The National Corvette Museum was founded in 1994 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The museum’s mission is to preserve Corvette’s evolution and history that began in 1953 and continues to the current production car. While the museum has close ties to GM and the Corvette brand, it is an independent organization that is governed by a Board of Directors. The elected board is comprised of leaders in the Corvette hobby as well as key GM employees. In 1998, the board established the National Corvette Hall of Fame. It’s purpose is to honor influential leaders who have had a positive impact on the history of Corvette. One leader is inducted into each of three categories: GM/Chevrolet, Racing and Enthusiast. Now, 20 years after the first class was enshrined, three new inductees were honored at the 2017 NCM ceremony at the museum. Here is a brief background on the three new inductees.
Jim Minneker – GM/Chevrolet
Jim Minneker joined the Pontiac Division at GM in 1970 as an engineer. Growing up in Michigan he always tinkered with engines. As a student at Michigan State University he joined a student drag racing team as a hobby and quickly found out he had a talent for winning trophies. In the early days of his fledging career he took on added responsibilities and was promoted to more responsible positions. In 1986, he was named Corvette Powertrain Systems Manager. For the next 10 years his projects included developing the fourth-generation LT1, LT4 and LT5 engines and the fifth-generation LS1 and LS6 small-blocks. In the late ’80s while working with Corvette, he attended a professional driving school and obtained his competition license. His racing career included driving road racing Corvettes for Baker Racing, Morrison Engineering & Development, and Doug Rippie Racing. Starting in 1996, Minneker competed in the One Lap of America multiple times driving Mallett Motorsports-modified Corvettes. He successfully competed in the SCCA World Challenge, IMSA Supercar, IMSA GT and Grand Am series. In March 1990, he was one of eight drivers who set the 24-Hour Speed Endurance World Record driving a showroom stock ZR-1 Corvette. The team averaged 175.885 mph, breaking a 50-year-old record.
In the early ’90s, Jim became active in the building and the design of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He developed displays that related to Corvette powertrain and engineering achievements to highlight the high-tech nature of the Corvette. His passion for the museum was recognized by the NCM when he was elected to the Chairman of the Board position. His leadership and vision in that one-year position helped set the course for a successful and expanding Corvette museum.
Jim became the engineering group manager for GM’s High Performance Vehicle Operations. While in that position many breakthrough products were developed for Saturn, Cadillac and other GM products. Jim left the High Performance Vehicle Operations and began developing a variety of truck engines. Today, he continues to be deeply involved in GM’s engine development programs. Jim still supports the National Corvette Museum and he is a worthy inductee into the National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame.
Jim Minneker was inducted into the NCM Hall of Fame in the GM/Chevrolet category. His selection honors his contribution to the development of Corvette powertrains like the LT4, LT5, LS1 and LS6 engines. It was a well-deserved recognition for his work.
In 1986, Minneker cold weather tested a prototype LT5 engine in a narrow body 1986 Corvette in Kiruna, Sweden. His test car was similar to the one shown here that includes a prototype LT5 engine. The original test car was crushed and this car is a re-creation of that car.
This is a prototype LT5 engine that was used for validation in 1986-’87. The upper intake was hand-fabricated out of aluminum. Minneker and his team spent many long hours developing this hi-tech ZR-1 engine.
Jim Minneker (standing) drove this pre-production 1989 ZR-1 convertible from Michigan to the Cypress Gardens Corvette show in 1989. Only a few of these convertibles were built for testing and were not put into production. Testing determined that the Corvette frames were not stiff enough to handle the LT5’s torque.
This 1989 prototype ZR-1 broke a 50-year-old 24-hour speed record in March 1990. Jim Minneker was one of the eight drivers who set the 24-hour average record of 175.885 mph. The ZR-1 resides in the National Corvette Museum.
Minneker was an accomplished race driver and he drove numerous races in cars powered by the LT5 engine. This included this Morrison ZR-1 entry he drove at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona.
