For many of us, Corvette race cars over the years have created much of the mystical attraction to America's only sportscar. The racing team with the longest winning streak in Corvette racing history is a huge part of this rich racing heritage. The V.V. Cooke Chevrolet SCCA racing team actually got its start with the meeting of V.V Cooke Jr. and the Barker brothers, Allan and Donald, in 1958. At the time, V.V. Jr. was competing in his personal '58 fuelie, while the Barkers were racing their Austin Healeys. To some Vette owners, an afternoon drive on a rural road with the sounds of a dual exhaust and the feel of a four-speed shifter in your hand is heaven on earth, while others, like the Barker brothers, had to prepare and take their Corvettes to the limit in competition.
The V.V. Cooke Chevrolet SCCA racing team officially commenced with the purchase and preparation of a '63 Z06 fuel-injected roadster with which they dominated the B-production class in 1969 and 1970. The next move for the team was the purchase and frame-off preparation of a '69 Corvette roadster for the '71 SCCA season, again for the B-production class. This '69 Corvette was a very rare special-order (only documented black/saddle interior L88 roadster still in existence) L88 roadster that was delivered by Williamson Chevrolet to the original owner, Doug Bergen in Marietta, Ohio.
This L88 was destined to race from the very beginning; the car's first outing was the 24 hours of Daytona in 1970. Unfortunately, the car did not finish the race. Next up was the 12 hours of Sebring where it placed second in the GT class in 1970, behind the famous Owens-Corning L88 car. Under the careful guidance of the Barker brothers, Donald, the chief mechanic, and Allan, the driver with sponsorship from V.V. Cooke Chevrolet, the SCCA B-production class was dominated by this race team for four years with 26 race wins in a row and four national championships from 1969 to 1972 with the '63 roadster and the '69.
The '69 car was then sold to Bill Jobe of Dallas, Texas, who continued the car's winning ways with two more B-production titles in 1973 and 1974.
In the late '70s, the L88 was sold to David Preston, who stored it in his front yard on a car trailer with only a car cover to protect it from the elements for almost two decades.
Kevin Mackay, an L88 expert from Valley Stream, New York, eventually found the car (still sitting in the front yard) and struck a deal with David in 1995 to purchase the car and the extra parts. Kevin carefully prepared the engine for starting after returning to his shop, and start it did, running just as well as it had over two decades prior. After much detailing, the race-winning Corvette was returned to its original appearance as it ran during the mid-'70s. The car still carried the original paint and interior. Father Time had taken its toll on the original decals, but help reapplying them was cheerfully supplied by the Barkers.
The next owner for this historical Corvette was Larry Bowman, who sent it to Legendary Motor Company for restoration and preparation for the '02 Monterey historic races at Laguna Seca raceway. After a thirty-two-year retirement from competition, Allan Barker was commissioned to drive the No. 80 Corvette once again. Donald was there overseeing the mechanical needs, creating a reunion of the race team and a rare opportunity to relive the past again at full speed!
Larry Bowman still owns the car today.
V.V. Cooke Chevrolet, The Sponsor
Recently, the interest in dealer involvement in the '60s performance market has reached an all-time high. Prominent dealers in the Midwest and northeast United States are now well known to the performance-oriented crowd, primarily due to the numerous articles that have documented their place in performance history. Across the country there were other dealers who also played roles in the horsepower wars. V.V. Cooke Chevrolet in Louisville, Kentucky, was one such dealer. High-performance cars and performance enhancements were daily activities in the sales and service departments for Chevelles, Chevy IIs, Corvairs, Corvettes, and Yenko-prepared cars as well.
With public interest in racing high, V.V. Cooke Chevrolet also sponsored another race team. Gerald Newman built and Roy Wathen drove a number of stock cars for eight years, beginning with a '62 Chevrolet 409-powered Belair. Next up was a '65 Impala, followed by the '69 Z/28 Camaro that was pictured on the cover of the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway program from Louisville, Kentucky. This team's winning ways led to four track championships locally, as well as wins in the ARCA series. One such win with the '65 Chevrolet was on October 1, 1967, at Louisville Downs, a one-half-mile horse track with a crushed limestone surface. The hundred-mile ARCA race was the first time Roy Wathen had ever driven on anything but asphalt! Gerald Newman by day was a very competent front-end mechanic at V.V. Cooke, retiring after 30 years with the company.