[GRM+ members read this article first. Subscribe and gain access to more exclusive content for only $3/month.]
Arnie Gonzalez calls it Red-X. It fits. The truck’s red, and he autocrosses it. Plus, others look at the truck as if there’s a red X on it.
“They give me the ‘Oh really?’ look,” he says of those who first encounter his 1990 Chevrolet C1500 Sport. “They start talking crap before they even see the truck run.”
Arnie doesn’t mind playing into their preconceived notions. “We do something on purpose,” he says. “The first session, we line up in the back. When it’s time for the second session, let’s say there are 25 cars and we’re 13th. We make sure we’re almost the last one to pull up on the grid.
“They see this truck,” he continues, “and they’re like, ‘Excuse me, are you lost?’ I’ll go, ‘No, but can you read? You may want to look at the times. My truck is faster than your car.’ They have this look of ‘You got to be kidding me.’”
Arnie loves driving a wild card.
“When you got a Corvette, you know you’re going to be up front,” he explains. “When you have a Miata, you know you’ll be toward the back. The truck is the unknown. That’s one of the allures of it.”
Champagne Dreams, Beer Budget
Arnie grew up in Miami. His father took him into the paddock of the Grand Prix of Miami as a kid, planting the seed of his passion for all things with motors.
“Being around Porsches and those types of cars, I knew I could not obtain those things,” he says, “but I knew I could obtain a truck. A pickup truck is not that expensive. It still has a motor and four wheels. We have a weight issue, but we can work on that.”
In his early years, Arnie had two profound influences. He turned wrenches for Pettit Racing, which fielded Mazda RX-7s for driver Cameron Worth in the old Grand-Am series. Arnie also worked for California Custom Sport Trucks in Fort Lauderdale.
“These are the guys who formed me,” Arnie says. “I started to figure out that I love my trucks, but the challenge was, how could I make my truck handle like some of these RX-7s or Miatas that I was surrounded by? It took me a while to figure it out. You couldn’t do this in the ’90s–the components weren’t available. You weren’t going to compete with a Corvette or Camaro–it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Arnie raced Spec Miatas, but it didn’t excite him as trucks did. Instead, 15 years ago, he opted to build Red-X.
“When they invented the Miata, it wasn’t meant to be a Spec Miata. It turned into that because the potential was there,” he explains. “I figured out there was potential in that particular truck I run.”
Why the C1500?
Arnie loves many trucks. However, the 1988-’98 Chevrolet C1500, aka “old body style” or OBS, seemed like the perfect truck to modify for racing.
“When compared to the 1973-’87 C10, the ’88-’98 C1500 is a better-designed chassis,” he explains, “and most of it is firewall forward.”
The C1500 uses a stiffer, lightweight, hydroformed frame; the older trucks don’t. And where the C1500 got a welded front crossmember, the one in the older truck is riveted together.
Arnie says he could have gone with the model that came after the C1500, the Chevrolet Silverado, aka “new body style” or NBS, but he went with his personal preference.
“The NBS trucks also have a hydroformed frame and have an LS motor, so yes, it would be a more logical way to go,” he says. “But it’s like, why would I take a Porsche 911 over a 928? Both are Porsches. Any Porsche connoisseur has a 911 inside their garage. It’s a love of the body style. I grew up with the C1500. I wanted that truck when it was brand-new. Plus, the newer trucks are heavier.”
Arnie admits the truck isn’t for everyone. It’s not the most affordable vehicle out there; he estimates it would take someone $25,000 to $30,000 to build one like his. It’s certainly not the easiest to set up, either, and Arnie did most of that work on his own. But trucks are his thing, so much so that he promotes a truck-only Pro-Touring Truck Shootout at Beech Bend Raceway Park in the spring.
Developing Red-X has been a long process, but Arnie has figured out how to make the truck fast. Today, it beats Spec Miata and 944 Spec lap times. In a recent NASA event, it bested a BMW M3.
“You got to have a love affair for the truck,” he says. “You got to have the passion to be the underdog and try to beat the BMWs, Porsches and Camaros.”
Arnie took us for a tour around his truck during a recent NASA Mid South event at Nashville Superspeedway.
Rear Suspension Swap
Arnie creates many of his own components through his business, OBS Chevy Racing. This kit replaces the leaf-spring setup with a three-link suspension and coil-over shocks.
“The cars tend to be more even-keeled,” Arnie says of the weight balance of cars versus trucks, with trucks having most of their weight in the front. “With the trucks, that’s a major disadvantage. We try to move a lot of weight off the front. In the rear, we make up for it with mechanical grip.”
Arnie’s truck now weighs 3340 pounds. He says it originally weighed about 4250 pounds.
He continues to experiment with the anti-roll bar, sometimes running without it. He hopes to develop a new setup soon.
More rubber generally equals more traction, and Arnie moved to a beefy 315/30ZR18 size. He’ll either run Hoosiers (pictured) or Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. To accommodate the wider tires, he uses a Belltech spindle, wheel spacers/adapters, and a wheel intended for a Corvette. On all four corners, Baer 6P brakes–six-piston calipers, rotors and pads–up the truck’s stopping power.
The OBS Chevy Racing frame braces replace the crossmember that holds the spare tire. This allows Arnie to shave weight yet maintain rigidity in the rear of the frame.
Up front, Arnie added a splitter that his OBS Chevy Racing company makes. In the rear, a prototype rear wing catches some air and adds some downforce to the rear of the truck.
“I wouldn’t drive as fast as I would without the front splitter,” he says. “The rear spoiler is better than nothing.”
The OBS Chevy Racing coil-over kit up front, which includes billet aluminum upper control arms, allows Arnie to easily adjust caster and camber and install coil-over shocks.
This heat extractor hood from OBS Chevy Racing does what it sounds like it does. It takes away heat from under the hood to keep the powerplant cool and happy.
Under the hood, Arnie built an engine from a 6.0-liter GM LQ9 block. The cast-iron engine was used in trucks from 2002 to 2007. On top, it has GM 243 aluminum cylinder heads, which Arnie ported. He estimates that it puts out somewhere between 450 and 475 horsepower.
Shifted the Shifter
Inside the cockpit, Arnie stripped out most of the interior. He had to move the shifter because he opted for a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual, which was widely used in vehicles from GM, Ford and Chrysler. Arnie says he made the change for durability, since the truck originally came with a BorgWarner T5 five-speed manual.