It was during Corvette's Silver Anniversary that the '78 Stingray was chosen as the official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500. Pacing right along with racing's greatest on curves that were matched only by the body lines of the Shark, the Corvette quickly made a name for itself with the Indy crowd, which began an ongoing relationship with Corvette and the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing"-a relationship that was repeated no less than five times. But the Corvette has not been limited to just the 500. Starting with its inaugural race on August 6th of 1994, the Brickyard 400 needed a car just as special as the new race itself. And who better to do laps with racing's finest than GM's finest? So, with a mere two months to spare, a purpose-built '94 C4 rolled out of the Bowling Green plant in Kentucky and was on its way to Indianapolis.
More often than not, a certain amount of replicas are produced to celebrate the momentous event, and we still see these on the road today. But what happens to the purpose-built versions that are paraded around the track at the events? Once the awards are handed out and the car shows are over, where do these pieces of automotive history disappear to? Well, if one man knows, it would be Frank Kennedy, Jr.
Frank, a retired Union Plumber from Spring Hill, Florida, had always wanted to own one of America's Sports Cars, and who can blame him? But the wife said no, and that was her final decision. Tragically, that final decision changed when she passed away early 2003. But it wasn't long after that Frank started looking for his piece of the dream, and on August 18, 2003, he walked into Rick Mathis GMC/Buick in Brooksville, Florida, and saw automotive history. "I was looking at the '94 Brickyard Corvette inaugural car on display there," Frank recalls. "The manager walked up and said, 'That car has a little over 600 miles on it. Are you interested?'" Like all of us would, Frank responded with "YES!" and followed the man into his office. "Inside we discussed a deal, I wrote him a check, and then drove the car home." And can you believe, all of this within a week of the Brickyard's 10th Anniversary.
After some digging through the included papers, Frank got the real dirt on his new find. "I discovered some details on the history of the car. It was manufactured at the Corvette plant at Bowling Green specifically as the very first Brickyard 400 Vette." With Ernie Irvan piloting and the passenger seat taken up by Rusty Wallace, the Pace Car Corvette made its way around the 400 and introduced Indianapolis to the new race and its racers. Shortly after, the Pace Car was retired to a museum for the next eight years and seemed destined to a life as a display piece until it was sold to a car dealership. After that, it changed hands a few times until in wound up in Frank's neck of the woods, and the rest we know.
We caught up with Frank at the Pace Car Reunion held this last October and got a few words from him about his car. "I have all the original documentation and specifics. I've even got the original window sticker and VHS tape describing all the features for the Vette," said Frank (and boy does he need it). This '94 was packed with every option available at the time. But all those toys haven't swayed Frank, he's kept the Vette in tip-top stock shape right down to the cleanly detailed LT1 and the first-time offered run-flats. And even if the odometer is only showing 1,000 miles as of last count, Frank isn't the sort to shove the Vette in a garage and forget about it, and he's not the least bit shy about climbing behind the driver seat and turning the key. However, since history need to be preserved, Frank and his now-significant-other, Margaret Kemp, recently picked up a '96 Pace Car and a '03 convertible six-speed to keep the miles low on the '94. For a first-timer looking to get his feet wet, we'd say Frank now owns the pool. So, when should we be on the look out for the Shark?