The Corvette hobby provides practitioners with a diverse array of activities involving their favorite sports car. These include taking part in car shows, Corvette meets, weekend getaways, and even motorsports events. While comparatively few owners will race their cars, on-track competition has helped Corvette become the American icon it is today.
The marque's racing heritage began in 1955, when Zora Duntov and his merry band of engineers stuffed a 265-cube small-block into a C1. In 1956 Corvette competed at the Daytona Beach flying-mile event, setting several records. Then, three factory-backed Corvettes were entered in the 12 Hours of Sebring race, where the team finished Ninth overall. Brand advertising quickly followed, including the famous "Real McCoy" ad, which featured a photo of a Corvette pit stop at Sebring.
Since then, Corvettes have amassed an impressive list of championships attained by both private and factory racing teams. So while not all Corvette owners are racers, most realize that under that beautiful fiberglass body lies a competition-bred beast.
As part of its 100th anniversary celebration, Chevrolet staged the Corvette World Tribute earlier this year at the beautiful Road America racing circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The four-mile course is filled with elevation changes, tight corners, and long straights, leading former GM engineer and race car driver John Heinricy to compare it to the famous Spa circuit in Belgium. First opened in 1955, the track is still going strong and continues to be popular with racing fans.
The weekend was packed with vintage racing Corvettes, as well as panel discussions with former drivers and other prominent members of the hobby. This was also the weekend Corvette Racing competed in the American Le Mans Series four-hour race. GM provided Team VETTE with a beautiful Grand Sport convertible so we could photograph the company's newest offerings alongside its legendary predecessors.
The Registry of Corvette Race Cars presented an impressive "Field of Dreams" that showcased 24 significant Vette race machines from throughout the marque's history. The roster stretched from the first '56 factory Corvette that won its class at the 1956 12 Hours of Sebring race to the factory C6.R GT1 that won its category at the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans. A whole host of other historic C1-C5 Corvette racers were sandwiched in between these two bookends.
On Saturday night a dinner was held at the Road America Center. The entertainment included a screening of The Quest, a documentary produced by Michael Brown for Carlisle Productions. The film captures Corvette's first Le Mans class victory in 1960, and the late Chip Miller's quest to locate and restore the car. It also documents the eventual restoration by Corvette Repair and how Lance, Miller's son, returned the car to Le Mans in 2010. It was a fitting tribute to Chip, and to the Corvette's racing heritage.
Throughout the weekend three vintage- racing groups competed on the circuit. The two factory Pratt & Miller racers even served as pace cars for Sunday's main event. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, announced a renewed partnership with the track, including a rededication of the Turn 6 "Corvette Bridge."
The bridge was dedicated in 1963, and the Corvette logo remained until 1981. It reappeared from 1992 to 1995. Now it's back, featuring a fresh design that includes the most recent crossed-flags insignia. On Sunday morning the Corvette Racing team and crew lined up under the bridge for the ceremony. Next to the factory team was the championship-winning '59 "Purple People Eater" Corvette, which was surrounded by five legendary Corvette race car drivers.
A plaque was presented to Road America President and GM George Bruggenthies to commemorate the event. Large clusters of red, white, and blue balloons were released at the end of the presentation. Next, almost 60 Corvettes lined up at the bottom of Turn 5 for a photo shoot. It was a dazzling collection of significant Corvette racing history.
The Corvette World Tribute event also featured a charity auction organized by Dan Binks, crew chief of the No. 3 C6.R, to benefit Camp Anokijig (Native American for "We Serve") in nearby Plymouth, Wisconsin. The auction of Corvette Racing memorabilia raised more than $52,000 for the camp, which is open to boys and girls ages 7-16.
"The cars and drivers participating in the Corvette World Tribute have written volumes in Corvette's racing history," said Bruggenthies. "Today we celebrate our past and look forward to Corvette's future success at Road America and around the world."
Bill Mitchell, GM's VP of design in the '60s, entered his prototype Sting Ray racer at Road America more than a half-century ago. He also previewed the Mako Shark concept car in Elkhart Lake in June 1961. Various Grand Sport Corvettes created by Duntov had memorable races at Road America. All of these events reflect on the important role this historic track has played in enhancing Corvette's racing heritage. As we drove our Grand Sport to the airport, we said a quiet thank-you to those brave racers who helped make Corvette the world-class sports car it is today.