350Z Track Monster

350Z Track Monster – from Bling to Brute in 12 Easy Steps!

by Frank Ewald

In just a few years this 350Z has transformed from a pristine example of a Nissan 350Z to a mean and lithe example of an incredibly effective track car. Aesthetics being tossed aside in the aim to gain that fraction of a second to attain the top of the podium. The question that I asked, and likely some of you are wondering also, is how did Mike go from being a hard parker to being one of the most focused time attack drivers that I have met. I mean, he is so intent and tenacious at the track that it's difficult to have a conversation with him. When the competition is over, he is more than ready and willing to talk about his car and his journey into the world of Time Attack. Sorry to have misled you though, it actually took a lot more than 12 steps to build this race package and none of them were easy!

 

In the early stages of its life with Mike, this Nissan 350Z was a daily driven garage queen. Immaculate! $5000 rims. Tasteful body kit. One owner car, never abused or track driven. Until 2012, that is! Photo courtesy of Mike Gardner.

Mike Gardner has always wanted to be a race car driver. As a little boy, that was his dream. At social functions with his wife, Christine, now introduces him as her husband, Mike, the race car driver rather than my husband, Mike, the dentist. I laughed out loud at that and asked how long it took for Christine to proclaim that! Of course, without talking to her, I do not know if this is stated with pride or with a hint of sarcasm – and a ton of love, of course! The path to the track has been filled with quite a few obstacles.

The first being that his grandfather was a huge car enthusiast. Now, you may view this as an advantage rather than an obstacle, but that was not the case. Mike's parents saw both sides of racing – the thrills and the spills. When it came to their son, their protective instinct took over and the response to racing was always “No”. End of discussion. Mike wore away at his parents and eventually they agreed to allow him to get into cart racing – but only if he paid for half. Even at a young age Mike's tenacity was very evident and, with a job as a paper boy, in no time he had saved $1000. Just when he could see the cart in his driveway, one of his friends was involved in a minor kart crash and his parents' once again shut the door to any racing activity. Racer's get 'Red Mist'; parents get 'Safety First Mist'!

 

Labour Day weekend 2004 Mike Gardner bought and brought home his brand new Nissan 350Z. It was his first car. Photo courtesy of Mike Gardner.

Since the thrill of the track was not going to be part of his immediate future, Mike did what any other teenager would do. Bug his parents for the next best thing – auto racing video games – which his parents agreed to. His first system was a Nintendo unit; today it's a much more complex setup that for a while was at his dentist office. He allowed a few select kids (and maybe a few parents) to test their skills while waiting for their dental work. The system is now at home where it gets used sparingly (after all, Mike now has a drone!).

 

With the car running on the original rims and almost 8 year old tires, Mike and his 350Z experienced the thrill of running the track. At his first outing in 2011, Mike couldn't keep up to his friend running a Lotus Exige. Second time out and the car now on new Hankook RS3's, the Lotus couldn't keep up to the Z! Photo courtesy of Skootermedia.

After eight years of ownership, during which this pampered Z had never had food consumed inside it, the red mist of track driving had enveloped Mike. After seeing how the car performed with Hankook RS3 tires during a track day, Mike signed up for street class events at CSCS in 2012. Driven to succeed, Mike's first season was a success and he set a RWD street class record at CSCS Time Attack. Without a doubt, he was hooked on competition, and the desire to improve his driving and his car hit big time.

 

Here Mike is competing at Road Atlanta with Global Time Attack. From Toronto Motorsports Park as his first track, Mike has been to Grand Bend Raceway, Shannonville Motorsports Park, Road Atlanta, and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) with CSCS, Global Time Attack, and Ontario Time Attack. Photo courtesy of Motolyric.

As the bling was stripped away, the car transformed more and more into a focused track brute. It has a unique sound that, if you are trackside while it's out, will have you searching for ear plugs. This VQ 3.5 is absolutely putting out a lot of ponies and Mike is making the best of them.

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