On October 23, the world-famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles presented its "Tribute to Corvette Racing," a gala honoring the legends of Corvette motorsports. The event promised the largest assemblage of Corvette racers in the history of the sport, including Bob Bondurant, Tony DeLorenzo, Bob D'Olivo, John Fitch, Joe Freitas, Lou Gigliotti, Dick Guldstrand, Doug Hooper, Gib Hufstader, Jim Jeffords, Davey Jordan, Bill Krause, Scooter Patrick, Bill Pollack, Andy Porterfield, and Paul Reinhart.
John Fitch (on the left, with...
John Fitch (on the left, with Corvette Thunder author Chuck Koch) was the first American-born driver to win a podium finish at Le Mans, in a Cunningham. In 1956, Fitch assembled the Corvette racing team, prepared the cars, and scored the marque's first-ever competition success, a class victory at Sebring. He hand-picked Corvette's first SCCA national champion driver, Dr. Dick Thompson, that year, and in 1960, as a member of Briggs Cunningham's team, drove to Eighth overall and First in class in Corvette's first appearance at Le Mans.
Paired with the tribute was an exhibit of historically significant Corvette race cars from the '50s through the '80s, including many Vettes personally engineered by Zora Arkus-Duntov and those driven by Jerry Earl (son of GM Director of Styling Harley Earl), Mickey Thompson, Dr. Dick Thompson, Briggs Cunningham, Orlando Costanzo, Darin Brassfield, Delmo Johnson, Bob Bondurant, and more. According to Chris Brown, the museum's information and marketing manager, "The event featured about $25 million in Corvettes."
The once-in-a-lifetime soiree began with a roundtable of Corvette racers moderated by Road & Track contributing editor Tim Considine. After hearing many great tales from the early days of Corvette motorsports, it was time for the evening's main event: a banquet. Racers, guests, and fans bid on autographed Corvette Racing items, enjoyed vintage race films, and listened to more firsthand accounts of the car's earliest days on tracks around the world. Finally, a preview of the '09 race season was presented by Corvette Racing Program Director Doug Fehan.
Follow along as we take a closer look at these legendary cars and the men who drove them.
Special thanks to Tim Considine, for his invaluable information about these Corvette racers.
Jim Jeffords was the driver of the famous Nickey Chevrolet "Purple People Eater" Corvettes. He won 29 class victories and consecutive SCCA national championships in 1958 and 1959.
Andy Porterfield was a Chevy salesman who began racing Corvettes in 1957. In 1958, he was crowned Pacific Coast Over 1,500cc champion. Remarkably, he still drives competitively and has won more than 400 races in his career.
Paul Reinhart began racing Corvettes in Northern California in the late '50s. In 1962, he was crowned Pacific Coast B-Production champion. He restored, and continues to vintage-race, his Union Oil 76 '57 Corvette.
Doug Hooper's most famous victory was in October of 1962, at Riverside, when he saved the day for GM at the wheel of Mickey Thompson's new Z06 Sting Ray. Hooper insisted on a taller rearend ratio to help the experimental engine live through the three-hour race. One by one, the other three Sting Rays-driven by Dave McDonald, Bob Bondurant, and Jerry Grant-faltered, and Hooper came home the winner. Often at the front of the field in the early '60s, he remained in the Corvette family by building cars for other racers.