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by TOM BENFORD
BEHIND THE WHEEL OF NUMBER 3 Tom’s Corvette Story
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In 1960, Briggs Cunningham, American entrepreneur and sportsman, entered 3 brand new, modified Corvettes in the LeMans 24-Hour Endurance Race in France. Racing legend John Fitch drove the #3 car to become the first Corvette ever to win the 24-hour LeMans race. In so doing, the Corvette was finally taken seriously as a world-class sports car and an automobile that could compete – and win – against the absolute best that Europe had to offer. The late Chip Miller, co-founder of Carlisle Events, purchased the car in 2000 and spent upwards of a quarter- million dollars to restore it to its 1960 race-ready condition. His dream was to have it return to LeMans in 2010 to once again drive a victory lap around the course, with John Fitch, its original driver, behind the wheel. Sadly, Chip passed away in March, 2004 of a rare and obscure disease known as amyloidosis, never to see his dream realized. But his son, Lance, picked up the torch and saw to it that the #3 car did get to LeMans last year for the 50th anniversary of its win there a half-century ago, and John Fitch (at 92 years of age!) was indeed at the wheel. The entire story of the #3 car, how it took hundreds of hours of research to find it and the incredible amount of work required to restore it, not to mention all the customs and other red-tape that had to be unraveled for it to return to France for the 50th anniversary, is all documented in The Quest, a documentary DVD from Michael Brown Productions. And so, on November 6th a few years back, while I was covering the 5th Annual Corvettes for Chip benefit Corvette show in West Chester, PA,  for www.AllAboutVettes.com, I had the opportunity to chat with Lance and he said, “Hey, Tom – why don’t you get behind the wheel of #3 and let me take a picture of you, OK?” Well, I’ve got to tell you, from having worked with Corvettes literally on a daily basis since 1996, I’m a bit jaded and it takes quite a bit to get a rise out of me when it comes to them. I am privileged to say that I was friends with legendary Corvette designer Larry Shinoda and I knew John Fitch as well as Jerry Burton, Dave McLellan, Dana Forrester, Mike Yager, Scott Kohn, Dave Hill, Tom Wallace, John Cafaro, Harlan Charles, Wendell Strode and Kevin Mackay in addition to Bill Miller (the other co-founder of Carlisle Events), Lance Miller and dozens of other luminaries of the Corvette world personally. So, to say that I was thrilled and delighted to take Lance up on this offer is a bit of an understatement. I got goose-bumps when I sat in the driver seat; the overwhelming sense of Corvette history that came over me was incredible and escapes description. But I think the smile on my face in this photo pretty much says it all! I was sitting behind the wheel of the real deal – the one Corvette that put this small, unassuming plastic car on the international racing scene big time – and the rest is, literally – history!
Click on photo for larger view