While at the NCM's 2006 C5/C6 Birthday Bash, we had the privilege of spending some time with Tom Wallace, the new chief engineer for Corvette. Tom is truly an enthusiast's enthusiast, and it was a joy to watch him mingling with the Corvette faithful as if he were just another fan. After a bare minimum of prodding, Tom agreed to answer a few of our more burning questions regarding Corvettes past, present, and future.
VETTE: Tom, you are known as a car guy by everyone we talk to. Tell us about yourself.
TW: I was born in Pittsburgh. I grew-up as a "car kid." I started playing with cars when I was 2, my grandparents told me. While I was in high school, I had the fastest car in town. I used to drag race at the time and very seldom lost. I started doing some gymkhanas after I decided I liked going around corners better than I liked to drag race. I soon got tired of gymkhanas because it was a lot of work-you were only allowed three or four passes, and all I was doing was knocking down pylons. So I went to a couple of driving schools, decided I liked banging fenders a little bit, and started in SCCA road racing in [the] A Sedan class.
VETTE: When was that?
TW: I started in the early '70s and have raced ever since. I took a couple of years off for kids and stuff like that but have been road racing, mostly amateur, for most of my life. [I] did some professional IMSA stuff back in the late '70s and early '80s. My claim to fame then was the 24/12/6 series-the Daytona 24-hour, Sebring 12-hour, and Talladega 6-hour. Gene Rutherford and I drove an Oldsmobile in the Kelly Girl Challenge Series. We lasted 10 hours at Daytona, 9 hours at Sebring, and won Talladega.
Anyway, that was my pro racing. I did that for a couple of years, but due to my job I didn't have time to [race professionally], so I've been hobby racing. I have been to the [SCCA] Runoffs several times and finished in the Top 5 . . . and I'm not done yet. I'm going to win the Runoffs. I don't know when, but I will!
The latest car was a GT1 Camaro-tube frame, carbon fiber, 2,400 pounds, 700 hp. And my claim to fame since I got this job [at Corvette] is that on tracks where both the C5-R and I had raced, I was faster. With the C6.R, they are now faster, [a] credit to the Pratt & Miller team. We sold the Camaro to get some cash so I could finish the new car I started about a year ago, which is a Corvette. I'm going to run it in GT1.
VETTE: Your sons race as well, don't they?
TW: Yes. Both my sons race Camaros in A Sedan, which is more of a production class. They have both been in the Runoffs. Brian has finished Second the last couple of years. Tom just got back into it this year. They shared a car about six or eight years ago, sold that, had my grandkids, and now they're both back into it.
VETTE: Do they wrench for you when you are racing?
TW: Yes, they wrenched for me for a long time until they got their own cars. Now I actually crew-chief for their two cars. On a typical SCCA hobby weekend, the GT1 race is not with the A Sedan race. So they help me in the GT1 race in the morning, and I help them in the A Sedan race in the afternoon. Every once in a while we are all in the same race together. It's so much fun because we have cameras and have fun filming each other.
VETTE: When did you get started with GM?
TW: [In] 1966, right out of school. I started in an engine area and did engine work in the beginning on the Buick V-6. My claim to fame there-and the reason people call me a car guy-was that I was one of the two or three people who really created the turbo V-6s and the Grand National series. I did the motor stuff, and the other guy did the chassis stuff, and then we had a third guy who did the body stuff. [Besides that] I've probably done five or six pace cars for Indy. So I did a lot of engine work at Buick. Then, in the early '80s, I went to Stanford and got my Masters in Business. The MBA [was] because [GM] thought maybe I was a little too "engineering-ese." It has helped me a lot in the rest of my job.
After that I came back and worked in chassis for a while. I had the brake department and chassis department as I was advancing in the company and [attaining] management level. Then I became chief of [the] Buick V-6 [program] when we fully combined the Buick, Olds, and Cadillac groups. So I was over all the V-6 engines for about three or four years, then I switched to what then was called CPC [Chevrolet Pontiac Canada]. That was my first stint as a chief of engineering for a whole car-I was chief of the Corsica and Beretta.
After that I was chief of the W cars [Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Olds Intrigue]. Then I did a "quality" job for a couple of years, and then, bingo, when we went to the Vehicle Line Executive organizational structure in 1995 for North America, I was one of the original 12 VLEs assigned to midsize trucks. A VLE is like a general manager of a business, [in that] he is in charge of the whole business, from design through production to sales and service. I did the new Trail Blazer, Envoy, Bravada, and Saab 9-7. Then I did the Hummer H3 and the Colorado/Canyon pickup trucks.
I did that for 10 years and 4 days [before] it was announced that I was replacing Dave Hill as the VLE of performance cars. Included in the lineup are the Chevy Corvette, Cadillac XLR, Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice, and Opel GT. I also have dual responsibility as chief engineer of the Corvette. So I really have two different titles. When I am down here [in Bowling Green], I'm chief engineer of the Corvette. But when I am back home doing programs as the VLE, I'm responsible for the financial performance of the vehicle.