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.
Known to many as "Mr. Corvette," Dick Guldstrand won three consecutive SCCA Pacific Coast championships from 1963 to 1965, and he was named California Sports Car Club driver of the year in 1964. He was Roger Penske's first hired professional driver (for the '66 Daytona race.) In the early '70s, his company, Guldstrand Engineering, was estimated to have built more than 70 percent of all competition Corvettes on the West Coast. In addition to his engineering and development work, he continued to set records as a Corvette driver through the '80s. His most recent creation, the Guldstrand GSRT, was the cover feature of our Dec. '08 issue.
Scooter Patrick was a Pacific Coast champion and a popular California racer. In his only Corvette drive (with partner Davey Jordan), he qualified the second-fastest in GT at Daytona in 1968.
Tony DeLorenzo (shown here with Fitch) had the good fortune to be born to a GM executive. He special-ordered his father's company car, a '64 Sting Ray, with which he planned to get his competition license. A call from Zora Arkus-Duntov followed, during which the Corvette godfather asked DeLorenzo exactly what he was going to do with the high-powered Corvette. When the young enthusiast answered that he was planning to attend a driving school, Duntov gave his blessing. DeLorenzo partnered with Jerry Thompson, and the two scored a class victory in their Owens Corning Corvette at Sebring. He went on to win two consecutive SCCA A Production Divisional championships, and from May 1969 through the '71 24 Hours of Daytona, his team won 23 straight races, including two class victories at Daytona and one at Sebring. (Photo by Bob Sirna.)
Wanting as much competitive advantage as possible, legendary Corvette driver Paul Reinhart delayed purchasing a Corvette to race until the four-speed manual transmission was made available for the '57 model year. While he opted not to order the other widely touted, new-for-'57 feature-fuel injection-the car was factory equipped with Positraction, a heater, and a 270-horse engine with dual four-barrel carburetors. After taking delivery, Reinhart made only a few additional modifications, such as changing the shock absorbers and fitting the car with finned backing plates and drums. Reinhart drove the Corvette to victory in the SCCA Pacific Coast B-Production championship in 1960 and 1961.
Bob Bondurant's racing career gained a great deal of momentum after he won the West Coast B-Production championship and Corvette Driver of the Year award in 1959. Just two years later, Shelly Washburn of Washburn Chevrolet in Santa Barbara hired him to drive. Bondurant captured First Place in Saturday's race during the '61 Labor Day Weekend event held at the Santa Barbara Airport circuit, beating both the Corvette driven by Paul Reinhart and the newly debuted Jaguar XKE driven by Bill Krause. After Cal Club officials protested the Corvette's aluminum flywheel, Bondurant was moved into the Modified class for the Sunday race, in which he finished Fourth overall.
One of only two high-fin SR-2s built, this roadster was special ordered by Jerry Earl, son of renowned GM styling boss Harley Earl. Earl raced the car for two seasons before selling it in 1958 to Jim Jeffords who, along with dealer Nickey Chevrolet, transformed it into the first "Purple People Eater." It raced under this guise until 1960, when it was sold into private hands. The Vette is powered by a 333ci V-8 fitted with a special fuel-injection system. Other performance equipment includes a prototype four-speed manual transmission, Halibrand axles, and magnesium knock-off wheels. Still actively raced, this SR-2 is annually campaigned in vintage events and won the prestigious Monterey Cup in the '87 Monterey Historic Races at Laguna Seca.
International auto racing enthusiasts Lloyd "Lucky" Casner and Fred Gamble founded the Casner Motor Racing Division (aka Camoradi) team during the '60s. Jim Jeffords drove the team's Corvette to victory in Cuba's Grand Touring Sprint race, then went on to finish First in class (Eighth overall) in the Grand Prix of Havana a few days later. The Camoradi Corvette was also prepared for the '60 LeMans, the same year that Briggs Cunningham entered three Vettes. Although they finished 10th in the GT class and 21st overall, drivers Leon Lilley and Fred Gamble didn't cover a sufficient distance to qualify as an official finisher.
Dallas Chevrolet dealer Delmo Johnson prevailed upon Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov to build a Corvette specially designed for the Sebring and Daytona races. The result was this 360hp race car, which Johnson and Dave Morgan drove to a Third Place class finish (21st overall) at the '62 12 Hours of Sebring. Johnson drove the Corvette for the remainder of the season and went on to win the Southwest Division of the SCCA championship.
One of just 69 competition-equipped Corvette split-window coupes built in 1963, this racer was sent to Texas-based Chevrolet dealer Delmo Johnson. The coupe featured an optional 36-gallon gas tank, a 360hp engine with fuel injection, and a special suspension and brake package. After a successful racing season in 1962, Johnson teamed up with Dave Morgan to campaign in the '63 24 Hours of Daytona, after which they competed at Sebring, where they finished Second in class and 16th overall. After an extensive restoration, the Corvette was reunited with Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan at the '04 Corvette Racer Reunion in Pennsylvania.
First owned by famed race car driver/mechanic Mickey Thompson, this Z06 was originally intended to compete at Riverside Raceway, but it was instead prepared for a special NASCAR-sanctioned event at the Daytona International Raceway. The chassis was modified, and the car was fitted with an experimental 427ci V-8 engine known as the "Mystery Motor." Although driver Junior Johnson had the fastest qualifying time, at more than 162 mph, Bill Krause took over in the rain and finished Third behind Paul Goldsmith's Pontiac and A.J. Foyt's Corvette.
One of six Z06 factory racing Corvettes specially built by Duntov, this Sting Ray was purchased by Shelly Washburn. Bob Bondurant, who had previously driven for Washburn, was tasked with picking up the car at the factory in St. Louis, driving it back to California, and racing it in the Times Grand Prix. With only a week and a half to prepare as a result, Bondurant was faced with both brake and engine problems during the race and was not able to finish.
Despite an American Manufacturers Association (AMA) ban on factory-sponsored racing, Chevrolet continued to supply independent race teams with the equipment needed to keep their cars in the public eye. In 1962, GM engineer Dick Keinath designed an all-new engine that generated more than 500 hp. Because it was delivered secretly to a few race teams, it became known as the "Mystery Motor." Junior Johnson and Mickey Thompson were among the select few given these motors. After a race at Daytona in 1963, General Motors recalled these engines in order to demonstrate their sincerity about complying with the racing ban. But not all the engines were returned to the factory, and a small number remained in private hands.
This Corvette was one of three cars sponsored by BFGoodrich in an effort to showcase the company's line of T/A radials. Originally intended to be used as an off-track marketing tool, it was converted to a race car by owner/driver John Greenwood when one of the other two cars was heavily damaged in a crash. It's equipped with a notched rearend, a quick-replacement radiator, and a 427ci ZL1 engine. The car went on to compete in the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Recently restored, it made its car-show debut at The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering in August, 2008, where it received the Best in Class award for Sebring race cars.
Darin Brassfield drove this Mobil 1-sponsored Corvette in the '88 Trans Am Series, winning at Mosport International Raceway in Ontario and several nabbing top-10 finishes at other venues. He competed in only four races of the '89 season because of prior commitments to NASCAR and CART, but he achieved an important victory at Sears Point during that brief period. Brassfield stored the car in his garage until 2007, at which time it was purchased by current owners Mike and Dana Haemmig. Having been driven in only 17 races, the Corvette needed minor restoration to return it to its original condition. It's now driven by Mike Haemmig in historic and vintage Trans Am and IMSA events.