The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 28-29, marks a half-century of top-level sports car racing on the high banks and twisting infield of Daytona International Speedway. We're counting down to that milestone with a series of stories looking at some of the drivers, marques and stories that have shaped those 50 years. This week, we're looking at some of the more “out there” cars to grace the track in recent years.
Lobsters, Raptors and Cannibals
Sports cars come in all shapes and sizes, so it's no surprise that the Rolex 24 at Daytona has had its fair share of the weird and wonderful down through the years. Some have been successful, while others have failed to trouble timing and scoring – although, as far as the teams running them were concerned, it was mission accomplished. Fact is, they got to compete on the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway in one of the world's most prestigious endurance races. Job done.
Take the Cannibal-Chevrolet of the late-1990s. This front-engined, open-top prototype (LEFT) was bizarrely fashioned from an ex-Trans-Am Oldsmobile Cutlass to take advantage of the new World Sports Car rules. Car owner Bruce Trenery came up with the idea when he spotted a window of opportunity for a low-budget WSC project in the early years of the new category.
“I've been around racing long enough to know that at the start of a new formula a lot of people aren't ready,” explains Trenery. “But we weren't in a position to afford one, given that we were just doing it for fun.” So he built one out of what he had.
Trenery, the owner of the Fantasy Junction exotic car emporium in California, had bought the Tommy Riggins-built Trans-Am Olds the previous year, and had already raced it at Daytona in the GTS class. He commissioned Jack Kampney, who'd had a hand in the bodywork of the Greenwood Chevrolet Corvettes of the 1970s, to produce a design, and Scott Flatt, who looked after the car, to turn the tubeframe coupe into an open-top prototype.
“Jack came up with this fairly beautiful design,” remembers Trenery, “but we'd never seen the car before it turned up at Daytona in 1995. Inevitably, the car had been late and we didn't make the pre-race test.”
Trenery and teammate Jeffrey Pattinson were in for a surprise when they opened the back of the truck at the racetrack.
“The rear end of this thing was staring at us, and it was ugliest thing I'd ever seen,” recalls Trenery. “Jeffrey and I were laughing so much we were crying. Maybe you could just about see the resemblance from the drawings, but the reality didn't look like the conception.”
The Cannibal had an ugly time of it out on the track, too.
“The hood kept blowing off, for a start,” says Trenery. “The other problem was that no one had envisaged a front-engined WSC car, so the rules said the exhausts had to exit out the back of the car. At our first pit stop, some fuel got spilt and caught alight on the hot exhausts. We got the thing to the finish line, but it was kind of an ordeal.”
The Cannibal's second start in the 24 Hours a year later yielded a much better result. The car, driven by Trenery and Brits Pattinson, Nigel Smith and Grahame Bryant, ended up 24th overall. That was an impressive sixth in class, albeit 159 laps behind the winning Riley & Scott.
The Cannibal notched up another Daytona start – and finish – two years later (RIGHT), and also raced at Sebring and completed a partial U.S. sports car season in 1997. On that basis, Trenery chalks up the project as a success.
“In terms of points per dollar spent, I reckon we were ahead of everyone,” he says. “When we bought the car prepped for Daytona with a trailer and all the spares, it was $50,000. A lot of people made fun out of it, but we had a lot of fun in it. That car finished Daytona every time, and I can tell you that never once in practice, qualifying or the race did that car ever have one new tire on it. We always bought other team's cast-offs.”