Corvette ZR-1 racing sports car, 1990

Few private owners, and only extremely wealthy ones, campaigned cars in the top sports car races in Europe. As a result of the European influences toward more specialized engineering for the best sports cars, the "prototype" racing classes emerged in the US for the fastest, most powerful US and European-built sports cars - none of which were street legal by any stretch.
In this context, professional sports car racing became more popular by the 1970s. Later, organizations such as the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) organized professional races for prototype sports cars and high-powered "GT" sports coupes.
The Corvette ZR-1 No. 92 was built specially by Tommy Morrison Motorsports in 1990 for racing in the IMSA "GTO" class. General Motors provided backing and technical services; the major financial sponsors were Mobil Oil and EDS. The car is one of several built "from the ground up" as race cars. The tubular space frame resembles that of a modern NASCAR racer; the body follows the Corvette ZR-1's lines exactly but was designed to fit the custom-built frame. The modified Chevrolet V-8 engine was developed by the Mercruiser Corp. The all-independent suspension is that of a production ZR-1 Corvette, with special springing and shock absorbers for racing.
No. 92 placed 4th in class in the 1991 Daytona 24-hour endurance race, on Daytona's "road course" that uses multiple corners on the big track's infield combined with part of the high banking used by NASCAR racers. The 92 also placed 6th in class in the 1991 Sebring 12-hour endurance race, held at the historic sports car track in Sebring, FL, that still uses a portion of a World War II-era concrete airfield in its circuitous course. Even finishing these endurance races is an accomplishment, and 4th and 6th places, out of the large fields of competing cars, are regarded as highly successful.
Another of Morrison's ZR-1's set the world speed record for a 24-hour run, averaging some 174 mph.
Sports-car racing was a post-World War II phenomenon in the US. While racing by stock cars, sprint cars, and dragsters attracted fans of generally middle-class and more modest means, sports-car racing attracted young car-owners and fans primarily of wealthier means. This relationship stemmed from the pronounced cachet that went with European automotive engineering from the late 1930s through the 1960s.
Ex-servicemen who had been based in England began bringing British sports cars to American soil in 1948. Auto dealerships selling such makes as MG, Triumph, and Jaguar - and Porsche from Germany and Alfa-Romeo from Italy - opened in the US for the first time. These cars were typical of European engineering for two-door performance cars: light, agile, many with small or medium-sized engines compared to general US custom, and right at home on curving, twisting roads where a driver could test his or her cornering skill. Many sports cars were relatively small (by American passenger-car standards) two-door convertibles, and a few were low-slung, two-door coupes. Organized racing for sports cars sprang up immediately. Since no oval track could bring out the qualities of sports-car agility, local organizers often marked out multi-cornered courses with rubber cones and hay bales on the abundant pavements of abandoned military airfields. Organized races through city streets were sometimes approved by local officials.
Soon enough, paved race tracks—with hilly, twisting layouts emulating courses in continental Europe for "Formula" and sports cars—began appearing in the US. And variations on sports-car racing also quickly took root: endurance races (of two, six, 12, and 24 hours), together with numerous classes (so that less-powerful MGs and Triumphs, for example, could race in different classes than, say, Jaguars, Ferraris, or Maserattis). And "autocrossing" was organized locally in towns all over the US—wherein one car at a time competed for the shortest elapsed time over short, twisting courses often marked off temporarily on large, open macadam parking lots.
Before long, America got its first sports car: the Chevrolet Corvette, introduced tentatively in 1953. By the late 1950s, a re-engineered Corvette took its place as a competitive sports car, both in the showrooms and on sport-car race tracks.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) organized sports car races in the US and also licensed amateur drivers, after an on-track skills test with a well-experienced driver. Regional championships were competed-for in many classes, including hand-built sports cars intended only for the track. Through about 1960, a top amateur competitor could file an entry and drive his production sports car to a sports car race, tape-up the headlights (to keep broken glass from flying too far in an incident), remove a few excess parts such as mufflers and bumpers, paint-on an assigned race number to the car temporarily, and go racing. By the early 1960s, such a cavalier approach became passé, and serious sports-car racers prepared their cars as fully as stock-car and sprint-car owners. The SCCA responded to the change by loosening the design rules for its "production" classes to include a variety of engine and other performance modifications - although the car still had to be "street legal," meaning it still had to comply, off the track, with passenger vehicle licensing requirements for use on public roads. The SCCA "modified" classes became more so, including exotic cars intended only for the most serious racing.
Europeans, meanwhile, developed sports car racing after World War II to a level of sophistication in cars and organization of races almost equal to that of Formula 1 "Grand Prix" racing. And in both types of racing, factory teams were by far the majority of participants.
Currently not on view
date made
Morrison Motorsports, Inc.
place made
United States: Georgia, Albany
overall: 4 7/16 ft x 5 15/16 ft x 14 13/16 ft; 1.346 m x 1.8032 m x 4.5211 m
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Morrison Motorsports, Inc.
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Sports & Leisure
Data Source
National Museum of American History


Add a comment about this object