Bob’s 1957 Corvette Road Racer

'57 at Willow Springs 2_1

The other day one of our readers sent in some photos of a Corvette race car in hopes of tracking down more details of its history. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to dig up much, but Bob was still kind enough to share the story of one of his other Corvettes. Keep reading to find out how this racer went from the track to the barn and back again. Thanks Bob!

'57 at Riverside 2

My 1957 road race Corvette was raced in the mid-1960s in southern California.  It was purchased by a gentleman in Michigan in the mid-1970s minus engine and transmission.  A restoration was begun later and cracked body panels replaced, the body removed and the chassis completely disassembled and the frame powder coated.  After that, it sat until the owner decided he would never have time to finish it and I purchased it as a literal basket case with everything completely apart and in boxes.

'57 at Riverside

Fortunately, the contact information for one driver was known and came with the car and I was able to find the other driver with the help of Bill Gould of AutoAncestry.  The story is theirs.

The 1957 Corvette was purchased by Larry Leedy (now deceased) in 1964 and was race-prepared by Larry and his friend, Bob Spicer.  Larry and Bob were young aeronautical engineers at the time who eventually worked on the Saturn V program and had a love of racing.  They were members of the California Sports Car Club, or Cal Club, section of the SCCA.  With a limited budget, they did all the work themselves and added a 1960-61 290/315 HP fuel injection unit to the 283 engine that they beefed up for racing and used a 1961-62 aluminum radiator with overflow tank.  They used the larger 2.5-inch 1963 Corvette ram’s horn exhaust, but ported the inside for better air flow.  The over-the-counter heavy-duty suspension, or “Big Brake,” package, called the “Sebring Package” by the California racers, was purchased that consisted of finned drums, vented brake backing plates with air scoops, brake fans, five-leaf rear springs, HD front coils and second front sway bar.  They also shortened the steering column by four inches.  All items not necessary for racing were removed to reduce weight and the windshield was replaced with a Plexiglas wind screen.

Larry’s impaired vision in one eye prevented him from getting his SCCA license, so Bob became the primary driver.  The Corvette’s first race was at Willow Springs in 1965 and Bob recalls that they had no number on the car and hastily used electrical tape to make the #1 and the BP on the car.  The photograph shows Bob leading another 1957 Corvette #77 driven by well-known race driver, Joe Frietas.  Bob thought nothing of driving the solid-axle Corvette at speeds up to 150 mph, while passing Stingrays with surprised drivers.  He said they were ten-feet-tall and bulletproof back then!

The two photos showing the car with its official SCCA #73 are at the August 1966 Riverside Six-Hour Enduro.  For this race, Bob teamed up with fellow Cal Club member, Fred Yeakel, and each took a three-hour turn at the wheel.  Due to the duration of the race, Fred loaned the Corvette his 37.5-gallon steel tank from a 1956 Corvette SR-2 and a circle of drill holes was made in the middle of the deck lid and sawed out to accommodate the center fill.  Bob went first and both photos are of him.  One photo is a close-up of the car and the big tank fill can be seen in the middle of the deck lid.  The other is of him coming out from under the Champion Bridge with several other cars, including a big-block Stingray, trailing.  They started with a full tank and added five gallons at each pit stop so as to end the race as close to empty as possible.  For their efforts, Bob and Fred were rewarded with First in Class and Second Overall, with a Shelby Team Mustang taking First Overall.

Fred went on to drive the ’57 Corvette again at the 1966 Santa Barbara Labor Day Weekend Races, coming in Second in Class and Seventh Overall, one slot ahead of well-known race driver, Andy Porterfield.  For this race, Fred switched out the ’57’s #73 with his own SCCA #97.

Bob drove the car at the March 1967 Willow Springs race, where he logged in a Third in Class.  

These four races are the only four races for which I currently have documentation.  Fred drove the ’57 only at Riverside and Santa Barbara.  Bob drove it at the Enduro and the two Willow Springs races mentioned.  Bob relates that he did a lot of racing in the car from early 1965 through at least 1967, but does not have any documentation and cannot recall which ones in specific that he raced in.

'57 Racer at Santa Barbara

So, I am seeking information on any of the other races that the car participated in.  And I am also seeking the whereabouts of Thomas L. Milana of Hollywood, California, who took all four photographs of the car that I currently have to see if he may have more.

