They say that you can show a race car and that you can't race a show car, except Larry Kenney has already demonstrated just how wrong they really are.
Mr. Kenney handed over the down payment for a '03 Nissan 350Z with intentions that had everything to do with locking up the e-brake and sliding around a drift course. At the time, he didn't want anything to do with misting his Z33 down with quick detailer inside convention center halls, hoping to appease a band of dudes with clipboards and checklists. But then his first car payment arrived... "My plans were to build a car that I could drift," he promises, "but I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to be drifting a car that I was making payments on."
Inspiration by way of drifting and even Japanese circuit racing ultimately gave way to what Kenney says was his Z becoming a staple among the Chicago-based car show collective. Trophies soon piled up; not ones based of driving merits, but those earned because of what Kenney had subjected the Track Edition Z to-a show car. The car had still yet to live out its track fantasies despite undergoing five distinct versions-all mostly cosmetic.
Today, in the midst of what Kenney says is Version 5.5, the Z car remains covered in aero from C-West with step-lipped Work wheels slipped beneath that give a nod to the sort of one-off treatment that gets a car show judge's attention. We also can't ignore the Kognition Design rear wing built to Kenney's specifications and the SS Worx over-fenders that have been massaged to fit with perfection and resemble something more off-the-shelf than universal parts.
Drifting initially enticed Kenney; however with time, grassroots time attack racing has peaked his interest, which is where much of version five-and-a-half's cues are derived from. "The grassroots spirit of a build and seeing how it works, and then tweaking or redoing things as needed is right up my alley with my experience as a fabricator and industrial designer," he says before talking about the front and side splitters and rear diffuser he drew up and fashioned himself.
Now, Kenney says the whole idea is to generate maximum grip in lieu of car show points. That's because he has also been subjecting his Z to the road course for the last three years. "The whole car was designed around maximum grip, using large patches and high downforce," he says. You know, the sort of stuff that racetracks and racers appreciate. "It makes for a wild ride on the track. Even with street tires, the amount of grip is staggering."
Build, test, tweak, and redo. That's the philosophy Kenney applies to every change he's made to the car, from the custom wing mounts, to the 11"-wide wheels at all four corners, to the reworked power steering system that allows them to work up front. It's all been very much methodically planned out, and when that hasn't worked out, things are redone so that it does.
Reincarnating an award-winning appearance of what a show car is into something the track could make proper use of wasn't too hard. That's mostly because Kenney sought the same sort of high-end, capable parts for his Z that'd both impress show gawkers and do their jobs on the track alike. Underneath the hood, the factory V-6 has been strengthened with Eagle rods and moderately bored-over Wiseco pistons before being fitted with a GReddy 18G twin-turbo system that's been updated with a custom intercooler, HKS injectors, and a TiAL wastegate at each bank. According to Kenney: "Fortunately, I've always gone with the 'functional plus' mentality with car building, and I already had a very solid base to build a track car off of."
He does admit to making a handful of changes in the name of function, like the show car-obligatory tucked wiring harness that's proved to make on-track diagnostics less than practical.
In '16, Kenney still tells us that he plans to show his Z from time to time; however, the car will continue to make track appearances and use all of its 600 hp it has to offer. The same build philosophy that got the car to where it is now will carry on, too, he reassures: "I'll just continue to tweak and improve the aero as well as make some serious weight savings." They say that you can show a race car and that you can't race a show car, but in Larry Kenney's case, people just don't know what the hell they're talking about.