Photo Credit: Rick Tavel/Corvetted.com
Our friends at ProTeam Corvette will be in spotlight this Saturday at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale. That’s when a very special Corvette race car with ties to NASCAR will be offered for sale during the “Salon Select 5000 collection”.
We’ve written about ProTeam’s 1953 NASCAR Corvette before which started out as VIN 211 of the first 300 Corvettes built. The first-year Corvette was repurposed as a race car through an internal Chevrolet Shop Order and originally saw action for the 1956 Flying Mile competition on Daytona Beach before entering competition in NASCAR’s International Series for sports cars.
CorvetteBlogger contributor Rick Tavel from Corvetted.com worked with ProTeam Corvette to help write their 50-page flipbook highlighting the research and history of the 1953 NASCAR Corvette and we are fortunate to be able to share some of the important history of this Corvette prior to its auction at Barrett-Jackson.
Rick Tavel Corvetted November 4, 2014
As we reported in our article “Barrett-Jackson – Synergy of Success” one of the factors that has made their Scottsdale and other events so successful has been their ability to “read the collector market” and tailor their offerings to the market. And one of the hottest categories of collector Corvettes have continued to be documented early race cars. As such, in January Barrett-Jackson will offer one of the best documented and awarded of all early Corvettes racecars, the “granddaddy” of and the earliest known Corvette racecar, Terry Michaelis’ 1953 NASCAR Corvette. The concours winning Corvette is not only the earliest known Corvette race car, it is an important part of NASCAR history, as well, and what can best be described as a dual branding strategy to help demonstrate the Corvette’s abilities on the race track and promote Bill France’s NASCAR foray into his sports car series.
Relatively few Corvette enthusiasts and NASCAR fans are familiar with the Corvette’s history on the local oval tracks throughout the Southeast and Mid Atlantic during the mid 1950’s. More is known and documented about Corvette’s participation in the historic 1956 speed runs on the beach at Daytona during NASCAR’s Speed Week, since those runs are considered to have played a role in proving the legitimacy of the Corvette as a performance sports car that could compete on the track. But in addition to the 1956 Daytona Beach event, in 1955 this car ran on the oval tracks in a variety of NASCAR sponsored events.
Promotional photos with the two cars and Bill France, Jr. on left and Joe Hawkins on right. 1953 Corvette VIN #211 on left and 1955 Corvette VIN #1399 on right. Prior to stripes, numbers, and sponsor decals (Photo: L. Gray Tuttle via NASCARCorvette.com)
Because so little has been written and recorded about the hundreds of weekly and monthly races (aside from the Grand National Series) during the early and mid 1950’s, Mr. Michaelis and a dedicated group of Corvette historians and researchers have spent the last three years tracking down information about the Corvette and the little documented NASCAR sports car series sometimes referred to as the “international class” and frequently run as support races for the Grand National features. From their search of the NASCAR museum, GM Heritage Center, Chevrolet Archives, individual race track archives, local newspapers and historians, and interviews with surviving former drivers and their families, considerable information has been uncovered and continues to surface. Hundreds of small town newspapers have been researched to help piece together a fascinating but virtually undocumented and little known history of NASCAR sports car racing. In addition formerly unknown information and supporting documentation has come from personal family photographs taken as this compelling history was unfolding on race tracks and in the shops of legendary race car owners, builders and drivers. What has been uncovered is not only interesting, it is a significant piece of Corvette and NASCAR history that research has confirmed involves several prominent and well known names associated with the car throughout its storied past. Mr. Michaelis, considered one of Corvette’s most influential people, is pulling all of the information together into a documented historic account of not only the Corvette and its contribution to GM’s first involvement in sports car racing but the history of a part of NASCAR that is in jeopardy of being forever lost .
Hundreds of local papers as well as museums, archives were searched to uncover this missing piece of Corvette and NASCAR history. (Photo: NASCARCORVETTE.com)
Searching hundreds of documents and work orders from Chevrolet archives indicates that this car, VIN E53F001211, is one of two Corvettes, a 1953 and a 1955, that was rebodied and rebuilt by Chevrolet Engineering to be equipped with dual four barrel high output 1956 engines, 3 speed close ratio transmissions, heavy duty rear end assemblies, plastic tonneau covers, small racing windshields and relocated gauges, all under the direction of Mauri Rose, performance guru and three time Indianapolis 500 winner, working for Chevrolet’s chief engineer Ed Cole.
Chevrolet Engineering Work Order dated November 3, 1955 detailing the rebuild. Signed by Mauri Rose (Photo: Chevrolet Engineering via NASCARCORVETTE)
After completion of the work, in early February of 1956, GM shipped the car along with three others to renowned Smokey Yunick, in Daytona Beach, Florida in time for the February 12th through 26th, 1956 Annual Winter Daytona Beach Classics, which included the 7th Annual International Safety and Speed Trials and Stock Car Races. During that time promotional NASCAR photos were taken with the Corvettes, Bill France Jr. and Joe Hawkins.
Until now, most Corvette experts and historians have believed that the Corvette first began its racing history at the February 1956 Daytona event, however, even before the #211 Corvette was rebuilt at the end of 1955 by GM, it was already well known by Carolina and Virginia race fans, having been raced by NASCAR’s Thomas Brothers (Herb & Don), Junior Johnson, Jimmy Massey, Johnny Dodson, Ralph Liguori, and Gwyn Staley at Bowman Gray Stadium, Martinsville and Raleigh Speedways in 1955 as number 62 with its “Blue Flame 6” engine.
Pee Wee Jones raced the #211 NASCAR Corvette at Bowman Gray Stadium (Photo: Tim Jones via NASCARCORVETTE.com)
During those races the Corvette often squared off against the Ford Thunderbirds, creating a track rivalry between the two brands that lasted for the next two years. Those racing Thunderbirds eventually became known as the “Battlebirds”. The history of the Thunderbird in early NASCAR racing is as obscure as the Corvette’s and during Michaelis’ research some of this history was also uncovered. The competition between the two brands on the tracks and in the showrooms was a major contributor to saving the Corvette from extinction.
Font size=”1″>Corvettes #211 (Left) and #1399 (Right) at Martinsville Speedway (Photo: courtesy of Doris Nuckles – H. Westmoreland’s Daughter via NASCARCORVETTE.com)
After restoring the car, it has collected numerous impressive awards: Class Award at the 36th Annual Concours d’Elegance of America in July 2014, Bloomington Gold Great Hall Special Display in June 2014, First Place Class Award and the Bill Rudd Honorary Trophy at the 36th Annual Ault Park Concours d’Elegance in June 2014, 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance on March 9th, 2014, and was a part of the “Competition Corvette” display at the Corvette Nationals Show in November 2012. It has also been featured in several articles and was the focus of Lance Miller’s “Corvette Corner” which was shown on Velocity TV’s Corvette Nation.
The historic Corvette will be one of the featured cars of Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction and will cross the block as part of their Salon Select 5000 collection on Saturday, January 17, 2015.