57 Race Chassis at Hampton 4_1

I am currently in the process of restoring the car to its configuration at the 1966 Enduro.  The body is nearly ready for paint and the chassis is virtually finished with the 4.11 posi and original Sebring Package it ran with and a replacement, race-prepared 283 engine.  I did much of the restoration of the replacement fuel injection unit and it is now in the hands of a professional rebuilder who is finishing the fuel meter and high-pressure pump and tweaking the air meter.  The tires are nearly identical reproduction Goodyear race tires, which were used at the Enduro and mounted on American Torq Thrust wheels, which the car also used.  Almost finished is a fiberglass 37-gallon center fill tank I’m having built that will take the place of the steel tank that has been in an original SR-2 since the 1970s.

57 Race Chassis at Hampton 3_1

Once I’m done, I hope to take the car to California to an event such as the Monterey Historics and reunite it with Bob and Fred for the first time in a half century!

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Comments

  1. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    ..Way to go, Bob. ! !

    Exactly what should be done with these old racers…

    what area is the car located now ???

    Dave

  2. sir mike

    great story..keep us updated on your progress.

  3. RickyM

    Fantastic history of a great car. Well done for taking on this project and looking forward to seeing pictures when all completed, plus hearing about how you got on in tracing Mr Milana and reuniting the car with its original racers. Great story. Good luck!

  4. Rancho Bella

    I love a frame you can eat off of……………better than a plate

  5. grant

    forgive my ignorance, but why a fiberglass fuel tank? i’ve only ever seen that in a few older boats and it generally is looked upon disfavorably…

    1
  6. Michael

    Under the adage of never assume anything…have you tried the guys at the registry of corvette race cars? Super knowledgeable guys with a lot of connections/photos/history etc…good luck in your search I know it can be both fun and frustrating!

    Mike

  7. Alan (Michigan)

    This is a great story.

    All of us pretty much will say something like “If I’d only known…” followed by a lamenting that we should have kept, or bought, or preserved one or more special cars years ago.

    The thing is, doing the archeological research on, and restoring cars like this makes for such great stories, and such a worthwhile way to spend time. Thanks for sharing, Bob!

  8. Fred Yeakel

    I did not know that you were able to contact Bob. Is he still here in SoCal? Here is a picture of my 57 Corvette that I raced in 1965/56 and vintage from 79 to 91 when my daughter Jeni took over the driving chores until 2007. She almost disowned me when I sold the 57.

    • Bob Spicer

      Fred: Yes I am alive and well. It is good to know the same about you. I have lived in Utah since 1977 and I did see Larry’s car in Salt Lake City shortly after I moved. Larry sold it to someone in Salt Lake but I do not recall who. We had a great time in those days with the Corvettes Limited club and then racing. At the Enduro at Riverside Raceway, I still think that we would have beaten Shelby’s pit crew team if I had not been “black flagged” on the first lap. Larry and I had practiced getting off quickly in a Le Mans start. He buckled me in and I started the car and let the clutch out. As a result I passed 30 or 40 cars and was in the lead at the start. The officials thought I was not buckled in which put me at the back of the pack. Then, you and I had to claw our way all the way back to up to 2nd place by the end of the race. We passed a lot of cars, 60+? You did a great job driving that day (3 hours each driver, 1.5hrs on and 1.5hrs off.) I do not know if you recall, but we were pitted next to the Shelby Crew when Carroll Shelby came by and said to Larry “I did not know that pig could go that fast.” I guess he did not know what Larry could do to a 283 engine, 9000+ rpm was easy! Regards, Bob S.

  9. BrentF

    Re: “So, I am seeking information on any of the other races that the car participated in.”

    I suggest you get in touch with CA-based Jim Gessner of Corvette Museum Hall of Fame fame. Jim Gessner is well versed in the racing histories of C1 and C2 era Corvettes and that’s why he was so honored by the Corvette Museum.

    Tell Jim Brent says hello

    You can find Jim here:
    http://www.vettefinderjim.com/

    • JIM GESSNER

      I know Bob well and have helped him to this point. I did not know however of him finding Bob, That is great news. Fred’s silver 57, photo above, is now in SEATTLE and being raced and well cared for by RON ERICKSON. I am sure he will be down next year to the WINE COUNTRY CLASSIC at SONOMA RACEWAY in May and Monterey in August. These would be two great venues for a reunion. Also, PAUL REINHART’s purple car has been purchased by a racer from Seattle who I understand will vintage race it, and JOE FREITAS / DAVE MACDONALD whit 57 #77 was sold two weeks ago to a racer from Los Altos, California. Hopefully, we will have some great 57 vintage Corvette racing in 2015.

  10. Ric Parrish

    Now that’s what I’m talkin about, that’s why we love the vettes.

