Mike Patterson drove his 1999 Z28 from the showroom to the fabrication shop, and he’s been racing it ever since.

Owner: Mike Patterson
Year: 1999
Make: Chevrolet
Model: Camaro Z28
Class: American Iron
Weight: 3,400 lbs. w/driver
Engine: Tremec T56 built by Dederichs Motorsports
Transmission: Chevrolet LS1 built by HPR, Centerforce DYAD multi-disc clutch
Suspension: Front: LG Motorsports upper/lower control arms, factory sway bar, Tractive Suspension coilovers, remote reservoir three-way adjustable, electronic.

Rear: LG Motorsports lower control arms, torque arm and panhard rod, custom Ford 8.8 with full floater Moser axles and factory ABS provision, custom adjustable sway bar, Tractive Suspension coilovers, remote reservoir three-way adjustable, electronic.

 Tires: Toyo Tires
Front: Toyo Proxes RR 275-35-18
Rear: 275-35-18 RR
Brakes: Factory ABS
Front: StopTech 332mm kit
Rear: Factory PBR calipers
Data system: Traqmate
Sponsors:  Alamo Autosports, Texas Track Works, Dederichs Motorsports, HPR, Inertia Laboratory, Motul, Centerforce, Moonlite Printing and Graphics, Heritage Collision Center, Midnight Ribs, NASA Texas.

Speed News contributing writer Gary Faules wrote in one of his “First Gear” columns that if you look at the drivers who are succeeding in a given class, winning consistently, you’ll probably find that they have been driving the same car in the same class for a long time.

That notion certainly applies to Mike Patterson and his 1999 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro. Patterson has achieved a great deal of success over the last 14 years in American Iron, a class populated primarily by Ford Mustangs.

“If you look at the entries across the country, the majority of cars are Mustangs, whether they be Fox bodies, SN95s or 99s or S197s,” Patterson said. “The parts availability for the Mustangs is very good. Ford does a great job and the aftermarket support does a great job on making parts available to click-buy and have them shipped to your door.”

Nonetheless, Patterson has developed his Z28 — and himself — through grit, fabrication skills and a profound knowledge of the platform gained over years of ownership. Originally, Patterson campaigned the car in the Sports Car Club of America’s T2, which didn’t allow for many modifications. Since switching to NASA and American Iron in 2003, Patterson has been steadily developing the car, tweaking, tuning and improving it into the dominant force it has become in American Iron in the Texas Region.

He has amassed more than 100 wins in the car, which has just 17,000 miles on it, and all but 500 are race miles. The car is on engine number 14 and he’s won all 11 American Iron races in the Texas Region this year.

“The car took a while to transform from a glorified street car, so to say, into a competitive American Iron car,” he said. “I run the car on a pretty limited budget, and it took a while to accumulate and acquire the right parts for the car to make it go fast.”

After going through so many engines, early on because T2 rules forbade the modifications that help motors last, Patterson now has a solid recipe for building a long-lasting GM LS engine. Forged pistons and rods, better piston rings and race bearings with proper clearances are a big help. Adding a high-volume oil pump, a double-row timing chain, Comp Cams valve springs, uprated lifters and pushrods improved reliability as did a baffled oil pan from Improved Racing and a first-rate oil cooler.

Of course, you can’t see any of those things. What you can see and one of the things that first catch your eye when looking at the car is the aero package. Patterson did all the aluminum work himself with help from his good friend Brice Yingling at Alamo Autosports, which has the appropriate sheetmetal equipment. He upgrades the aero when he thinks he can improve it or when an off-course excursion mangles the metal, which is why he uses aluminum rather than pricier carbon fiber.

“It’s not easy to fix at the track, but it is fixable at the track, and for splitters, they have a purpose and they have a lifespan,” Patterson said. “For my budget, aluminum fits my budget as opposed to making them out of carbon fiber. I’ve seen plenty of guys, and they’re in a Ford Boss 302S blow up their splitters or have guys with fancy carbon-fiber ones that cost $800 or a thousand bucks and explode those in one off-road incident, and I don’t need that in my budget. So, aluminum works well for me.”

The splitter is a compromise of sorts. Rules allow for splitters to extend to the middle of the front axle, but Patterson’s extends to the front sway bar. That allows for access to undercar components such as the alternator and also makes the car easier to load into his trailer.

Out back, he uses a wing from Fulcrum Composites, which is now owned by NASA Northeast American Iron racer AJ Hartman, a driver Patterson will be facing at the Eastern States Championships at Sebring. Patterson fabricated a rear diffuser, which also is a compromise of sorts. It doesn’t extend as far forward or aft as the rules allow, but it does evacuate air from underneath the rear fascia. It works well enough that he doesn’t have to put much angle on the rear wing and it balances out the aero treatments at the front.

“I’ve got it set up at an angle that works with the corner weights that are on the car, the ride heights that I’m allowed for the class,” he said. “Everything aero-wise, it works very well together, and I’m happy with the balance of the aerodynamics.”

The car also has been fitted with Tractive Suspension coilovers, with remote reservoirs and three-way electronic adjustment.

“The only adjustments I have electronically are the rebound settings on the front, which I can change while driving and the rebound settings on the rear, which I can change while I’m driving,” he said. “But I’ve got the car pretty much set where I want it. I really don’t make a lot of adjustments to the rebound. I primarily control the car through the compression now.  I do adjust the front, on occasion, depending on how bumpy a track is, but it’s only going to be a click up or a click down.”

The end result is a car that is “dialed in” and is as competitive as any American Iron car in the country. Patterson hasn’t had much luck at Championships in years past, but he’s looking forward to Sebring in October.

“All these people I race against are my friends, too. So, I want them to do well. If they’re having problems with their cars and my car’s sitting there doing nothing, I’m happy to go wrench on theirs as I hope they’d be if I were having problems,” Patterson said. “I’m super thankful to my friends my family who have supported me for 20 years of doing this. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Image courtesy of Brett Becker