Every person who buys a Corvette gets more than just a fine automobile. They also get a little piece of Corvette history. They're all special, each one with its own unique story, each one a little piece of the aura and tradition that is approaching its 50th year of existence. But then there are Corvettes that are extra special-big pieces of history, if you will, such as '53-55s, rare options like the '63 Z06 and L88s, veteran Sebring and Daytona racers, factory one-offs, and, we submit, Indy Pace Cars. Add the Corvette performance legacy to that of the most famous and longest-running American car race, the Indianapolis 500, and you've got a slightly larger than normal piece of history. And that's just what Frank Fopiano of Las Vegas has with his '95 Indy Pace Car Replica.
Fopiano became a Corvette enthusiast as a teenager, when a friend introduced him to Dick Ingalls, a mechanic at Commonwealth Chevrolet in Boston who raced a mid-year at New England Raceway. Those weekend trips to the drag races got young Frank hooked, and after a stint in the service, he went Vette shopping. Given that the LT-1 had been emasculated by 1972, and the fact that he liked the big-block hood, Frank bought a '72 Ontario Orange 454 coupe. Conditions permitted Frank to buy the car for under sticker, but he was disappointed with the car's performance, feeling that it was "toned down" and had no "bite." It was however, a "sharp-looking" car, and drew a lot of attention.
Despite the fact that it suffered from what he saw as a power shortage, Frank enjoyed his '72 for nearly a decade, getting together almost every night with a group of Corvette owners who met for coffee in Winchester, Massachusetts, and cruised to the beach. But as so often happens, starting a family and buying a house conflicts with owning a Corvette. And for almost two decades, family concerns came first.
When it came time to buy another Corvette, Frank considered the wide variety of cars available, and made a unique choice in deciding to go for a '95 Indy Pace Car Replica. Now with Pace Car replicas, there doesn't seem to ever be any middle ground-you either love 'em or hate 'em (this is even more so with '98 Indy Pace Car Replicas). Fopiano obviously falls into the former category. The eye-catching colors and graphics, which inspired some to label these cars, "Baskin-Robbins Specials," appealed to him.
Frank's homework and Internet research led him to a likely candidate located in Florida. The car passed muster with the inspector he sent, and Frank bought the car, sequence number 69, sight-unseen. So Fopiano had re-entered the Corvette world, and he certainly had a nice piece of Corvette history: he owned one of only 527 replicas of the Corvette that had paced the 79th Indianapolis 500 (by far the smallest Pace Car production run). But when the chance came to own a slightly larger piece of the history, Frank didn't hesitate.
Soon after buying his '95, Frank registered with the '95 Pace Car Registry, and started receiving its newsletter. Corvettes of all kind spawn their share of memorabilia, and Pace Cars inspire more than their share. It was a search for Pace Car goodies that caused Fopiano to respond to an ad in the PaceSetter, though he got much more than he expected. The ad was placed by one Colonel Jim Peterschimdt, who had grown up in the Indianapolis area and developed a healthy fanaticism for Indy Pace Cars. And though he was just about out of memorabilia, Peterschimdt was facing a three-year deployment to Germany and had something else for sale: his '95 Pace Car Replica, sequence number 5, Indy Track
Car number 3.When Corvette was chosen to pace the Indy 500 in 1995, the C4 platform was nearing the end of its run. The biggest, or at least most visible, change for '95 was in the front fender "gill" air vents. It was still a potent performer, however, and little modification was needed to make Corvette Indy-ready. The three Vettes that were prepared to actually pace the race had their exhausts "opened up," which allowed the 300-horse LT1 to gain a healthy chunk of power and made things a bit louder. The stock springs were modified to create a stiffer ride, and also to lower the car an inch. These three Vettes also received a rollbar, and the necessary strobe lights were incorporated into it.
But as many of you may know, those three actual Pace Cars were not the only Corvettes "working" the race. Eighty-seven Pace Car Replicas were delivered to the race directors, where they were at the disposal of those high enough on the dignitary food chain. After the race, The General reclaimed the cars, which were subsequently delivered to Chevrolet dealers for sale to the public. Which brings us back to Colonel Peterschmidt's Pace Car. The sequence number signifies that it was the fifth Pace Car Replica built, and the Indy Track number identifies this car as the one used by Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldschmidt during the 79th 500. Of the first four Indy Track cars, three were used by the George family, owners of the Indianpolis facility, and the other by Goldschmidt. The car saw duty in the numerous parades and festivities that were part of the biggest race of the year, and also provided His Honor with one really cool ride.
Although he already had a Pace Car, Frank Fopiano couldn't pass up the opportunity to lay his hands on this piece of Indy-and Corvette-history. And in a gentleman's agreement the like of which we don't see many of these days, Frank said, "I'll take it," Peterschmidt sent it, then Frank sent a check. It didn't take long to sell the "other" Pace Car-in fact, all it took was an announcement at a Las Vegas Corvettes Association meeting, and a deal was made.
Needless to say, Frank is thrilled to have his own little chunk of history. While he gets curious stares and non-committal comments like "nice paint job" from the uninitiated, those in the know appreciate what he has, making ownership of this beauty even sweeter. Another person who appreciates what Frank has is the car's former owner, Colonel Peterschmidt. The Colonel plans to retire to Las Vegas once his tour of duty is up, and sold the Vette to Frank on the condition that Frank let the Colonel come over and wax it. It's a deal Frank readily agreed to, and with two owners who love '95 Pace Car Replicas looking after it, we're sure this one will be looking sharp for a long time to come.