1954 Chevy Corvette - Corvette Legends

Dr. Dick Thompson, "The Flying Dentist." Part I

Richard Prince Jul 13, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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"Frank and I went through the season and we learned quite a bit concerning how to make the brakes last until the last lap, and on many a last lap I went without any brakes at all."

As they found ways to make the brakes last longer Dick found ways to drive the car that much harder. As the brakes got better, his lap times got better, but he still often finished events sans brakes. While the thought of racing with no brakes is unnerving to most of us, Dick was not particularly troubled by it.

"In those days," he explains, "with those hard little tires, you could get it sideways nicely, so about 100 yards before a turn I'd get it sideways and slide off the speed. People don't understand that now, when they drive on slicks, but you could get those things sideways and still control them after a fashion while sliding off the speed to save the brakes."

While people today, racing with the benefit of super-sticky tires and state-of-the-art disc brakes, may not understand how a solid-axle Corvette in a four-wheel drift on just about every turn could win a race, there is no doubt that Dick's driving technique was superior. By season's end, the Flying Dentist in the previously sneered-at '56 Corvette earned the C-Production national title.

Dick again campaigned a production Corvette for the 1957 season, but thanks in large part to the work he, Frank Burrell, and the others from Chevrolet did in '56, the '57 was a much-improved racing machine. Rochester's now-legendary mechanical fuel-injection system was introduced as an option on the enlarged 283ci engine. This made the already fast Corvette even faster, both in acceleration and at the top end. The extra horsepower was now transmitted through a smooth shifting, durable four-speed rather than the '56's three-speed. For '57, a limited-slip "Posi-traction" differential really helped the car to hook up. And for all-out racing a comprehensive chassis package was made available as an option. Code-named RPO 684, this option included stiffer springs front and rear, bigger shocks, a thicker anti-roll bar, a quick-steering adapter, and wider wheels. To help the Corvette where it most needed help, RPO 684 also included vented brake backing plates, finned drums, Cerametalix lining, recalibrated wheel cylinders, and special ducts to carry cooling air to the brakes.

When Dick began racing it in 1956 his Corvette was usually the only one entered in the event. But as he repeatedly finished ahead of the Jags, Mercedes 300 SLs, and other popular cars, people began to take notice. By midyear there were typically two or three Corvettes in addition to Dick's. At the June Sprints at Road America, for example, Bark Henry and Fred Windridge were both driving Bob Rosenthal-sponsored Corvettes. By September there were nine Corvettes racing at the Thompson, Connecticut, Nationals. Corvettes, clearly, had become a dominant force in SCCA road racing.

In an effort to make the races more competitive for 1957 the SCCA Contest Board realigned the classes, grouping the Corvettes with the Jaguars in the newly created B-Production class.

"The realignment really didn't make any difference to us," says Dick, "because we could handle any other production car without any problems regardless of how it was classified. All of the improvements to the '57s made a dramatic difference, and we were really just racing other Corvettes."

By season's end Dick had won his class at Sebring, taken the checkered flag at Road America, Virginia International, and Cumberland, and finished high at most of the national races. All of this added up to a second consecutive Thompson/Corvette national championship.

Vemp 0006 04 O 1954 Chevy Corvette Dick Thompson 2/4

Washington, D.C.'s fastest dentist always had plenty to smile about. He raced purely for the joy of it and earned nine SCCA national titles, plus numerous class and overall wins on some of the world's great race tracks.


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