Victory Lane Magazine, April 2015, Vol. 30, No.4
September 2014, SVRA Heacock Classic Gold Cup Historic Races @ VIR
Story and photos by Terry Johnsen
What’s not to like about a 70’s era, pink race car?! Especially, a pink race car with an interesting story to tell. So, while covering the 2014 SVRA Heacock Gold Cup at VIR, it didn’t take long for me to find my favorite car of the weekend. As soon as it passed by for the first time, I knew I had to find out more about it.
This 1978 Chevron B45 FA (Chassis #4), is owned and driven by Jeff Wright. On Sunday morning I spoke with Jeff and asked him about his pink beauty. He began by telling me he had always wanted a Chevron, and purchased the car in 1998 from Simon Hadfield in the UK. Simon is well known for his restoration craftsmanship. At the time of purchase, the car was completely disassembled. Jeff then flew the car over to the States in three crates. Progress on assembling the car eventually stalled. He had other cars and projects that slowed the process. Jeff said he realized it was wrong to have the car sitting and not assembled, so he refocused his efforts to get it done. He completed everything but the installation of the electrics, fire system, and fuel cell. He turned to the experts at Comprent Motor Sports/Road Racing Preparation & Fabrication, in Athens, Georgia for assistance. Once those items were installed, Jeff proceeded to finish the car. He said it has been easily 20 years since the car had competed, and the Gold Cup weekend was its debut.
Before discussing further the current state of the car, Jeff went back in time and told me a little history about it. Fred Ophert, of the UK originally owned chassis #2 & #4. There were only four built that year. Ophert ran the cars in the 1978 SCCA Formula Atlantic Championship. Keke Rosberg (Finland) drove chassis #2, and Eje Elgh (Sweden) drove #4. At the Lime Rock event, Rosberg crashed heavily. Elgh stood aside and allowed Rosberg to compete in #4. Keke put it on the pole and finished 4th. Rosberg drove the car off and on, mainly in practice and development, ultimately going back to chassis #2. Later, Arturo Merzario drove the car in the Canadian Labatt’s Series in Quebec. Davina Galica then drove the car in Hamilton. After the Labatt Series finished, the car went back to Chevron and was refettled for a race in Macau. Rosberg flew out to drive the car, but due to a coming together on the track, both team cars did not finish the race.
The car then went back to Chevron and was purchased by Jim Crawford. He raced the car in the British Formula Atlantic Series, taking the title in 1979. Crawford then ran the car in the Aurora AFX Championship Series, which was basically a “run what ya brung” series. Impressively, Crawford won a race at Oulton Park that was run in the rain, and against some formidable competition. Later, Crawford sold the car to Vin Mulkey of Chevron. It then changed hands a few times and ultimately ended up in the possession of Simon Hatfield. Jeff brought the 1978 Chevron B45 (chassis #4) back to the US and has restored it to the 1978 specifications. That includes the vivid pink livery with the EXCITA (condom company) logo brand, which made the car (then and now) very distinguishable from the other competitors.
Jeff’s wife and Team Manager, Eve Wright, described the difficulty of finding the right pink color for the car. The trick was to use color chips from nail polish and lipstick manufacturers to nail down the closest comparison. From there, the paint was matched perfectly. Also, through intensive research, the correct size and style of numbers were found for the car. One of the last hurdles has been to find the period-correct logos for the SCCA, CASC, and Champion Spark Plugs.
Jeff described their operation as a family affair. He and his wife and sons are a real close-knit team. Together they have been racing for almost 40 years. Originally from Scotland, they lived for thirty years in Canada. There, Jeff became the Canadian FV Champion in 1977 and then Sports Racing Champion (in a Lola 492) in 1980. Currently, they reside in Wilmington, NC.
This weekend, the 2014 SVRA Heacock Gold Cup, is the first time out for the newly assembled car. It serves as a shake down weekend of sorts. Jeff expressed that he was a bit tentative to fully explore the car’s limits, but that so far it has no vices. He added that it brakes brilliantly and accelerates very well, and the balance is very good. He said he doesn’t know what it’s like on the limit yet. He also noted that later other refinements are to be sorted, such as the suspension ride height and camber. For now he’s content with firing up the Cosworth BDD engine, and taking the car through its paces, one step at a time.
On a final note, Jeff recently spoke to Simon Hadfield, who pointed out that this car is particularly unique in that it raced in North America as a works car (Opert Racing) and then later in Macau and the UK as a works car (Chevron). Simon expressed that he didn’t think this was very common. He noted that most FAs exported to North America stayed there. Now Jeff and Eve have returned it to North America where it all began. I’m looking forward to its further development in 2015.