Mallett Motorsports built this Corvette ZR-1 into a monster race car. It was equipped with a 396ci splayed valve engine that produced 888 hp; a Paxton 2000 supercharger bumped the power to 1,050 hp. Jim Minneker (right), Dave Sarafian (middle) and Chuck Mallett take a break on a very foggy Wisconsin morning. They were heading to their next One Lap of America event at the Road America racetrack.
Minneker decided to validate the soon to be released LS6 engine for the upcoming Z06. He chose the 7,000-mile One Lap of America for this validation. This early morning photo was taken at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The team finished 2nd overall out of 180+ entries.
GM’s four-cylinder EcoTech engine was undergoing a modification program in the Powertrain division. This special-bodied HHR, powered by a 1,000+hp EcoTech engine was driven by Minneker at the Bonneville Salt Flats. While traveling at 249.793 mph the parachute deployed and the car was destroyed. Fortunately, Jim survived the accident with only minor injuries.
Tommy Morrison – Racing
Tommy Morrison was born in Glasgow, Kentucky, and grew up on Race Street. Glasgow is 26 miles from where Corvettes are born at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant. He was known for his slow-talking speaking voice, sunglasses, cowboy hats and blasting around on his Harley motorcycle. He got the “need for speed” at an early age by racing his cars around the hills of Kentucky.
In the early ’80s, Tommy Morrison’s love for his country drove him to spotlight Corvettes as being the best sports car in the world. He teamed up with Jim Cook and founded Morrison-Cook Motorsports. After Jim’s unexpected passing, the company became known as Morrison Engineering and Development. He found innovative ways to merge Corvette and Mobil 1 into an unbeatable sports car endurance racing team. His Showroom Stock Corvettes won more 24-hour races than any other team in the sport. Morrison worked closely with factory engineers to make the Corvette faster and more durable. The factory provided heavy support to Morrison Motorsports and their cars were always among the top finishers.
Tommy began working on a secret engine project called the “King of the Hill” or ZR-1. Production was scheduled for 1989, but a variety of technical issues moved that date to the 1990 model year. Eighty-four pre-production ZR-1’s were built and one, EX 5669, was used by Morrison Motorsports to break a 50-year-old 24-hour average speed record of 161.180 mph. The team averaged 175.885 mph and shattered record. This accomplishment was a huge windfall for GM marketing. It was also a high-water mark for Morrison’s Corvette racing career. Morrison Motorsports’ ZR-1s raced successfully at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Road America and many other top U.S. racetracks. Tommy Morrison’s induction into the NCM Hall of Fame is well deserved.
Tommy Morrison was inducted into the NCM Hall of Fame in the Racing category. In March 1990, Morrison and his team broke a 50-year-old speed record in a Corvette ZR-1, averaging 175.885 mph over a 24-hour period. Morrison is standing next to a statue at the NCM wearing the firesuit he used to set the record.
This 1989 ZR-1 (VIN EX5669) set a 24-hour speed record in 1990. It resides at the National Corvette Museum. Standing from left to right are: Dave McLellan (Retired Corvette Chief Engineer), Tommy Morrison (Team Owner), Ralph Kramer (Retired Chevrolet PR Director), John Heinricy (GM engineer/driver) and Jim Minneker (GM engineer/driver).
At the 1994 24 Hours of Daytona this Morrison Corvette ZR-1 finished 7th overall and 4th in the GTS class. It was driven by John Heinricy, Andy Pilgrim, Boris Said and Stu Hayner.
On the grid at the 1994 12 Hours of Sebring Corvette No. 94 qualified 16th and No. 93 was 21st. Both cars finished down the order after heavy rains covered the racecourse and caused traction problems for the Corvettes.
Tommy Morrison was a very visible team manager. Here he is on the grid before the start of the 1994 12 Hour of Sebring race.
Driver John Heinricy received permission from GM to paint Morrison’s 1995 race cars with the same scheme that was going to be used on the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport. This Morrison Corvette finished 10th overall and 3rd in the GTS class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona. It was driven by John Heinricy, Stu Hayner and Andy Pilgrim.
