In the automotive world, some cars were just born to race, such as the 1969 L88 Corvette pictured here at speed during the 2010 Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Since new, its series of owners have pushed the limits of its fiberglass body, chassis and the aforementioned 430hp 427-cu.in. engine. One such demanding owner is Jason Len, from San Luis Obispo, California. In fact, Jason has the distinct honor of having been this Corvette's caretaker twice.
Jason's history with this Chevy first began in 1979. Having raced European sports cars in SCCA, he felt it was time to step up into the professional ranks. "At the time, IMSA was going strong and the GTO class presented the opportunity to see what I could do. The 'cheapest' competitive GTO car was the Corvette," he explained. "The previous owner had installed a Greenwood wide-body conversion and was running some of the West Coast IMSA GTO events. But before I could enter any IMSA race, I first had to get my FIA license."
That goal was achieved in part thanks to Jason's efforts in SCCA A-production events, and by the time the 1981 season had begun, he was ready for his first IMSA challenge: the six-hour L.A. Times Grand Prix at California's Riverside International Raceway. Preparing for the race would prove to be a monumental task. Jason recalled that he could barely afford the cost of fuel for the event, so the push was on to find sponsorship, a task that soon yielded $500 thanks to the support of two local businesses. Then there was the task of collecting the various spare parts that would surely be required during the racing effort.
"It occurred to us that another challenge was how to fill a 40-gallon fuel cell. With the help of some good friends, we built a fuel tower from scrap steel and a 55-gallon oil drum. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Unfortunately, none of the gear or the rig would fit in my truck, so I had to borrow a 40-foot enclosed trailer... but my truck could barely pull it 50 MPH."
In the end, Jason's efforts paid off as he and the rest of the low-budget team made it to Riverside. Jason had selected an experienced Super Vee driver to co-pilot his steed during the event, although Jason managed to turn faster lap times during practice. In the end, the Corvette would start 47th on the 52-car grid.
The strategy was simple: run at a conservative, yet competitive pace. All went according to plan for the private effort; however, after more than two hours had passed, a rocker-arm stud snapped within the L88, ending their race in 52nd position. "I ran one other IMSA race, as well as some SCCA A-production events; I even lent the car to established racer Paul Currin, who was competing for a title and needed a car for one of the West Coast IMSA races."
But Jason came to recognize that serious racing requires a serious commitment. "After a couple of years, I realized I was in over my head, and combined with a growing business, it was taking its toll. I sold the car, never having won a race with it. In fact, Currin was the only one to score IMSA points with the Corvette during my ownership."
In an effort to feed his competitive spirit, Jason reverted to racing a Jaguar in SCCA, and later in vintage events; it also provided a better business tie-in and was less of a burden on his budget. Yet the Corvette still beckoned him. A little over five years ago, he began a search for his old IMSA racer; in 2005, an ad online detailed what he was sure was the car. "I had retained one of the old log books, so I was able to ask the seller what the numbers were on the roll bar--they were a dead match."
Although it was essentially disassembled, with only a few of the body panels retained, Jason bought the Corvette and began a three-year restoration that would transform it back to its 1981 as-raced appearance.
"I have a lot of fun racing it in vintage events--it's a far better car now than it was then. The Chevy now has power steering, and it was professionally weight-balanced and subjected to a proper alignment; modern brake fluid made a big improvement, as well. Under the hood is a 454-cu.in. block, since the original L88 is long gone. It also helps to have a proper budget. Better yet, I've been able to win with it, twice--something I had not done the first time around."
This article originally appeared in the December, 2010 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines