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Corvette Racing, Circa 1960

Chuck Klein

THE DIRT TRACK

            At 50 +/- MPH, it had to appear that we were hurtling straight for the telephone pole...then at what must have seemed like the absolute last possible moment - as the tires chirped on the hard dirt in a full panic-stop - she was thrown forward, her knuckles white against the black chicken-bar. Suddenly realizing we weren't going to hit the pole, the pony-tailed blonde surely believed we were going to roll. One hand came free as she was slammed against the passenger door, the open roadster making a very hard left while the rear end swung out and the engine revved tight. Surviving all that, and as we headed into the straight-a-way, the 16 year-old was now pinned to the seatback - a prisoner of acceleration.

            After three times around, I pulled into the infield and grinned at my passenger, a teen-age honey. She was wide-eyed and as white as my Ermine White Corvette. "I, I, I...was never so scared. I thought we were going to hit that pole...and roll over...let’s do it again," she stammered. Stop watches in hand, my buddy and the 5/8 mile dirt track owner were striding over excitedly proclaiming that I had broken the track record.

            The track was wide enough to allow the technique of the four-wheel- drift. Before ever trying this in my expensive and fast Corvette, I had become somewhat proficient at this technique by practicing in my Almquist bodied Crosley Sports car I had built during my 16th year and on snow covered parking lots in a 1957 Ford. 

            This was early summer, 1960, and I was still getting the feel of my combination 18th birthday gift and high school graduation present, a new 230 HP, 3-speed (close-ratio) Corvette with options of AM Push-Button radio, White-wall tires and heater. The cost was $3433.01. The track, laid out in some farmer's field, was near Middletown, about an hour north of Cincinnati. It was the only place around that permitted anyone with a driver's license to race. Passengers were also allowed - this in the days long before the proliferation of lawyers that got into everything. I loved road racing, but being only 18 years old SCCA was out of the question for three more years.

            Post-graduation, and against my parent's wishes, I took a job instead of going to college. I needed money to build my Corvette - I mean what's more important, playing Joe College with a stocker or having a fast machine?

THE BUILD

            During the rest of the summer, as funds permitted, I added: Marchal headlamps, quick steering adapter, HD shocks, metallic brake linings, 4-speed transmission, HD clutch, three two-barrel carburetors on an Offenhauser manifold, Duntov 098 cam with solid lifters and a dual point distributor.

            Sure, this stuff was expensive and it took every dime I earned, but I was living at home and had a pal whose father owned a garage. He had given me the garage's vendor’s number thus allowing me to purchase all Chevrolet parts direct from the vendor.

1 Four speed transmission

1 Heavy duty clutch

4 Heavy duty shocks

4 Sets, metallic brake linings

1 Quick steering adapter

1 Dual point distributor

1 Duntov 098 Camshaft

1 Set solid lifters

1 Set of gaskets

3 Two barrel Rochester carbs

1 Edelbrock intake manifold

1 Fuel block and fittings

2 Marchal head lamps

            By late summer, I discovered three problems:

            1) Hot days and/or racing produced vapor lock;

            2) Hard cornering sometimes caused loss of power due to the carburetor float remaining closed because gas was jamming it in the up position;

            3) Progressive linkage was not conducive to road racing.

            The solution to the last problem was easy. With some scrap steel and the use of the lathe in the machine shop of my father’s factory, I rigged straight linkage and set it up to idle on the center carb only. The fix for the other issues came to me in an inspiration. I bought an extra fuel pump (electric) and fuel block. Then I drilled and tapped a hole into the base of each float bowl where I threaded in a ball-check valve and a flow valve. I ran a fuel line back to the fuel tank from the new pump. Now, I had one pump pumping gas into the carbs in the normal fashion, while another pump sucked gas out of the carbs - though restricted by the flow-valve. It took some experimenting with float levels and flow-valve settings, but after I got it worked out I never had vapor lock or "ran out of gas" in a corner again.

            The metallic brake linings for the drum brake era were a significant factor. To test them, I found an open stretch of highway in the pre-dawn hours and ran from zero to 100 and back to zero – at a full panic-stop - three times in a row without any brake fade. It took brute force to push this very hard non-power or vacuum assist pedal, but these racing brakes really worked. The heavy duty mechanical clutch also required significant leg muscles - I couldn’t hold it in at a stop light for more than 15-20 seconds before my leg would begin to shake. Likewise, power steering was not an option and though the quick ratio alternative was better than standard; it still required more turns lock-to-lock than today’s everyday sedans.

MY BUDDY THE CHIEF

            Within a day after they finished paving the parking lot to a major new shopping center, I realized it would make a great speedway and opportunity to test my driving skills and the enhancements to the engine and suspension. Using the light poles as pylons, I zigzagged and crisscrossed the Corvette circuitously around the Mall, weaving in and out of these pseudo pylons at speeds up to 90 MPH. About the second or third lap of this improvised almost one mile race track, a police car, lights flashing, stopped my fun.

            The officer was livid! He had me out of the car and was threatening a trip to the county jail and a tow of my wheels. My shotgun and high school classmate now looked more scared of law enforcement than he was of the laws of physics – the possibility that we would roll or crash. I had noticed his white knuckles on the chicken bar when the Corvette was drifting, aiming for and almost hitting the concrete based poles. Now he was visibly shaken. Within a minute another patrol car screeched in. The officer in the second scout car, with the name-tag, Doug Renneker, was also the police chief to the mall’s home in this tiny community of Springdale, Ohio. He immediately proceeded to lash out about how dangerous speed was and other tough talk. Then telling the first officer he’d take care of the incident, sent him on his way.

            The Chief, with a big smile, then clapped me on the back and asked to see the Corvette’s engine all to the amazement of my buddy who stood there, mouth agape. It seems Doug was also the part-time truck driver for my father’s paper converting business and had taught me how to drive a semi-truck. Of course, he let us go, but made me promise never to speed in his town again. To this day, I’ve always honored that promise. Thanks again Doug, and thanks for being a positive influence in my life.

Chuck Klein is the author of many Corvette stories, both true and fiction. He may be reached through his website: www.chuckklein.com

CORVETTE RACING, Circa 1960

© Chuck Klein, 2015

 These true stories are some of many - all of which have been published in various magazines and/or books. 

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