Rally legend Michèle Mouton helped start the Race of Champions in 1988 to determine the best rally driver in the world, and it’s grown to include all kinds of racers. We should care about it, but it still feels overshadowed in the United States by the defunct International Race of Champions. Why? IROC had a car.
Despite having similar names, ROC and IROC aren’t related. IROC was a more America-centric competition, but it predated the ROC by a decade and a half. It also produced a cultural icon: the Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z.
IROC used several race cars throughout the years, including a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, but the Camaro was its most recognizable one. IROC got slapped on the most mullet-tacular road car of them all starting in 1985, much to the delight of hoons everywhere.
The IROC-Z was an option package for the V8-powered Z28, which featured upgraded suspension, a lower ride height, more chassis bracing and other goodies that made it more track-ready than the usual Camaro. It’s also good for sweet burnouts, donuts on your lawn, and other acts of vehicular hooliganism. Unsurprisingly, it was the car of choice for Noelle’s bully boyfriend in “Teenage Dirtbag,” The High Speed Scene’s jock nemesis, and kids who got cooler cars than you in high schools across the nation.
Every kid of the ‘80s and ‘90s knew of the IROC Camaros—even ones who didn’t care a lot about cars. That’s probably why even I thought IROC and ROC had to be related when I first heard of it, even though they were developed independently of each other on different continents.
The Race of Champions already suffers from growing into the Race Of Some People Who Actually Win Stuff and Some Other Jamokes. This year’s line-up is actually pretty strong, with a good mix of actual winners and up-and-coming drivers, but the ROC is still a one-off that ultimately doesn’t mean anything besides affording drivers from other disciplines the chance to be faster than Felipe Massa.
We’re glad to see Jalopnik reader Stefan Rzadzinski made it in as a ROC Factor pick, where two lesser-known drivers from the region of this year’s competition get the chance to battle head-to-head with the big-name pros. Still, if we weren’t all MICRA CUP REPRESENT!, would we care? I’m still having a hard time with this, you guys.
If I knew more people who’d even heard of it beyond “I thought it was IROC?,” maybe it would be easier to care. It’s even in Miami this year, for Pete’s sake! Fandom isn’t an isolated activity. It’s best experienced with others, while arguing why your driver is better than their driver.
It’s time to bring back the Camaro. Throw a race-prepped bitchin’ Camaro into the part of the competition, and sell a ROC Z28 to the masses. It will quickly be embraced by cool kids everywhere, giving the ROC instant name recognition such that people might finally stop asking about IROC every time it comes up.
There’s a bit more prestige to knowing you’ve won something whose name is on the nemesis of small-town cops everywhere, too. Even if they don’t specifically go with a Camaro, the present-day ROC should follow the IROC Z’s example by putting its name on a relatively accessible, yet beloved performance car. Get your name in front of the masses first, and then the people will care.