The Detroit Free Press describes the family atmosphere of the Corvette Racing Team.
CORVETTE CAMARADERIE: Championship team with Detroit ties is practically a family
July 21, 2006
BY MIKE BRUDENELL
FREE PRESS RACING WRITER
A Corvette C6.R races around a corner during the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in June in France. (DAVID VINCENT/Associated Press)
Sometimes you come across a race team that seems too good to be true: crews and drivers who get along with manufacturers and sponsors, and, more importantly, each other.
In a sport in which winning is everything and second place is referred to as "first loser," the folks at Corvette Racing are a breath of fresh air.
Yes, they win, and win often, but from veteran lead driver Ron Fellows, who grew up in Windsor and Port Huron, to the Pratt & Miller people of New Hudson, who build the cars and support the team, there’s a special spirit and sense of purpose and belonging within the group.
They don’t make a habit of slamming each other, pointing fingers or demanding top-dog billing. They’re about as close to the perfect sports team as you can get, in an era when professional athletes and owners seem to enjoy making buffoons of themselves.
CR celebrated its GT1 class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June — its fifth such win since 1999 and third in a row — in Detroit with primary sponsor Compuware during a trophy presentation and parade downtown that culminated with a celebration Tuesday at GM World Headquarters at the Renaissance Center.
On Monday night, I had dinner with the team members, including most of the drivers, who’d flown into Detroit from across America to share a glass of champagne at the Rattlesnake Club.
They’re not your everyday bunch of racers. They’re true stars who checked their egos at the front door and spent the evening laughing and having a good time.
Fellows, 46, could be the nicest race car driver out there. He’s also one of the fiercest competitors on the track, having shared cars with Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 24 Hours of Daytona event.
He has raced in NASCAR in the past, and probably could get a ride anywhere, but he chose Corvette and GM Racing in the mid-1990s and has made a home with it.
Fellows, who now lives near Toronto, hopes to stay with the team another 10 years — "or at least until they find out how old I am," he joked.
"The Corvette is just a world-class sports car, and what we’ve accomplished on the world stage against Ferrari, Aston Martin and Lamborghini, among others, is unbelievable," Fellows said. "I’m very proud and honored to be part of it all."
Fellows visits Detroit at least once a month. His uncle lives here, and he enjoys watching the Red Wings, although he is a Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holder.
"I’m a lucky guy," Fellows said. "I feel a very strong bond with my fellow drivers and the Pratt & Miller guys. They’re a bunch I would have dinner with and ask to my house for the night. I’ve been around crews before that I wouldn’t have considered doing that."
Corvette Racing, which competes at Le Mans in France and in the American Le Mans Series boasts five other drivers who could write their own ticket at any racing organization: Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, Johnny O’Connell, Max Papis and Denmark’s Jan Magnussen, a former Formula One driver.
Magnussen drove for (Jackie) Stewart Grand Prix in F1 in 1997-98. He was considered a future world champion — young, fearless and skilled. He left Stewart for sports car racing, joining Corvette Racing in 2004. Eating a piece of celebratory cake made by Rattlesnake owner and chef Jimmy Schmidt, Magnussen explained why.
"I didn’t like the politics of F1," he said. "Jackie (Stewart) was OK, but the rest, well?"
Magnussen now feels like he’s with a family at Corvette.
"I can relax, be myself and go racing," he said. "I love America and the people. I’m enjoying myself."
Corvette Racing’s family atmosphere that filled the Rattlesnake Club earlier this week probably was summed up best when drivers, Pratt & Miller members and GM executives, including Chevy general manager Ed Peper, stood as one to toast Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing’s program manager.
Fehan said later: "I think GM gets what we have here — a world-class car and road racing machine and a great group of people. It makes me proud to be part of this."
Contact MIKE BRUDENELL at 313-222-2115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.