Behind The Wheel Feature With Casey
BEHIND THE WHEEL FEATURE WITH CASEY CRONIN
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Written By Brandy Phillips
Photos By Brandy Phillips and Casey Cronin's Facebook Page
There comes a time when you meet someone great, someone with knowledge, kindness and compassion. Upon meeting
this person, you know that this person can never be forgotten.
I have come across a handful of people since entering the pro-touring scene in 2008 that have remained close friends,
but there are only a few I allow in the passenger seat of my truck. I have always been a person that will jump in
someone else’s vehicle, observe how they drive and then apply certain aspects of their driving once I climb back into
the driver seat. When you find a good instructor, one who just clicks with you, it is hard to have anyone else in that
position. Luckily one of those incredible instructors is based right here in Southern California.
When I speak of racing instructors, wandering minds might question what professional driver I am speaking of? Others
might assume that I am speaking of someone that has been a long time member of the pro-touring community, won
several events and races competitively attending several events throughout the year. In this case, this driver not only
has a long history in racing, his skills behind the wheel have made an impact on over 2,500 CHP cadets during his
years in the Academy.
For many of us when I say the words CHP or for non-California’s maybe Highway Patrol, I bet more than half of you
cringe. Yet, how cool would it be to work for the CHP as a driving instructor? By now some may have realized who I am
talking about, but for those who still do not know, the man behind the uniform is no other than Casey Cronin.
As most gearheads, there was an early automotive influence in Casey’s life. In the mid sixties Casey’s father was in
charge of promoting the Ford Bronco for a dealership in Hayward, California. This lead to his family’s involvement in off
road racing and Cronin’s purchase of his first vehicle, a pink Willys DJ 3A. Cronin’s high school years were spent
converting the Jeep to four wheel drive, removing the flathead four cylinder to replace it with a V6, and installing a T10
Cronin went on to attend college and work for a small company in the four wheel drive aftermarket industry in Paso
Robles. After a couple of years it was time for him to move on. With the help of a persistent friend, Cronin looked into
joining the California Highway Patrol. After two years of testing, Casey Cronin was accepted into the Academy. Cronin
spent ten years working in the San Fernando Valley, Bay Area, and metro Sacramento area. During the earlier years of
his CHP career Cronin took advanced courses in Collision Investigation. Many of these courses involved vehicle dynamics,
skid marks, time position calculations, and basic Newtonian physics. After a few years Cronin became a certified Accident
In the summer of 1994, a teaching opportunity opened up at the CHP Academy for a driving instructor. Cronin applied,
went through the selection process, and was assigned to the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) unit in
December of 1994. It was a dream come true. This is where he would really learn to drive. During his time at the
Academy, Cronin taught over 2,500 cadets and several members of various other law enforcement agencies. Cronin
would also purchase his runout Camaro (B4C) patrol car, which would be his first autocross vehicle.
Casey Cronin was promoted to Sergeant and became the EVOC unit supervisor. Cronin held that position for 3 1/2 years
until he transferred to the Santa Barbara area and moved to Camarillo in 2001. While in the San Fernando Valley, Cronin
also worked as a supervisor, which resulted in doing some driving demonstrations for the CHP at Irwindale Speedway. In
2005 Cronin was promoted to Lieutenant and settled down in the Ventura office until retiring in 2013. While at Ventura,
Cronin started a driver’s training program and decreased preventable collisions. When he started they had 13 in 2006,
and when he retired in 2013 that number had dropped to zero.
Though many might ask how one goes from wearing a uniform to a driving suit, it all seemed very natural for Cronin.
Yet, the bigger question was how he got into the pro-touring scene? In short, the racing community had a bigger bond
than one would think. Cronin’s racing adventures in Northern California helped him reunite with an old friend, Mike Maier,
years later as the pro-touring scene started to grow. Maier, who had been running at the Del Mar autocross, convinced
Cronin that Del Mar should be added to Cronin’s bucket list. Due to its laid back nature; Cronin agreed and decided that
this event was a must once he retired.
During this time several other events were starting including the NMCA West Hotchkis Autocross that was in junction with
the drag racing event at the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California. Cronin, who was running Hoosiers on his Camaro,
was in the need of new tires. It was then that Cronin decided to switch to the 200 tread wear club and embark on his
journey in the pro-touring racing movement.
Cronin ran several events with his Camaro including the So Cal Challenge, NMCA West Hotchkis AutoX, the Street Machine
Nationals, Run To the Coast, SCCA National Tours, and Camarillo Autocross. As he grew closer to his retirement, Cronin
had another surprise waiting in the garage. Though his secret weapon would take some time to complete, Cronin stayed
extremely occupied between his build and helping coordinate and expand Speed Limit Racing.