  11. jim s

    yes back when the drivers head was higher then the top of the rollbar! i love looking at all the work that went into making the drum brakes work and last. in the first photo the white vette has the tail out and the second vette has the nose pushing. in the second photo the saab sure looks tall. i have to wonder how many of the cars drove to and from the races. thanks for sharing and more photos please..

    • Bob Spicer

      In those days, if the back end was not hanging out some, you were not going fast enough in the corners. And likewise, if you were not “plowing” some going into a corner, then you were not going deep enough to win. Corvettes of that era were big on plowing so Larry and I did all we could to get weight off the front end and still stay legal. As I recall, when you went thru a series of reversing corners fast enough, it was a slight drift all the way through, floating on rubber; very exciting at the time. During one of the races at Willow Springs, I went too fast, too deep into the corner shown in Picture number 1, and chose to go straight off the track (instead of sideways) into the dirt in a cloud of dust. I just kept on going and got back on the track, with little loss of time, and continued the race. That would scare the hell of me today. Age has a way of making one very cautious.

  12. Fred Yeakel

    The first picture is Willow Springs and Bob Spicer is exiting turn 3 as the second Corvette is heading for the apex. you have to get the entry correct as it is a very steep up hill turn and mini straight to turn 4. The third picture is the exit of turn 6 at Riverside International Raceway. At the Riverside enduro, Bob got black flagged at the start of the race. It was a Le Mans start. We had the shoulder belts loose to make it easy for Bob to buckle up. Coming down the long back straight, Bob reached up and pulled the belts tight. The officials did not like that and brought Bob in for “consultation” before letting him continue.

    Here is a picture of my first Corvette. It was a 59 that I bought off the track after the 1963 Memorial Day races at Santa Barbara. The picture was taken at the Cal Club drivers school at Riverside

  13. Bob Baird

    Hello to all and especially to Fred and Jim!

    The car is right here in Ol’ Virginny. The reason for the fiberglass tank is that I know of no place that makes a 37-gallon tank of steel. In 1961-62, the 37-gallon fiberglass tank was available from Chevrolet and was used in the Corvette race cars of that era. The person who has molds of that tank is building me one.

    As Jim noted, we’re friends already and #73 is listed in the Registry of Corvette Race Cars. You will find no better place than that for information on just about every known Corvette Race car. I encourage everyone to join.

    And, Fred, I’ll be looking forward to hearing when Jeni finally buys back your ’57 race car!

    Thanks to all and Happy New Year!

    Bob

  14. Dave @ OldSchool Restorations of North Alabama USA

    @ Bob Baird
    . As I already posted, I think that is a great restoration
    .
    Regarding the fiberglass tank .. That really surprises me, that anyone restoring a car for todays Vintage Racing Events would use a tank like that.
    …. as a restorer of vintage race cars, I know of only a couple Vintage road racing Organizations that do not REQUIRE all fuel cells that are certified FT-3 in all post war classes…. and at the least, require the FT3 bladder in a METAL tank.

    FIBERGLASS BURNS… at least the resin does, so that fuel tank is a BOMB, and today is recognized as an absolute safety hazard. ..not only to the driver, but to track workers as well

    Do you have some special dispensation from the rules ???

    I’d be interested in knowing from which Groups you have one.

    Dave Perry

  15. Fred Yeakel

    As can be seen in this picture, my Cheetah originally came with fiberglass side tanks. We used them as masters to make aluminum tanks. Then I had fuel cells made to fit in the tanks. Bob you might consider this route.

  16. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    @Fred..

    Do you run over 1 hour endures….or only sprints ??? How many gallon capacity do you have ??? I need to do the same for a 58 Special, C Mod, with a 55 Pontiac V8 C Modified , and thought I might use dual tanks this time

    Dave

  17. Fred Yeakel

    The Cheetah has a fuel tank on each side. They are 10 gallons each. I use approximately 5 gallons for a 25 minute session. The car originally had a rear tank also. It was removed by the previous owner to make room for a luggage compartment.

  18. JDL

    Hey Fred I was at the auction for your 1957. I can’t believe how little these old vetts sell for at auction. I am planning on selling my old 1956 drag car that we are building for the January Gooding auction. It was restored to resemble the 1956 no 1 SR car. See you in Monterey.

  19. Chris A.

    Nice to see a reference to Dave McDonald and the Corvette he shared with Freitas. I met Dave at Watkins Glen when he was racing Shelby Cobras. We had a great chat about the Cobras and his plans for racing. It was his first time at Watkins Glen and he thought the track and area was just wonderful. He deserved better luck.

  20. Jim Gessner

    I agree. I know this car and also the 57 MacDonald / Freitas car. It was just sold to a collector in Pennsylvania.

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