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It's a Corvettes summer at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Sun, 18 Aug 2013

You couldn't swing a camshaft without hitting a Corvette at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Chevy was celebrating, in no particular order: the 60th anniversary of its iconic sports car; the rolling unveiling of the new C7 Stingray; the first-ever public peek at the C7R race car; an almost-unprecedented gathering of great Corvette race cars from all eras; and a ginormous gathering of the Corvette faithful tearing around the track in all models of screaming, roaring American muscleVettes, few with silenced exhausts and many emblazoned with all or part of the American flag.

Is this a great country or what?

At the same time, Porsche was celebrating, in a slightly more subdued manner, at least at this location this weekend, the 50th anniversary of the 911, though it was consigned to a ground-level garage and a somewhat distant second billing.

“They paid more money,” said our favorite sardonic Porsche executive, when asked why Corvette seemed to be getting more attention.

But he was only (mostly) kidding. Officially they wish Corvette all the best and happy birthday.

There were plenty of great Porsches in the paddock and on the track, lead by at least four impeccable 962s (three in Rothman's livery and one in Jaegermeister), the 1998 Le Mans-winning GT1, the Moby Dick 935, and a phalanx of storied and unstoried 911 race cars from the late '70s and early '80s that all seemed to be in the same class (6A) and having a great time. Porsche fans could not be disappointed this year.

But it was the Corvette fans who were perhaps the happiest of the weekend. They had just about everything a Vette fan could ask for.

“We went into the Heritage Center (in Detroit) and emptied it out,” said Chevy spokesman Mike Albano. “Anything with a C on it that ended in Vette we threw in the truck.”

It was a big truck. It included a central paddock display that had the 1961 Mako Shark and Manta Ray as well as just about every significant racing Corvette Chevy could cram into it: the 1960 Cunningham Corvette that placed eighth overall at Le Mans in 1960; the 1967 Corvette Le Mans raced by Dick Guldstrand (who was there!) and Bob Bondurant (who was also there!); the 1968 Owens Corning Corvette once driven by Tony DeLorenzo, cousin of past Autoweek editor Matt DeLorenzo; a 2001 Pratt & Miller C5R; 2011 C6R; and, unannounced and a surprise to almost everybody, two or three laps by a camouflaged C7R, the as-yet-unseen race car based on the as-yet-barely-seen C7 and driven by Autoweek editor-at-speed Tommy Milner. And there were many, many more privately owned and operated Corvette race cars strewn throughout the paddock.

“How good is that,” asked racer/restorer/businessman Bruce Canepa, who had “the honor” of driving the Miles Collier ex-Delmo Johnson Corvette that placed second at Nassau in 1962 and raced at Sebring in 1964 and '65. “And it's not just a Corvette, it's a damned Gran Sport!”

There is something fundamentally and almost patriotically appealing about Corvettes. But there is also a more obvious reason people love them so.

“They go fast,” said Garrett Waddell, who spent the weekend racing a “real split-window '63 Z06.”

“At one point I was driving a 1958 Porsche and Corvettes came out and they were faster but they had solid axles and so just didn't do it for me,” said Waddell. “When this ('63 Split-Window) came out it was so much better.”

Les Alexander has had his 1957 Corvette for 40 years.

“But it's been apart for 35,” he said.

It's now up and running, and he races it regularly. He likes it for the styling and power.

“They were sexy,” he said.

Robert Burton and Sammy Bell have a gold and black 1972 with an exhaust that can crack windows across the peninsula. To drive them takes strength, since this one doesn't have power steering.

“These guys were tough, man,” said Burton's son Shon.

John Bowe drives a 1965 with a limited-slip differential, four-speed and a 490-hp 327.

“It's good, it's quick,” he said. “Unfortunately it's a bit heavy (at 2,960 pounds). It's entertaining to drive them, you're kind of freestyling. It's good fun. I would have loved to have raced in that era.”

Jim Cantrell started out building Mars rovers at JPL then returned to his first love, Corvettes. His company, Vintage Exotics LLC in Tucson will have a GT1 chassis for the C7 next year.

“I always loved the C3s,” he said, but acknowledged they're not exactly light and nimble. “It's like a big truck with slicks.”

Which, when you think about it, could be a lot of fun.

There were more than 50 Corvettes registered in various classes for the Motorsports Reunion this year, and all of their drivers seemed to be having the time of their lives for at least the second time around.

By Mark Vaughn