Morrison Engineering & Development was located Albany, Georgia. He had enough storage to house his many race cars and his Mobil 1 transporter. Of course, he also had enough room for his beloved Harley.
Robert Pfeffer owns these two Morrison ZR-1 race cars. Pfeffer keeps both cars in pristine condition and frequently participates with them in vintage racing events.
Peter Brock – Enthusiast
Peter (Pete) Brock grew up in Northern California and was passionate about automotive design as a young child. When he was 16, he purchased a used 1949 MG as his daily driver. He attended his first road race in 1951 at Pebble Beach and photographed many of today’s historic drivers. Pete was surrounded by the California car culture as a youth, which included modifying anything on wheels. This influenced him to customize a 1946 Ford convertible and stuff a Cadillac engine into its engine bay. He named his creation a “Fordillac.” Pete’s Fordillac won the Oakland Roadster show twice. He was hired by GM while he was a student at the Art Center School of Design. He was 19 when he was hired as a designer at GM, one of the youngest at the time.
Bill Mitchell was a passionate racing and Corvette enthusiast. When he became VP of Styling for GM he was troubled by the company’s anti-racing stance and lack of enthusiasm for the Corvette. Word was trickling down from the corporate suites that top management wanted to kill the Corvette. He decided to secretly build a prototype Corvette using the original test chassis from the 1957 Corvette SS race car. He found the chassis in a GM storeroom and purchased it for his personal use. He quietly charged his team of young designers with the task of sketching ideas for his car in a secret styling studio deep inside GM. Mitchell selected Pete Brock’s sketch, which was refined by Brock and fellow designers Chuck Pohlmann, Larry Shinoda and Tony Lapine. The end product became the XP-87 race car and was called the Sting Ray. Dr. Dick Thompson drove the XP-87 to a C-Modified sports car championship in 1959. The Sting Ray drew wide acclaim from journalists and the public, which helped save the Corvette. The Sting Ray styling cues influenced the second-generation Sting Ray and those same styling themes can be seen on the C7 Corvette.
Brock left GM in 1963 and had a lengthy career in motorsports that included designing and building race cars like the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. He has written books and articles and is an accomplished photojournalist. He has captured the history of Corvette racing from the ’50s with the first-generation Corvettes all the way to the current C7s racing today. He started Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) and won numerous sports car championships with that company. He has worked with a number of marques over the years, but he has a special place in his heart for Corvettes, especially the Sting Ray. He’s a worthy addition to the NCM Hall of Fame. Vette
Peter Brock was inducted into the NCM Hall of Fame in the Enthusiast category. Pete (right) is all smiles as he receives his 2017 NCM Hall of Fame award from Randy Wittine.
Pete Brock is holding his winning trophy that he received at the Oakland Roadster show. He was honored twice at this show for his redesigned 1946 Ford convertible named the “Fordillac.”
This was the drawing that caught Bill Mitchell’s attention that led to the final development of the XP-87 Sting Ray racer. Pete was 19 years old when he made this drawing in GM’s styling studio.
The chassis that was used to develop this 1957 Corvette SS race car was used on the XP-87 Sting Ray racer.
Pete Brock worked for Bill Mitchell (in the background), the VP of Styling for General Motors. Brock’s early drawing of the XP-87 led to the development of the Sting Ray that Pete is leaning on. VP of Global Design Ed Welburn (retired) had the car completely refurbished by the Heritage Center when he was still with the company.
From any angle, the design of the Sting Ray racer had a heavy influence on the second-generation production car.
Even the hood vents on the XP-87 made it onto the production car when it was introduced as a 1963 model.
Pete Brock was Carroll Shelby’s first employee and he designed the first Cobra Daytona Coupe, shown here residing at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia.
Pete Brock was not only a stylist; he became an accomplished race car driver. Here he’s shown as a racing instructor for Carroll Shelby’s driving school.
Photos by Walt Thurn