Some may have heard of Speed Limit Racing while others know it as the Camarilo autocross. So how was Casey Cronin
connected to this group? He explained that the short story is “he was the guy with the truck.” The longer version though
helps explain how the whole autocross scene at the Camarillo Airport got started.
Cronin was reading a thread on Pro-touring.com about Cris Gonzales rebuilding Mary Pozzi's Camaro. He kept following
some of the stories and different builds when Cris mentioned he needed to test Karl Dunn’s 1969 Camaro Blu Balz.
Cronin had just started a driver’s training program at the Camarillo Airport and had a mutual friend that could get Cris
some test time. This was perfect since JCG Restoration was based in Oxnard.
Cris’ test sessions eventually turned into the periodic open test and tune events. Cronin hauled the cones and other
equipment in his truck and set up the course on Saturday for participants to race on Sunday. Darren Friedman, who is
President of Speed Limit Racing, offered to buy some timing equipment, which quickly added even more appeal to these
events. Eventually demand was so high Speed Limit Racing opened the event as a two-day autocross, allowing people to
register for Saturday, Sunday or both.
Speed Limit Racing is unlike many autocross events. Unlike other autocross events that have numerous classes and an
event every quarter, Speed Limit Racing puts on an event every month and limits the total entries to ensure 12 runs per
entrant. Cronin, who designs each course layout, structures each course differently depending on other upcoming race
events. Knowing that several drivers come out to Camarillo to shakedown their vehicles before a big event, Cronin likes
to incorporate elements of upcoming races into his autocross layouts so drivers can practice and setup their vehicles per
that particular race.
For example: the first couple months of the 2017 may reflect a tighter course to cater to those who will be attending the
Goodguys Del Mar Autocross in April. When October comes around, Cronin will set up a slightly larger course with more
speed to replicate a similar course to what a competition might see at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational at Auto
Club Speedway in the fall. Rather than a competitive autocross series, Cronin likes to think that Speed Limit Racing is
more of a developmental autocross venue.
As I had stated in the beginning, Casey Cronin is an amazing driving instructor. After taking a glimpse at what he has
been doing with Speed Limit Racing, we wanted to dive deeper into his role as an instructor. While completing his secret
build, Cronin had quite a bit of time to play the role as an instructor, but once he finished his 1972 Vette, he still
continued to put time aside to help others behind the wheel. So I wanted to hear his reason why:
“That's not a short answer and will take a while. As a parent I'm sure you have had those moments when you are
teaching your child something and for lack of a better term ‘you see the light come on.’ That is probably one of the
greatest feelings in the world. When I was teaching at the CHP Academy, there would be those moments, when a cadet
was struggling with a component of driving, and thru working with the cadet ‘the light would come on.’ It was such a
rewarding feeling. To me driving is a life skill; not a professional skill like report writing or administering Field Sobriety
Tests (FST). Driving is something you carry with you after work. Being a good driver will save you and possibly even
your family or passengers in an emergency situation.
So teaching and helping others with driving fundamentals is self-rewarding to me. I get a great a joy when I see the
light come on as any parent would with their child. Autocross is more about self-improvement than competition. When
a driver has plateaued, a certain level of frustration sets in. If I can offer a small piece of advise and they break
through their plateau they have more fun. Isn't that what we are all trying to do, have fun?
As for how I instruct, I try and break driving into three parts; Driver Ergonomics, Roadway Position, and Vehicle
Dynamics. Anytime I offer a suggestion, I have observed something and usually I can help them find some time on
the course. When teaching cadets, I always started with eye placement and moved on from there. When the cadet
would began to struggle, I would drop back to eye placement, and things would start to come together and then we
could move on. I've noticed that same trend in autocross and see drivers struggling with eye placement from time to
time. At Speed Limit Racing, I have the freedom to do things I couldn't do elsewhere. We bought some lime green
cones that I can set up, and use for visual ques. Then to help the student all I have to do is say "look to the next
(green) cone." It’s just a matter of fine-tuning after that.” (Casey Cronin)
As for those green cones, I have been one of those drivers that Cronin used that theory on and it worked. It took me a
couple laps to get it down and break bad habits, but when I finally trusted Cronin and his advice, I was able to tackle one
bad habit after the next and shave down my lap time.
As for whom Cronin wanted to thank for getting him into this hobby, Cris Gonzales and JCG gang were at the top of his
list. Cronin has enlisted Cris’ help on multiple occasions during the build of his Corvette and they still work closely to this
Ken Mitchell was another name on Cronin’s list. Mitchell is one of Cronin’s first mentors in autocross who helped show
him the ropes. He had a car similar to Cronin’s Camaro and helped him avoid some common mistakes while trying to
make a third gen run. Just when Cronin thought it was time to spend some money on the car, Mitchell would co-driver his
car at a National Tour event. He was always one and a half to two seconds faster than Cronin; essentially saving him a lot
of money on parts he did not need at the time.
