Throughout the long history of the Chevrolet Corvette, you will find a number of individuals with larger than life personalities who worked tirelessly to improve the brand. Classic figures like Harley Earl, Zora Duntov, and Bill Mitchell all come to mind, as well as the modern-day leaders who have led Corvette into the 21st century. This week, one of those individuals was let go by GM.
That collective gut-punch came on Wednesday with the announcement that Corvette Racing’s Program Manager Doug Fehan would be stepping down after 25 years of service. The official press release gives fans the impression that it was Doug’s decision, but according to a report by SportsCar365.com, it turns out that retirement wasn’t Doug’s idea, and he refused to comment further on the issue.
I haven’t spoken with Doug about this, but I do have some things to say about the matter.
Doug Fehan IS the heart and soul of Corvette Racing for fans around the world. From the very start, the program has been guided by his hand. And now GM has removed its highly effective leader of the team just as it appears we need him the most.
From everything we are hearing about the current state of racing, and especially the state of GT racing today requires that someone of his stature is representing the interests of Corvette and General Motors, as well as the fans. GT racing programs around the world are being shut down and scaled back. As the collective racing bodies like the ACO and IMSA work to advance a future standard for manufacturers (whatever that may be), it was always comforting to know that Doug would be there fighting for us as racing fans and as Corvette owners.
But perhaps Doug’s most important contribution to Corvette was his unyielding belief that racing made the street cars better. It was Doug who popularized the term “Cascade Engineering” to describe how each generation of street car is made better from racing, and how each generation of race car was improved because of having a better street car as a starting point. That Pratt & Miller made a conscious effort to not just race Corvettes, but to try and make them better by sharing data and technical expertise with Chevrolet engineers on the team is what should be remembered just as much as all the victories and championships earned over the years.
I don’t profess to know what happens behind closed doors at Corvette Racing but it appears that these major changes have been building for some time. Back in September, GM’s longtime racing director Mark Kent was shifted to GM Defense and former Camaro engineer Mark Stielow took his place as the new director of Motorsports Competition and Engineering. And since that move, major changes have been happening that also included the replacement of longtime Corvette “Captain” Oliver Gavin with former Porsche driver Nick Tandy.
I can imagine that Doug’s larger-than-life personality and ego have rubbed some of GM’s racing management the wrong way over the years, but you can’t argue with the success that has resulted. In 22 years, Doug has led Corvette Racing to 14 Team Championships, 13 Driver’s and Manufacturer Championships, as well as 113 race wins for the squad including eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
I can also firmly say that as someone who has met and talked with all kinds of people in and out of GM that there wasn’t a better brand ambassador for Corvette and other GM vehicles than Doug Fehan and anyone who has witnessed one of Doug’s Corvette Corral discussions can attest to that. These are some huge shoes to fill and I hope and pray that GM Racing hasn’t messed up a winning formula just for the sake of change.
Thank you Doug for your service to Corvette and its fans over the years. You may be gone from the team that you built, but your contributions to Corvette, GM, and sports car racing will never be forgotten.
Here are some additional thoughts on Fehan’s departure from Corvette Racing from the AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo:
This is what I say. Doug was forced out. After 25 years of molding and shaping Corvette Racing into the entity that it is today, he was summarily dismissed with little or no warning and without cause. I think the move was motivated by two things: 1. Jealousy. GM operatives couldn’t stand the fact that Doug had more credibility and a genuine connection with Corvette enthusiasts than all of them put together. Doug also represented Corvette racing to IMSA, the FIA, the ACO, the Corvette Museum and the other race teams, and he had the utmost respect from all of them. Doug tirelessly lived and breathed Corvette Racing, and he woke up every day trying to make the program better. This will prove to be a huge error on GM’s part. 2. Age-ism. They’d never say that but that had more than a little to do with it as well. This is a Bush League Bullshit decision. Doug is simply the best at what he does. Corvette Racing wouldn’t be what it is today without the commitment, dedication and passion of Doug Fehan. His winning legacy and his concept of racing “the right way” will endure for many, many years to come. -PMD