NASCAR race, we thought it fitting to make a photographic pilgrimage to as many oval tracks as possible on the way to our destination.
After a brief stopover in tacky Pidgeon Forge, Tennessee, we made our way over to the infamous Tail of the Dragon. Despite the Impala-esque appearance, the SS is quite the capable sports sedan, and it did us proud on the 318-turn stretch of road. Like an NFL linebacker, the SS carries its size well, with finesse and composure that belie the Chevy bowtie up front. Dial the suspension up to the Track setting, and roads turn to mincemeat. While stationary, the SS might appear to wallow enough to scrape the side mirrors on the exit of each turn, but instead it hunkers down with very little body roll through bends. On the very tight and very technical Tail, the steering was extremely predictable, allowing me to make mid-corner corrections with little fuss.
After I made my Tail runs, it was Dad's turn to get behind the wheel. He may have cut his enthusiast teeth in the 1960s with a '67 Mustang, but he is now more impressed with cars that corner precisely rather than scuttle down a dragstrip. Despite clear muscle-car roots, the SS was a big hit with the old man. He gave particular praise to the brakes as well as the car's noticeable lack of understeer in hairpin corners. Dallas doesn't offer much in the way of driving roads, so the Tail was a perfect palate cleanser. He handed the keys over at the end of the Tail, but his smile didn't fade for the rest of the afternoon.
The soundtrack during our antics was nothing short of spectacular, especially as the car's dual-mode exhaust wedges an electronically actuated valve open for more aural excitement when you choose either Sport or Track mode. The 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 sounded every bit as aggressive as the bygone fifth-generation Camaro SS 1LE, with a reverberating rumble that would be appropriate heralding something with double the horsepower and half the doors of our SS.
Despite the prodigious power and rock-star soundtrack, the SS is about as under-the-radar as you can be. If it's stealth speed you're after, the SS looks like your run-of-the-mill Impala when in motion. It isn't until you concentrate really hard on the details that you start to notice the bulging fenders, quad-outlet exhaust, and meaty brake calipers. That subtlety certainly helped keep us away from the attention of Jonny Law.
After a few runs through the Tail, the initially solid Brembos were struggling to keep up with the Chevy's nearly 2-ton bulk. The pedal became a little squishy, even after we disabled the brake-actuated torque-vectoring system by dialing the car's driving mode back to Sport. We pulled over to cool the brakes at the top of the Tail and took in the remarkable view of the Great Smoky Mountains.
We calmly made a gentle run to the bottom, with fuel and brake conservation taking priority over smiles and laughs. From the bottom, we snaked our way through the heartland of motorcycle country, ending up in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the night.
The next morning, we steeled ourselves for what would be the longest day on our pilgrimage to Daytona. We scrounged enough time to make three further NASCAR pit stops. Shiny Charlotte Motor Speedway is a direct contrast to the dusty and nearly abandoned Rockingham Speedway in its namesake city we visited later that day. Darlington, despite the unusual egg-shaped oval track, remains, in the words of its slogan, "A NASCAR Tradition," with a wonderful museum on the campus.
Enough distractions. With dinner reservations to meet, we booked it through Georgia, though not without a brief stopover in the wonderfully Gothic city of Savannah. I had recently finished reading John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," so we wove our way through Savannah's tight streets to creep into the vaunted Bonaventure Cemetery, which plays a central role in the novel. We arrived 20 minutes too late, greeted only by closed wrought-iron gates. Even 415 hp couldn't help us get there before closing time.
The remainder of the journey to Daytona was an uneventful but time-consuming straight-shot down the freeway. We were tired, but we weren't broken men, thanks to the SS' comfortable seats and relatively supple Touring mode. This mode is the car's softest setting, where the suspension was compliant, the exhaust was quiet, and the steering wasn't as weighty as it was in Sport or Track mode.
We dropped the keys in the valet's hands in downtown Daytona Beach at 11 that night, with 1,800 miles behind us. The SS was the perfect travel companion. It didn't catch the eye of law enforcement, it didn't fray our nerves for a single mile, and it even played NASCAR when we wanted to get frisky on some of the best roads in the nation.
We flew out of Daytona the following Monday, already missing the roar of the LS3. As we took off and looked out over the Florida coastline, we wondered if it would have been smarter to have climbed back in the Chevrolet SS for the journey home.
2016 Chevrolet SS Specifications
|Engine:||6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/415 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 415 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||14/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||195.5 x 74.7 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.7 sec|