Cronin did not want to end without thanking the guys over at Wilwood along with the infamous Danny Popp. Popp had
always been available and very open with setup questions and other questions Cronin had during the construction and
procurement phases of his Corvette.
While reflecting back on his role within the pro-touring community, we asked Cronin what he hoped to see in 10 years
regarding the pro-touring movement and the race events that incorporate these style of vehicles.
“In the last five years I've seen the rise and fall of some of these events. I like the concept of multi-component events
similar to Street Machine Challenge, RTTx, and Optima. However, I think it needs to get pared down to just a couple
elements, say autocross and speed stop. Add the two times to determine the winner. Spectator access to the events is
going to be key to the growth, continued sponsor interest, and financial stability.” (Casey Cronin)
As for Casey, he hopes to still be driving for the next five to seven years. After that, he has considered helping run events
if the opportunity came about.
Casey Cronin is a name that if not already known, should be one you should watch out for. He is doing great things with
his 1972 Corvette. Though all of the events he has participated in recently have been West Coast based, he has done
exceptionally well over the last year and recently took home the Pro Class win at the Goodguys Del Mar autocross.
So as we conclude this Behind the Wheel Feature, Cronin had one last piece of advice to give everyone reading this. When
asking him what advice he would give to those looking to get into the pro-touring race movement or just racing in general
these was his final words:
“Our little sport is like golf for grease monkeys. Its not about the lowest score, but how well did you improve throughout
the day. Money is not always the answer, predictable and reliable, are the two most important qualities. “
Casey Cronin’s 1972 Corvette Specs:
Engine: 355 cu in Small Block Chevy
Engine Details: After my first engine ate itself, Cris Gonzales sold me the engine he took out of his C3 Corvette.
Its an old school small block Chevy. Basic four bolt main block, forged crank, forged rods and 13:1 compression ratio
forged pistons. Cast iron Sportsman II heads with 2.02 intake and 1.60 exhaust valves. Mechanical roller cam,
lifters, and rockers, and stud girdle. I don't have any details on the camshaft regarding duration, lift, or lobe centers.
The ignition is now a full MSD system; distributor, coil, 6AL ignition box. I’m currently running a Holley 750 double
pumper on a Edelbrock Victor Jr intake manifold
Horsepower / Torque: At the Pomona event the car made 264 horsepower on the chassis dyno.. Unfortunately
the ignition system started cutting out around 4000 rpm limiting potential to maximum horsepower. (Cost me the win
for the Street Machine Challenge at Pomona). I haven’t run it on a dyno but its making more power now!!
Transmission Brand: Close ratio Muncie 4 speed with a Hurst shifter
Clutch: 10.5 Clutch with a steel flywheel
Exhaust: Hooker Headers and sidepipes with 3 inch insert mufflers that I fabricated using perforated stainless tubing
Differential: Stock Corvette carrier and posi with 3.73 gears
Brakes: I recently updated the stock rotors to a light weight “autocross only” model from Wilwood. The new rotors
weigh eight pounds compared to 18 lbs for the stock rotor. The calipers are Wilwood D-8 Calipers which are one half
the weight of the stock cast iron caliper.
Wheel Brand: E/T LT III 18x12 wheels front and rear
Tires Brand: 315/30x18 BFG Rival S in the front and 335/30/ x 18 BFG Rival S in the rear.
Body & Paint: This past summer Greg Thurmond helped me install Custom Image Corvettes flares on the car. The car
is currently painted in a rough primer. This coming summer, during a break in events, I’ll be working with Greg again to
finish up the body work and have him paint the car.
Interior: Not much right now. Stock interior panels will be added after its painted.
Gauges: Stock Speedometer and mechanical drive tachometer. Autogage: Oil pressure and Water temperature gauges
Seats: Kirkey Intermediate Roadrace seat for the driver and a stock seat on the passenger side.
Harnesses / Roll Bar / Cage: Autopower roll bar, G-Force seat belts and shoulder harness
Other modifications: The suspension system is pretty much as General Motors designed it back in the day. I
changed to shorter and significantly stiffer springs in the front and poly bushings in the lower control arms. SPC
adjustable upper control arms with Delrin bushings were added for quick changes at the track. I made my own front
spreader bar to connect the upper control arm mounts, thus minimizing and flex. Ridetech builds a really cool steering
box support that I added with the Borgeson power steering kit. JRi double adjustable shocks were added the front and
the rear. I fabricated my own upper abd lower rear shock mounts to accommodate the extended length of the shocks.
The rear spring is one of the last made by Dick Gulstrand for the C3 Corvettes. It is about one and a half inches shorter
than normal to accommodate more wheel offset in the rear. This allowed me to stay with the stock rear trailing arms. I
made my own adjustable lower strut rods so I could quickly change camber at the track as necessary.