TOMMY MORRISON AND HIS CORVETTES (Part 2)

We are looking at Part 2 in our series on Tommy Morrison and his Corvettes. In Part 1 of the Morrison story, we covered the period from 1984 to the end of the 1989 race season. In Part 2 of the story, we picked up the thread in 1990.

By: Wayne Ellwood and Brett Richmond

Part 1 of the Morrison story covered the period from 1984 to the end of the 1989 race season. In Part 2 of the story, we picked up the thread in 1990.

1990 was the year that Tommy Morrison/Morrison Motorsport re-entered the SCCA World Challenge and also took two cars to Fort Stockton to establish new FIA land speed records. Active racing concluded at the end of the 1995 season, and, by 1999, Morrison Motorsport cashed-in many of their holdings, starting with an E-Bay auction. Tommy had a fifteen-year run in the “pro” series, but it ended badly. As in many other forms of competition, if you want to make a small fortune in racing, you start with a large fortune.

Fort Stockton (TX):

In 1990, GM took its new ZR1 and an L98 to Fort Stockton (TX) to set new FIA distance and speed records. Interestingly, the idea for the record run was initiated by Pete Mills, a west coast automotive writer, and publicist. He had originally developed the idea as a promotional scheme for a tire re-capper but, when they backed out, he took the idea to Stu Hayner.  Hayner, in turn, took it to John Heinricy, who got Jim Minneker involved. The idea was definitely generating interest inside the organization…. for several reasons. First, Minneker had done the 24-hour durability testing on the upcoming ZR1, and he knew the engine could do it. He had also been trying to promote a similar idea a few years earlier. Hayner and Heinricy were also totally convinced it was feasible. Finally, after all, three had talked to other “interested” people inside GM, the idea took root. The publicity value had taken on a life of its own.

GM’s plan centered around Tommy Morrison. Although Chevrolet was definitely wired-up about the possibility of this kind of land speed record, they were equally cautious about the possibility of failure and the cost. Running the project under Morrison’s race shop provided the necessary distance. In the end, part of the budget for the project came from Chevrolet, but Morrison was on the hook to provide more than half the costs from sponsors such as EDS, Goodyear, and his own sponsor, MOBIL 1.

According to the press of the day, two cars were taken to the Firestone test track just outside Fort Stockton (TX).

The L-98 car was a pre-production car that had been given to Tommy Morrison to be used in the FIA land speed trials. Photo Credit: GM Media
The L-98 car was a pre-production car that had been given to Tommy Morrison to be used in the FIA land speed trials. Photo Credit: GM Media

Tommy Morrison’s first car was a white L98-powered Corvette.  Press material stated that the L-98 car was a pre-production car that had been in Chevy’s engineering fleet for a couple of years before it was given to Tommy to be used in the FIA land speed trials. The Gen 2 engine was specially prepared by Kim Baker, using parts from the GM Race Shop catalog…but adhering to the relevant regulations regarding what constitutes “stock.” In the end, they had a nice little engine making very reliable 400 HP.

The L98 engine used a production cylinder block and stock crankshaft and connecting rods. The pistons were 11:1 compression ratio. The motor used a production camshaft with high-ratio rocker arms to increase the valve lift. Both the production cylinder heads, and stock fuel injection systems were heavily modified to increase the air and fuel that could be provided to the motor to generate the power needed to break the records and to visibly run alongside the ZR-1.

The car was lightened by nearly 600 pounds, using provisions set out in the rules book. Especially notable is the fact that although the cars were photographed on the stock 17” Corvette wheels, they actually ran (equally permissible) on Dymags. The 17” Goodyear tires had been specially compounded with (hard) high-speed oval track compound. Goodyear’s sponsorship had included the development of these tires, and it was one of the (several) critical elements which could make the project a go” or “no go.”

Other modifications included a roll cage, fuel cell, five-point harness, and fire suppression system. The outside mirrors were removed, and the pop-up headlights replaced with Hella driving lights. The car ran Z51 springs and a Z51 front anti-roll bar, Delco/Bilstein shocks, a Dana 44 differential housing with 3.07:1 gear, fitted with an oil cooler. The Morrison car also carried a two-way radio communication system and, because FIA rules require that the car carry any equipment required for repairs (other than tires and spark plugs) in the car, two suitcases were fitted to the storage areas, containing an assortment of tools and the most likely parts to suffer from fatigue.

