Over the last few seasons, Corvette Racing fans have taken note of a mysterious skull incorporated into the livery of the screaming-yellow C6.Rs. While there's no shortage of theories regarding the skull and its origins, the real story behind this menacing mascot has remained shrouded in mystery. Until now.
It all started one morning at Le Mans in 2001. Gary Claudio, marketing manager for GM Racing, discovered a skull-and-crossbones insignia on the tongue of the shoes issued to team members. During a prerace pep talk, Gary used the pirate analogy to fire up the team.
"What do pirates do?" barked Gary.
"They take no prisoners!" was the resound-ing reply.
"And that's what we are going to do today. We're not taking prisoners. We're going to kick some ass and win the race!"
Corvette Racing went on to make history, capturing Chevy's first GTS-class win in the 24-hour race. To commemorate the victory, Claudio presented the Pratt & Miller team with a pirate flag (now proudly displayed in the team's cafeteria) that read, "To all the pirates at Pratt & Miller Engineering, congratulations on a job well done!" The skull legend was born.
With the tacit approval of the GM brass, the team adopted the skull as a symbol of its determination to fight and win at all costs. At around the same time, in early 2002, Don Male came to work at P&M as a truck driver for the team's transporters. Almost immediately, he took on the role of the skull's most ardent advocate.
We caught up with Male at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah before the start of a recent ALMS race. As he slid out of the cabin of an 18-wheeler, its door emblazoned with the moniker "Male Man" in silver leaf, we cornered him for the real story on how the skull grew to such prominence within the team.
According to Male, the visage's first appearance came when the team placed a small silver-plastic skull in front of the No. 4 C5-R's gearshift mechanism prior to the '02 Sebring enduro. Soon after, a white flaming-skull decal appeared on the rollcage just above the driver's head.
Later that year, Male found a silver flaming-skull decal while wandering downtown Le Mans during the prerace tech-inspection process. Not surprisingly, it immediately found its way onto the car's B-pillar. This appearance marked the first time the skull was incorporated into the car's external presentation. The C5-Rs went on to score a resounding victory in the GTS class (now GT1), taking First and Second Places. Almost overnight, the skull legend was born.
The No. 4 crew soon decided to relocate the molded skull from the cockpit to the outside of the car. The initial plan-to affix it to the C5-R's nose-was nixed when the team realized that any front-end damage incurred on the track would likely destroy its newly adopted mascot. The skull was instead mounted on the center of the rear fascia, where it has remained ever since.
The skull motifs continued to evolve, as evidenced by the flaming black B-pillar design that debuted at Le Mans in 2004. They also proliferated throughout the car, showing up under the engine cover, inside the fenders, and throughout the cockpit. One of Male's fellow truck drivers, Rich Eldred, started sporting skull-and-crossbones suspenders, and other team members followed suit with pirate-themed attire of their own. Soon, the skull was showing up on the hats and clothes worn by the crew.
Around this time, it was discovered that the original skull decal had been a logo sticker for the "No Fear" line of clothes and accessories. Concerned about potential copyright infringement, Corvette Racing officials commissioned a new design. Corvette-themed Web site Badboyvettes.com and Ed Jabbour of Kick Design in New York came up with a new black-and-yellow skull featuring a forward-facing look, jagged teeth, and a Corvette crossed-flags logo forming the eyes and nose.
The new design made its debut on both C6.Rs in 2005, showing up on the front and rear fascias as well as on the B-pillars. It was also prominently displayed on the team's official garb, on most of the crew's equipment, and on the flags flying from the race-car transporters. In a nod to tradition, the small silver skull was allowed to stay on the back panel of the No. 4 car.
The now-famous skull mascot deserved a moniker. Gary Claudio suggested "Jake," calling it, "A no-nonsense name for a tough, no-nonsense team." Jake has since risen to a place of prominence in the Corvette world, adorning posters, a clothing line, and a variety of promotional memorabilia. He represents Corvette Racing's mantra of taking on all comers, meting out punishment, and fighting to the last man. He asks no questions and takes no prisoners, just like the team that spawned his legend.