America’s Sports Car
The Chevy Corvette has held a special place in the hearts of American race car enthusiasts for several decades. Starting with its iconic role in the hit television show, Route 66, the Chevy Corvette has remained popular in both the media and on local roadways. Since 1978, this vehicle has been featured as a pace car for the Indy 500. Chevy Corvettes have been used in this annual event as a pace car… not once, not twice but for a whopping total of fifteen times. Driven by big-screen actors, television personalities, athletes, war heroes, and legendary race car drivers, the Chevy Corvette is as much a car for the rich and famous as it is for the car-loving American watching the race from home. The Corvette offers a test drive like no other, which is accessible to anyone browsing around their local Chevy dealership.
First Round On the Racetrack
The Chevy Corvette first made its debut on the Indy 500 race track in 1978. In the driver’s seat was none other than Jim Rathmann, winner of the 1960 Indianapolis 500. Jim Rathmann’s famous name has an interesting story behind it. As a teenager, he swapped names with his brother in order to participate in racing. He was only sixteen at the time (and going by Dick Rathmann). He needed to borrow his older brother’s ID in order to qualify. His brother’s name, Jim Rathmann, stuck with him from that point on and that’s how he remained to be known in the public eye.
This particular Corvette, had a two-toned black and silver body. New at the time was it’s fastback rear end with wraparound glass. It was well-liked by audiences. After the impressive show, Chevrolet went on to produce 6,502 replicas of this model.
Eight Years Later, The Corvette Is Back on the Track
In 1986, the Chevy Corvette was chosen again as a pace car for the Indy 500. This time it was driven by Chuck Yeager, a former US Air Force Officer. Chuck Yeager was no stranger to speed. His claim to fame was in 1947 when he broke through the sound barrier by exceeding the speed of sound through flight. Two days before he was set to take flight on this record-breaking challenge, Yeager broke two ribs falling off a horse. He kept his injury quiet, which didn’t stop him from setting a new record in flying speed.
Chuck Yeager’s long-standing career in the Air Force lasted for 70 years. He played an important role through World War II, The Cold War, and The Vietnam War. Featuring him in the Indy 500 was a way to bring attention and gratitude to this accomplished American hero. The yellow Chevy Corvette that he used to set the pace was later reproduced for a total of 7,315 vehicles. The release included official graphics that could be installed by car owners as desired.
Indy Pace Cars of the 1990s
The Chevy Corvette was featured twice as a pace car for the Indy 500 in the nineties. First in 1995, driven by Chevy General Manager, Jim Perkins. This car was painted with a horizontal split, mauve purple on the upper half and white on the bottom half. Swirling white stripes resembling a wave of speed were painted along the sides. Only 527 replicas of this car were produced.
Just three years later in 1998, the Indy pace was again set by a Corvette. The car was striking with a dark, eggplant-colored body and glaring yellow wheels, stripes, and seats. Originally, golfer Greg Norman was scheduled to drive it, but an injury prevented him from being able to do it on race day. Instead, Parnelli Jones (winner of the 1963 Indy 500) took on this honorable task. Chevy produced 1,158 replicas of this car.
Famous Actors In The Driver’s Seat
In 2002 and 2004, the pace Corvettes were driven by Hollywood stars. Jim Caviezel (known for his role as Jesus in the movie, The Passion of the Christ) drove the 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette. The car was svelte, with a deep burgundy exterior. No replicas of this vehicle were produced, but the graphics were available and ended up selling 300 sets. In 2004, the legendary actor and director Morgan Freeman took the wheel, driving an American Flag themed Corvette.
Continuing a Five Year Streak
After Morgan Freeman’s turn on the track, Chevy Corvettes continued forward on a five-year streak of setting the pace for the Indianapolis 500. From 2004-2008, Chevy dominated the event. Big-name drivers including General Colin Powell, Lance Armstrong, Patrick Dempsey, Emerson Fittipaldi (Formula One World Champion), were all given a chance to make history in this exciting role. The 2008 Corvette, driven by Fittipaldi, was painted in shiny metallic green paint. It ran on E-85 ethanol, helping to clean up the reputation of race cars and high emissions.
Interesting Choices for 2012 and 2013
Lead driver picks for the Indy 500 pace cars took a new turn in 2012, featuring celebrity chef, Guy Fieri. He drove a ZR1 Chevy Corvette, with 638 horsepower, painted bright white with a black double race stripe down the front hood. Jim Campbell, Vice President of Chevrolet Performance Vehicles and Motorsports stated: “We are excited to have Guy Fieri drive the Corvette ZR1, the official Pace Car for the 2012 Indianapolis 500…Guy will bring his genuine enthusiasm as he leads the starting field to the green flag for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. We are humbled by his passion for Chevy and ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’”
The following year in 2013, American football coach, Jim Harbaugh, took the wheel. He set the pace with a vibrant cobalt blue Stingray. This event introduced the new 2014 model for the Chevy Corvette’s 7th Generation debut.
The Most Recent Chevy Corvette Pace Cars
Chevrolet continues to be a mainstay at the Indianapolis 500. In 2015, legendary Nascar driver Jeff Gordon drove a clean white Z06 Corvette to set the pace. Next came the Grand Sport Corvette in 2017, driven by movie and television actor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The vehicle brought back Chevy’s patriotic design with red, white, and blue accents. It also introduced an optional “carbon filter aero package” by Chevy.
In 2018, the Corvette ZR1 paced the Indy 500 with famous basketball player, Victor Oladipo in the driver’s seat. This vehicle was the most powerful pace car ever used, with 563 kilowatts, 755 horsepower. The 6.2-liter V8 engine is able to reach a top speed of 212 miles per hour. When describing his experience to The Win, Oladipo said it was: “Unbelievable. It’s something that you have to experience. Words can’t really describe it. It was just a thrill. I’ve never jumped out of a plane, but if that’s what jumping out of a plane feels like, then yeah, it’s pretty dope.”
Chevy has quite literally “lead the race” in manufacturing fast cars. Each year, new innovations balance the need for speed with more efficient and clean fuel engineering that appeals to both older and younger generations alike. Despite being a company that’s almost 100 years old, it’s clear that Chevy isn’t slowing down any time soon. The Corvette’s long history in the Indy 500 is a testament to Chevy’s status as a top American race car.