Chris Drum had dreamt of owning a first-generation CTS-V for half a decade. For him, the car checked all the boxes: its sedan shape, moderate weight, V8 power, and manual shift. The idea of an inconspicuous four-door beating up the accepted track stars drove his imagination wild.

However, there aren’t many of these understated sedans around. Only 8,872 were made over four years, and of those, only 627 came without a sunroof. Despite scouring classifieds every night, he couldn’t manage to find a suitable example for a track build.

During COVID, while working full time and attending college remotely, he decided to take a more conventional route into track driving. He bought himself a C5 Z06 — one of the best performance bargains around. Part of the savings can be attributed to the shoddy build quality. The interior receives few compliments, aside from how easily people are able to remove it. That overabundance of bulky black plastic is only too easy to hurl in the trash.

The Z06 not just cosmetically crappy, either. The window seals being what they are, it was no major surprise when, one summer day, a southeastern storm made its way into the cabin and all over the passenger floorboard—just where the body control module is located.

Though Chris is a capable wrench, he had no illusions about the work required to save the Corvette. Rather than frustrate himself, he sold the car to a friend in Texas and started looking for a suitable replacement. A friend in Michigan had an ‘05 CTS-V ready to sell — in fact, it had been sitting ready behind a shop for nearly four years.

Though the time spent in the elements hadn’t done it much good, the price was right, the gray paint wasn’t totally trashed, and it came with a rollbar and a pair of OMP seats. He brought it home, spent $300 and a weekend getting it running, then booked his first track day.

Unfortunately, after all the work of hauling it back to North Carolina, he only got to drive it for 11 miles on his local roads before the oil pressure began to plummet. It took only a few minutes to determine why: while the previous owner had left the car outside with the valve covers removed, some trash had made its way into the oil pickup tube. Thankfully, the internals were fine. With a new pickup tube and precautionary replacement of the oil pump, he’d averted a crisis — at least momentarily.

Back on the road, Chris tried a spirited one-two shift and broke the differential. Then he fixed it. Unfazed, he added his first set of sticky tires and took it for another joyride. Then he indulged in a celebratory burnout, announced by a roar of the engine and the sound of metal on pavement. He got out to see the pinion lying on the ground.

Chris decided that the reason the car wasn’t cooperating was because it was borderline corpulent, so he put it on a diet. Scrapping the interior shed 200 pounds, and finally, after so many setbacks, he finally got it on track. The location was Charlotte Motor Speedway, hardly the right place for a foray into track work, but the car worked.

After waiting so long and jumping so many hurdles just to get in the seat, Chris was chomping at the bit. Wasting no time, he signed up to run HPDE1 at Road Atlanta.

Some have the natural talent needed to bypass the awkward first steps of performance driving. Not only did he put in a respectable 1:43 on tired Kumho V720s, but his performance was enough to warrant real praise from his instructor, who granted him approval to run in HPDE2.

The best way to describe climbing rungs of the ladder at a rate like this is bliss — as well as sweet repayment for all those early frustrations. Unfortunately, ecstatic feelings like these have the unfortunate side effect of loosening the grip on one’s wallet. Right after registering for his DE2 event at Virginia International Raceway, he saw something pop up in his feed that had him rethinking a trip to Key West he’d planned for later that year. 

This one, another ‘05 and painted silver, came with quite a spec sheet. Not only did it have a scant 13,031 miles on the clock, but it had been built by Phoenix Performance. The car had been fitted with some primo parts, including Penske 8760 three-ways. It had also been stripped and stiffened. Even so, mainly due to the cage, it weighed something like 3,450 pounds all said and done.

Some $85,000 had clearly been invested into this spotless build, so Chris couldn’t deny the value before him. To sweeten the deal, it had none of the elemental damage the previous car had, so even though it’d been sitting for five years, it would not need any much, if any, work to get it into fighting shape.

Chris loaded up the tow rig and drove north to Manhattan, where the car had been sitting in an air-conditioned garage stocked full of million-dollar machinery. Not surprisingly, the car started up the first time. Cars stored in these air-conditioned private museums are kept on a trickle charge and driven every week to circulate the fluids. He drove it up on his trailer and headed south. No fuss, no repairs, and no time wasted. In fact, the rapid turnaround meant he could keep his HPDE2 date.

The adjustment phase was tricky. “It was a true racecar. It had a proper shock setup, and it was the first car with any sort of aerodynamic aid I’d driven,” Chris began. “I was frustrated with myself because I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted. Even so, I still dominated the day. I think I passed everyone except for an M2 CS!” Chris reminisced.

Though Chris recognized then that it was primarily his driving that was limiting him, there was one setup decision that was causing him distress: it only had an APR splitter and no wing to balance the rear. This aero imbalance was compounded by its square set of 275/35-18 tires, causing it a serious amount of oversteer at higher speeds — far from the balance one wants when trying VIR for the first time.

Prior to selling the gray car, he’d ordered a Nine Lives Racing wing and kept it among his collection of miscellaneous parts. After putting it on the new car, it immediately cured all handling woes. “It was so stable under braking!”

That was the day things clicked.

“I went from 2:14 my first time there. After I put the wing on, everything changed.” The rear stability and improved composure under braking immediately dropped his times. After several laps of running consistently in the 2:11s, Chris realized how much further he could push his braking points. “That really was the best realization I’ve had on track,” he exclaimed. Two laps later, he dropped into the 2:07s.

Braking later was but one of the discoveries he made that day. “I learned how to drive through slides rather than just leap out of the throttle to save it, as well as adjust driving techniques to compensate for ill-handling and track/environmental conditions,” he added.

His performance had again stunned his instructor, who suggested he needed only a couple more HPDE2 days before Chris could grab the HPDE3 rung. One of those was at Carolina Motorsports Park, where he set a respectable time of 1:42, and the other was Road Atlanta, where he logged a 1:35.

At this stage, he’d done nothing to the car aside from adding the wing and throwing on a new set of Kumho V730s. Prior to his first HPDE3 day, he had it corner balanced and sent the shocks out for a rebuild, because they hadn’t been touched in 11 years.

After one HPDE3 day at Roebling Road, he was able to graduate into sanctioned competition. For his foray into Time Trial, he chose Carolina Motorsports Park. With worn Hoosier A7s, he cut a full 3 seconds off his previous best. His 1:39 placed him first in TT3 and also represented the fastest non-TTU time there that weekend. Only eight months into track driving, he was bringing home hardware.

Following an encouraging follow-up at VIR, the bliss came to a momentary halt. After leaving Turn 1, the engine let go at around 90. His LS6 had fired a rod out the side of the block. After 1,700 track miles in less than a year, his professionally built CTS-V had its first failure.


Undeterred, Chris ordered a crate LS3 three days after the big bang. Within a month, he had installed it in his car. The swap was fairly simple. It only required a conversion box to accommodate for the different cam and crank signals emitted from the engine.

While the Cadillac was down, Chris addressed the brake cooling issue, which was hindering his efforts. “Though the factory Brembo calipers are actually really good, they require substantial cooling to keep them happy lap after lap,” he said. A big car with real cubes and a touch of downforce required a bit more stopping power, so he swapped the factory fronts for a set of AP Racing CP9668 brakes. The kit gave him 372mm x 34mm rotors, six-piston calipers, pads 25 mm thick, and none of the aforementioned cooling issues to speak of.

Along with the new stoppers, he replaced the factory six-lug hubs with a set of five-lug hubs made for a World Challenge Corvette. Aside from greater overall strength, these hubs offered two major benefits: They addressed the persistent pad knockback issue present with the factory items and they made buying wheels a cinch. With these new hubs, he bolted on a set of Titan7 wheels made for a BMW.

He wasn’t totally out of the woods then. The added strain from broader 275-section tires caused the power steering to fail. With the help of Turn One, he attached an ATI underdrive balancer, a Turn One power steering pump, and a Setrab oil cooler to act as a power steering cooler. Then, during an enthusiastic bout of driving at CMP, the cheap plastic bushing on one of his inner tie rods failed.

Thankfully, that has been the extent of the failures on this car. The reputation these cars have for breaking driveline components precedes them, but Chris has been fortunate enough to avoid them with this particular car.

“As far as the differential and wheel hop go, I’ve been lucky enough to not have any issues on the track. The factory World Challenge team ran the factory Getrag differentials over the five seasons they campaigned the CTS-V. I’ve brought a spare set of axles to every track event, but I have yet to unload them. The only issues I’ve had in this department were due to driver error on the street — and that was with the first car. I’ve gotten to be a little more mechanically sympathetic since then,” Chris elaborated.

The faithful CTS-V has, for the most part, handled the abuse well. After getting through the few teething problems, there isn’t much that troubles him or his car. True, there’s a touch of fuel starvation in fast rights, but he’ll upgrade from the factory fuel system soon.

That stable, predictable, and agreeable platform has given him something to build from. Since making the last of his modifications, Chris has kept climbing the ladder at an impressive rate. At Road Atlanta last month, he set the fastest non-TTU time of a 1:34 on corded Hoosier A7s.

For the 2023 season, Drum has ambitious plans. He’s hoping to dial the weight down to the class minimum of 3,637 pounds with his 388 average horsepower. Once he’s done that, he might fasten the Grand-Am carbon panels that came with the car — enough to trim two-hundred pounds — and go for all-out TT performance.

If and when that happens, it will be the only time the CTS-V wears its pricey carbon armor. The reason being is that, aside from it being irreplaceable, the chance of damaging it grows significantly when he’s racing wheel-to-wheel.

Only 18 months into driving, Chris has decided to make another big leap: into the world of Super Touring 3. He and a friend have booked a date for competition school with NASA Mid-Atlantic at VIR in March.

Regardless of the challenge, setbacks and the cost, indefatigable people will keep pushing for the next big aim. Chris is one of those ambitious young drivers who’s going places — and picking this stout, uncommon platform has made his journey all the more enjoyable.

Images courtesy of Chris Drum, Tradd's Photos, Tradd Slayton, Brett Becker and Tony Politi


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