Back in the day, it was possible for a devoted Corvette enthusiast to order up not just a Vette for racing, but one that could take on the well-sponsored "big boys" who ruled the roost in SCCA A/Production racing back then—and win!
One of those was Milton "Babe" Headley of Paoli, Pennsylvania. In 1969, he ordered up a new Corvette Stingray coupe with the RPO L88 engine option, and then built it into a race car whose current owner calls a "giant killer."
"He won at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen with that car, and he beat the big guys," says Tom O'Brien.
Racing out of Babe's Garage of Paoli (located not far from the shop of Chevrolet drag racing legend Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins), it also competed at tracks such as Mosport and Bridgehampton before Babe sold it to another Delaware Valley-area Vette racer, Scott Perfetto, in 1974.
Its racing career continued—in SCCA's A/Production and GT-1 classes and in its Trans Am Series, as well as in IMSA's Camel GT Series through 1983. That year, Gary Griffith—longtime Corvette Club of Michigan President who'd purchased it from Scott—ran it twice before his untimely passing. Gary's wife later sold it to Corvette shop/salvage yard operator Bob Smith of Ypsilanti, Michigan, where it sat for years until its eventual rediscovery and restoration.
Tom says that when he found it about five years ago, it had been restored, but it wasn't quite track-ready. "We basically pulled everything, tightened everything, and re-assembled it," says Tom of the work that brought it back to 100 percent restored—to the condition Babe raced it. "This particular one was brought back to its racing heritage, not to factory stock," Tom adds. "The dashboard's different, and the electronics in it are different. But the chassis and everything else is 100 percent stock."
The owner of three other L88s, Tom was taken with this one's history. "This car intrigued me because Babe Headley was an independent racer," says Tom. "He had no sponsorship, and he did it out of his little garage. Lo and behold, it became one of the most successful road-racing Corvettes in history. It beat all the big guys!"
And, in the restored condition we saw it in at last year's Corvette Funfest, it looks ready to beat them all again, with its "430 horsepower" L88. Tom, who says that peak power number is actually closer to 610, says it's a handful on the bias-ply tires it raced on back then, but Babe had a few tricks up his sleeve. "Applying that horsepower to those crummy tires they had back then the weight of that Corvette in the back was relatively light, and he did overcome it with some suspension changes," notes Tom.
Babe may have had help getting the hardware he needed, as Roger Penske's original Chevrolet dealership in Wayne, Pennsylvania was just a few miles east of Babe's Garage, and whose parts department—and customer-service work—would have lived up to Chevrolet's 1969 sales slogan ("Putting You First Keeps Us First!") in a big way.
As we mentioned above, this L88 is the fourth one that Tom's owned, and he says this one is definitely no street cruiser. "You're in another world," he says when asked what it's like to drive. "It's not for the weak of heart. It's probably the fastest thing I've ever driven on a straightaway. Cornering-wise, it's a real handful, but it's got the power when you need it. It certainly has the power, believe me!" He adds, "You have to be a driver to get it around the track."