The cars also carried a two-way radio communication system and two suitcases filled with spare parts to perform on-the-road repairs. Photo Credit GM Media
The Morrison cars also carried a two-way radio communication system and two suitcases filled with spare parts to perform on-the-road repairs. Photo Credit GM Media
This third car was a pre-production 1989 ZR-1 made up to look like the record-breaking car, except for some of the more expensive provisions such as a fuel cell. Photo Credit Brett Richmond
This third car was a pre-production 1989 ZR-1 made up to look like the record-breaking car, except for some of the more expensive provisions such as a fuel cell. Photo Credit Brett Richmond

The red ZR1 / LT5 car received similar preparation. But there is also a back story on the on the Fort Stockton cars. Not many people know that there were actually three cars associated with the Ft. Stockton event. The third car (the second ZR-1) was provided for Tommy Morrison to use as a media car for press events. This third car was a pre-production 1989 ZR-1 made up to look identical to the record-breaking car, except for some of the more expensive provisions such as the fuel cell.  This car was number 13 of the pre-productions cars that were held back from the public sale (that year) when the ZR-1 release date was pushed to the 1990 model year.

The red ZR-1 currently resides in the National Corvette Museum. But the L98 car and the ZR-1 press car have been out of the public view for many years. Both are subject to a legal dispute involving Chevrolet and the current (claimed) owner.   

Escort World Challenge (1990-92)

It was also in 1990 year that Morrison Motorsport returned to the (revised) Escort World Challenge. The SCCA had reformulated the old Escort Endurance series and re-named it as the ESCORT World Challenge Championship. It featured two classes, one for high-performance sports cars such as the Corvette and another featuring the lower horsepower sports cars. The SCCA tried to equate dissimilar automobiles, but, according to Morrison and others, they ended-up over-handicapping the Corvette.

For its part, Chevrolet responded with the lessons learned from their prior technical experience with the Corvette Challenge series. The RPO-R9G was a “racer” version of the stock Corvette, fully compliant with the new rules and equipped with the necessary safety equipment by specialty shops under contract to GM.

Optional factory-size wheels and tires were allowed; this included the 11-inch-wide rear rims accommodating Goodyear 335/35/17 tires. The R9G series built for 1990 was largely the same as for the 1989 (R7F) series. The production engine was replaced for the Corvette Challenge Series at Powell Development Americas’ Wixom, Michigan facility with a 300HP race engine. These motors were specifically built by the Flint engine plant and then tuned for equal performance by Specialized Vehicles, Inc. in Troy, Michigan. The estimated output was around 300 HP.  The R9G cars changed over from the Desert Driveline 3” straight pipe dual exhaust, offered in 1989, to an optional factory-sized open exhaust system for 1990. The ZF 6-speed manual transmission offered a higher 3.33:1 final drive ratio improved top-end speeds; limited-slip differential continued as per 1989. Z51 suspension and FX3 selective ride system. J55 HD four-wheel disc brakes with ZR1 booster and improved ABS. Brake ducts and pads were optional to items approved by SCCA

The factory-built twenty-three cars, in VIN sequence, as R9G race cars, but only eight were ever prepped for racing. The balance of the cars in that production run was sold as street-legal cars.

Morrison Motorsport acquired a stock 1990 Car and prepped it to run as the # 99, for the first race. Photo Credit Brett Henderson
Morrison Motorsport acquired a stock 1990 Car and prepped it to run as the # 99, for the first race. Photo Credit Brett Henderson
The second # 99 (1990) was actually an older car from the earlier Escort Endurance Challenge series. Photo Credit GM Media
The second # 99 (1990) was actually an older car from the earlier Escort Endurance Challenge series. Photo Credit GM Media
The two R9G cars would run as # 97 and # 98 in the series. Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood and Ray Thompson
The two R9G cars would run as # 97 and # 98 in the series. Photo Credit Wayne Ellwood and Ray Thompson

Morrison Motorsport entered three cars in the series. It was one of the first teams to order two new R9G cars for the 1990 season. The two R9G cars would run as # 97 and # 98 in the series. One race that may have been the highlight of the season for the Morrison team was the 1990 24-hour race at Mosport Park, near Toronto (ON). Things were going poorly for the # 98 car in the first hour. They were four laps off the pace but, by the 13th hour, they were back in the race. The # 97 car finished 2nd, and the # 98 car finished 1st.  The # 98 car also won the series title that year.

