Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 - Corvette Legends

The Last ZR-1 In Pro Racing.

Hib Halverson Jan 5, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Later in '95, Van Dorn crewed for Doug Rippie's attempt at running the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a ZR-1. Though Rippie's adventure came up short, Van Dorn was hooked. He and buddies on the ZR-1 Net e-mail list barnstormed the unusual idea of a grass-roots-funded, volunteer-crewed race effort with a ZR-1 in the World Challenge GT class. They called it "Pirate Racing," an appropriate name for a band of enthusiast/volunteers intent on hijacking the World Challenge with a three-year-old, out-of-production car that SCCA didn't even want in the series.

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In 1997, Pirate Racing surprised the Corvette hobby by raising a significant amount of money in a short time via the Internet. We've heard it was around $20,000. Not only were the Pirates able to raise that grass-roots investment, but they also secured enough corporate sponsorship to do a partial season of World Challenge. That fall, the Team bought #75 from Kim Baker, gave it an overhaul, and was ready for the season opener at Topeka, Kansas, in May 1998. In fact, Pirate Racing's major sponsor, Les Stanford Chevrolet in Michigan, funded two cars for Topeka: #76, powered by a small-block V-8, driven by Bill Cooper, and crewed by Doug Rippie Motorsports, and the #75 ZR-1 with a Lingenfelter LT5, Scotty B. White at the wheel, and crewed by the Pirates.

The Team's '98 World Challenge season began in two big ways. Cooper set the track record and won from the pole. Scotty B. White started fourth and wrecked late in the race. That earned him an ironic, 13th place finish. The team ran the rest of the year with just #75. After Topeka, the Pirates' best finish was an eighth by Scotty B. White at Grand Rapids.

In another interesting twist, former owner Kim Baker was in the car for the Lime Rock event. He qualified third and was there when a rod bolt fell out. The car made it part way down the next straight, then the rod cap tore off and the engine blew up and set the car on fire. No one will forget Speedvision cameras zooming in on Baker as he bailed out of the still-rolling car's flaming cockpit. Fortunately, Kim was no worse for wear and finished 18th on that memorable day in Connecticut.

The Pirates missed the next two events while rebuilding after the fire. Expectedly, the car's official nickname became "The Phoenix." The most famous driver in Corvette racing of the '80s and '90s, John Heinricy, was in #75 at Watkins Glen and finished 22nd with engine problems. Scotty B. White was back in the car for the final '98 event at Colorado Springs and finished 15th.

Pirate Racing ended the season out of the top 10 in points. Naysayers looked at their performance as a money-pit failure caused by unreliable engines, an inability to recover quickly after the Lime Rock fire, and a team too inexperienced to prepare the car consistently. Optimists saw it as a challenging, first-year learning experience for an enthusiastic and promising race team. Realists saw the team as lacking consistency but having learned a lot in its first season. More importantly, they got results for their sponsor. Stanford Chevrolet was pleased with the effect backing a race team had on its sales volume. In fact, the Stanfords were so happy that they increased their support for 1999. They purchased two of the '99 C5 "kit cars" GM built for racing, then sub'd them out to Sports Fab in Milford, Michigan, for preparation.

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The 1999 World Challenge began at Mosport, where the ZR-1 was victorious seven years before. Bill Cooper sat on the pole. He led most of the race, but faded to fourth six laps from the finish when the throwout bearing came apart, damaging the clutch and the transmission. Until then, no one had anything on "Coop" that day. Number 75 almost went two-for-two at Mosport.

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