A 520-horse, screaming yellow zonker. Photo: author
Number 75 was built by Kim Baker for the final three races in the '92 World Challenge series. It was one of the last in a line Bakeracing Corvettes done during the late-'80s and early-'90s, and the only ZR-1 to ever win a professional road race. Mercruiser, which back then manufactured the LT5 engine for GM, sponsored the car and built its race engines. Baker, along with Jim Minneker, Don Knowles, Ray Kong, and Peter Hanson, drove the Bakeracing/Mercruiser Corvette to victory at the Mosport 24 Hours in Canada that year.
How about this curious twist of fate? The ZR-1's greatest achievements in motorsports came at 24-hour events: the World Speed Record, set March 2, 1990 at Ft. Stockton, Texas, and that endurance race at Mosport on August 16, 1992. Even more weird? Kim Baker, Jim Minneker, and Don Knowles were drivers in both events.
"I bought the car from an insurance company," Baker told me in a telephone interview. "It was a zero-miles, '92 ZR-1 that got torched at a Chevy dealer. We stripped it to the bare frame, then built a race car using all the stuff I'd learned from previous Corvettes. We finished it a week before Mosport. I set it up the way I did other cars, then we took it up to Canada. It was the best-handling, best-running car I ever built, right off the trailer. We qualified well and won by a pretty good margin. We'd have won by even more, but late in the race, we had a fuel system problem that slowed us a bit."
After the season, Baker traced that to substandard materials used in the plastic duckbill on the end of the fuel pickup. Because the car's production-based fuel injection bypassed fuel back to the tank, the gas would get hot. The duckbill would soften from the heat, then slowly restrict as the pumps sucked hard on the fuel, causing the car to starve for gas. Fortunately, at Mosport, Bakeracing had a huge lead in the closing stages of the race. At the very end, Stu Hayner in a Morrison Corvette was gaining seven seconds a lap, but the ZR-1 still won by more than half a lap.
"A week after Mosport," Baker continued, "we ran Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin) and got the pole, but had trouble again with the pickup. We finished second. Sears Point (Sonoma, California) was the last race of the season and I finished second there, too. Again, the fuel pump pickup got us."
Pirate "Captain" Van Dorn offers a few words of encouragement to our hapless hack just bef
Racing is full of shoulda-coulda-wouldas. Had that duckbill been made of the right material, the Bakeracing/Mercruiser ZR-1 woulda not only won Mosport, but shoulda won again at Road America and Sears and coulda ended the year as World Challenge Champion. After the '92 season, sponsor interest in the World Challenge dropped for several years. Bakeracing did not enter the '93 series. Over the next few years, Kim Baker rented the ZR-1 to different racers who ran it in various events.
Jim Van Dorn owns a Corvette service shop in Palm Desert, California, and has been a hard-core "ZR-1-er" since buying his first ZR-1 in 1990. His shop specializes in them and his office is a sort of ZR-1 shrine. His quasi-religious regard for the cars has driven him to own two streeters: a '91, 620hp hot rod he calls "The Weekender," and a 512-mile, '93 40th Anniversary Edition. Van Dorn had a key role in the two great ZR-1 enthusiast gatherings of the '90s, "Thunder at Stillwater," the October 1993 event honoring the end of LT5 engine production at Mercruiser and "The Legend Lives," the May 1995 happening at Bowling Green, Kentucky, that marked production of the last ZR-1