The third car was not an RPO-R9G car. Hedging their bets that the R9G cars might not arrive in time, Morrison Motorsport had also acquired a stock 1990 Car and prepped it to run as the # 99. This car was crashed in its first or second race and was set aside. Morrison then pulled out another car from the Escort Endurance series (the white # 1, as seen in the 1986 BFG poster – i.e., the # 98 winner from 1985). This car ran as the second # 99 (1990) and then as the # 96 car in 1991.

The 1991 and 1992 seasons were not as kind to the team. In fact, by 1992, the team ran only two races. The Mosport, 24-hour race, marked the introduction of a new car (also running under the # 98), which was destined to become part of the 1993-95 group of cars. More about that later.

The “collector” ownership trail on these cars is interesting. The two (real) R9G cars are currently owned by Lance Miller (PA) and Ed Foss (TX).

The trail leading to the current owners of the two versions of the # 99/96 cars is more complex. As for the first non-R9G car (the crashed car), it was repaired. The front framework, door hinge pillar, and suspension were re-worked, as necessary, and the damaged panels were replaced with used body panels from Morrison’s stock. This car was sold to Brett Henderson and was retained for a couple of years before being sold again (in March 2010) to Bruce Grout, who is restoring it.

The second non-R9G car also went back into Morrison’s storage and, subsequently, was sold to Robert Pfeffer (Indianapolis, IN). Robert kept it for a couple of years and then sold it to his son, Jonathon, who drove it in SCCA club racing in the ITE class… painted black. The car ran in SCCA club racing as # 23 and # 10 and is still in the Pfeffer collection.

IMSA (1991)

Morrison Motorsport developed two (possibly three) cars for the 1991 IMSA-FIA 24 Hour race at Daytona and Sebring. The idea of entering this class, in this series, must have been something of a last-minute decision. The GTO group was normally comprised of full tubeframe racers. But the Morrison cars were built on regular ZR1 chassis. In fact, both cars were purchased as used (or wrecked) cars; one had 11,000 miles on it, and the other showed only 9800 miles. However, as cars in the IMSA GTO class had a 2838-pound weight minimum ( plus driver and fuel), it was still feasible to bring the stock cars close to the legal limit using carbon fiber body panels and other weight reduction measures. A total of some 600 pounds was reported to have been taken out of the cars. This was also the first time that production based ZR1 cars had been raced in a pro series.

According to available data, car # 91 ran a closer-to-stock configuration of the ZR1 engine. The # 92 car carried a more highly modified engine with special porting and machine work done at Mercury Marine. Additional modifications included racing brakes, HD suspension parts, and a 3.54:1 axle ratio.

IMSA’s GTO class comprised full tube-frame racers, but the Morrison cars were built on regular ZR1 chassis.
IMSA’s GTO class comprised full tube-frame racers, but the Morrison cars were built on regular ZR1 chassis.

In the Daytona race, car # 91 suffered a variety of problems, with the most serious being an off-road excursion that damaged the oil cooler. This car finished 6th in class and 21st overall. The # 92 car finished 4th in class and 12th overall. Car # 92 was also taken to the 12 hours of Sebring, where it finished 5th in class and 16th overall. At Mosport, Heinricy crashed the # 91 car.

The cars did not run any other races in the IMSA series in 1991, nor did they run the series in 1992.

Later, in 1997, the # 92 car was donated to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington (DC), where it can still be seen. As suggested above, it has also been stated by other sources that two # 92 cars were built.  So, in addition to the car in the Smithsonian, there is another # 92 car extant….which one has the good engine, we ask?

IMSA (1993-95)

As noted, before, Morrison Motorsport ran only two races in the SCCA World Challenge in 1992. At the first race (Firebird Raceway), the team continued with the original # 97 and # 98 cars from 1990 and 1991. However, at the Mosport 6 Hour Endurance race, they entered a new car, running as # 98. This car had only recently delivered to the Morrison shop, where it was quickly rebuilt for the 1992 Mosport endurance race. It was outfitted with all necessary race equipment, as well as those items specific to Morrison Motorsport. The LT1 engine was pulled, and an LT5 (ZR1) engine installed. It is assumed that this engine was similar to other ZR1 engines that Morrison had used, sourced from GM. After the 1992 Mosport race, the car was repainted in a ruby red and white paint scheme (40th Anniversary color) and used for brake testing for a new system which would…as it turned out…be used at the 1993 Daytona 24 Hour race.

For 1993, and after the Daytona deal was confirmed, the car was disassembled and rebuilt as # 93. A second car (# 94) was built to support Morrison’s driver line-up. Both cars ran the ruby red over white paint scheme, and both cars were equipped with Delco’s experimental three-piston calipers on the front and standard Z07 brakes on the rear.

Car # 94 was a new build, based on a shell from Bowling Green, hence no VIN. The frame rails behind the rear wheels were fabricated in tubular construction to support a racing fuel cell. The rear clip was a one-piece fiberglass component, and all fiberglass pieces (except the doors) were also of lightened construction. The team used standard Z07 suspension, springs, and control arms. Car # 94 was also ZR1 powered. There were notations in the media that the engine used for the # 94 car was built with a prototype ZR1 engine (with X in stamping). Of course, this adds nothing to the engine’s output but is an interesting sidelight. The transmission for this car was a Hewland 6-speed modified by a shop in Arizona, under contract to Morrison, to fit the Corvette.

For 1993, the cars wore the Ruby Red 40th-anniversary color, over white.  Photo Credit Walt Thurn
For 1993, the Morrison cars wore the Ruby Red 40th-anniversary color, over white. Photo Credit Walt Thurn
1993 # 94 IMSA GTO
1993 # 94 IMSA GTO
By 1994 a more traditional red color was used in a slightly modified paint scheme. Photo Credits Walt Thurn
By 1994 a more traditional red color was used in a slightly modified paint scheme. Photo Credits Walt Thurn

Both cars benefitted from the new Snakeskinner bodywork. It was also reported (in magazine articles of the time) that there were a few modifications that accompanied the new bodywork, which was not spotted by SCCA technical inspectors. The windshield was alleged to have been raked back to lower the roofline by 1 ½ inch. This produced a better co-efficient of drag. The side skirts were reported to be good for an additional 7 MPH at top speed. It is not clear if GM designers were involved.

For the 1993 series, IMSA created a new class called GT Invitational. This combined rules from Le Mans GT, FIS AGT, and FIA Group B. It was a class intended for production-based two-seaters. The team qualified well for the Daytona race with Pilgrim putting the # 94 car on the pole for its class at one minute, 59.030 seconds. The # 93 car was close behind with a time of one minute, 59.181 seconds.

During the race, the team encountered serious problems with the fuel hoses. The hoses were found to be corroded to the point that the cars would not run. It turned out that the regular supplier had shipped “non-cured” hoses. A quick switch to braided aircraft quality hoses didn’t solve all the problems. Regardless, both cars finished under their own power, in formation. Car # 94 was 7th in class and 33rd overall. Car # 93 was 8th in class and 43rd overall.

After the 1993 Daytona 24 Hour race, the team re-designed the fuel system. The cars were then taken to the Sebring 12 Hour race and to Road America for IMSA races. At Sebring, car # 94 finished 2nd in class (14 laps down) ad 14th overall. Car # 93 finished 3rd in class and 15th overall (14 laps down).

1994 # 94 1994 IMSA Sebring.  Photo Credits Walt Thurn
1994 # 94 1994 IMSA Sebring. Photo Credits Walt Thurn

For 1994, Morrison Motorsport ran only the two IMSA races at Daytona and Sebring.  Again, IMSA had updated its rules to create a separate category called “Le Mans 1” within the GTS class…again intended for production-based cars conforming to Le Mans regulations. Morrison’s cars were carry-overs with a more normal shade of red replacing the ruby red in a slightly updated paint scheme. The team also brought one spare car to the Daytona race. This was a 1992 LT1 model (VIN 1G1YY23P6N5106717). It was not used.

Results for Daytona and Sebring were encouraging. At Daytona, car # 94 was 4th in class and 7th overall. But # 93 was 11th in class and 32nd overall. At Sebring, car # 94 placed 19 in class and 34th overall. Car # 93 was right behind, with an 11th in class and 36th overall.

After the IMSA events at Daytona and Sebring, the team then ran five races (out of seven) in the SCCA World Challenge as # 89, # 90, and # 91. Car # 91 was run only once at Mid-Ohio by Del Percilla… this was the car that had originally been acquired as a spare for Daytona. Del Percilla ran only one race in 1994 in the SCCA World Challenge.

For 1995 SCCA WC cars ran as # 92, 93, and # 94 while, for IMSA, the cars were renumbered as # 95 and # 96. All cars now ran with the Grand Sport (blue and white) style paint scheme. Two cars from the original build ran as # 95 and # 96 in IMSA GTS-1.  At Daytona, the # 96 car placed 3rd in class and 19th overall. Car # 95 was 10th in class and 31st overall.

For the 1995 SCCA Word Challenge, the cars ran as # 93 and # 94. There was also one car (# 92) that ran one race at Road America with Michael Brudenell driving. This car was originally thought to be an upgrade to Percilla’s # 91 from the prior year, but information from the 1999 E-Bay auction suggests that this car was more likely to have been a new build, which also ran in the SCCA GT1 (club racing) and NASA circuits. Michael Brudenelll drove # 92 in SCCA GT1, and John Heinricy drove # 94 in several NASA events.

The year 1995 was the end of the line.  After this season, Morrison Motorsport did not race again.

Cars # 89, # 90 and # 91 were part of the 1994 Grand Opening event at the National Corvette Museum. Most spectators didn’t know what they were seeing. Photo Credits Wayne Ellwood
Cars # 89, # 90 and # 91 were part of the 1994 Grand Opening event at the National Corvette Museum. Most spectators didn’t know what they were seeing. Photo Credits Wayne Ellwood
For 1995 the Snakeskinner cars adopted a blue and white Grand Sport paint theme. Photo Credit Brett Richmond
For 1995 the Snakeskinner cars adopted a blue and white Grand Sport paint theme. Photo Credit Brett Richmond
Morrison team cars were also contracted out to run in SCCA GT1 and NASA events.
Morrison team cars were also contracted out to run in SCCA GT1 and NASA events.

Epilogue:

This was the end of the era for Morrison Motorsport. Nearly fifteen years of racing had taken their toll on Morrison Motorsport. And, of course, GM had also been going through a rough period and could no longer leverage its suppliers to be the “invisible” hand behind their racing aspirations.

The story of what happens for an organization in these circumstances can get a little dirty. It’s not our role to comment on these final stages, except as it helps to track the actual cars. Still, here’s just two small examples of how these things tend to unfold. If our wording seems a bit vague, just remember there are ongoing legal cases which require that we reserve our opinions.

In May of 1997, in the process of putting his affairs in order, Tommy donated one of the two 1991-92 IMSA GTO cars (# 92) to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington (DC). This was good press for Tommy, and the Corvette community was pleased to see one of their favorite cars honored this way.

Several cars were also offered for sale around the 1997 time period. One notable sale was the # 94 SCCA WC Snakeskinner with Grand Sport-style paint. It was sold to a gentleman in one of the western states, under a conditional contract. The purchaser was to offer his 1994 ZR1 plus $ 150,000 cash. The deal included a 40-foot enclosed trailer and a one-ton pick-up for towing. According to the purchaser, the deal was conditional upon the car being presented in tune and condition suitable to the 1999 Silver state Classic. On delivery, the car and the truck/trailer were deemed to be unsatisfactory, and a dispute evolved. The dispute raged for two years, during which time the car was run in all four major open road races (Silver State, Pony Express, Big Bend, and Gamblers Twin 50).

In 1997, the # 94 SCCA WC Snakeskinner was sold to a gentleman racer with a view to running the 1999 Silver state Classic. The car was later repossessed.  Photo Credit Team ZR-1 Corvette Racers LLC
In 1997, the # 94 SCCA WC Snakeskinner was sold to a gentleman racer with a view to running the 1999 Silver state Classic. The car was later repossessed. Photo Credit Team ZR-1 Corvette Racers LLC

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