Sunray DX Racecar History
THE SUNRAY DX CORVETTES
By Harold E. "Ted" Walther Jr.
And Steve DeVaux
While the Sunray DX racing team only lasted for a period of 14 months, their efforts were to leave a lasting impression on the world of endurance racing and racing Corvettes.
One Man’s Idea
In the late 1950s and into the 1960s many drivers realized that they could ease the escalating costs of racing by putting sponsor stickers on their cars in exchange for monetary and material support. Companies could easily and cheaply advertise their products, as well as associate themselves with winners. In the mid to late 60s some companies came to the conclusion that having their own race team in their own colors was the best form of marketing available. Many of these race teams were put together and run by a contracted manager such as Roger Penske for Sunoco, John Wyer for Gulf Oil, and Carroll Shelby for Ford.
Another approach was to completely own the team and cars and have a company employee run the team. Sunray DX Oil Company was to follow this route, but the decision to do so was arrived at slowly. In 1965 Ralph Morrison was a communications supervisor at the Sunray, and a sportscar racing enthusiast. Morrison presented an idea to upper management to spread the Sunray name to drivers of racecars and, more importantly, the thousands of spectators that attended races. Morrison was given a limited budget and set up one race each in Oklahoma and Arkansas with the assistance of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) volunteers. Sunray provided advertising money, trophies, and oil/gas for the competitors. The SCCA provided organizational ability and manpower. These events were phenomenal successes and more events were added to the 1966 calendar.
The events of 1965 and 1966 generated a tremendous amount of good PR for Sunray, and the 1967 budget was expanded accordingly. 1967 saw additional events organized, and a driver contingency program was implemented. This program allowed a driver to place a DX sticker on his car and get paid a certain amount of money depending on his finish. Most cars/drivers would end up not getting a penny, but there were so many cars eligible that the marketing campaign was well worth the effort. The red, white and blue DX diamond and the Sunray Motorsports shield stickers were soon one of the most seen stickers on the racetracks.
Records in France – Where Sunray Products aren’t sold
Sunray also directly sponsored a handful of cars. On the west coast of the United States, plans were being made for a 1967 L88 Corvette coupe for a run at the 24 Hours of LeMans on June 11-12, 1967. Paul Doski and Peyton Cramer were the co-owners of Dana Chevrolet, located in South Gate, California. Cramer was no stranger to motorsport; he had been a Shelby American employee in charge of finances. Dana Chevrolet was also famous for turning out the first 427-equipped Camaros in 1967 that helped to start the muscle car craze in general and the super-tuned Camaros in particular. The Chief Engineer of Dana was none other than noted Corvette racer and engineer Dick Guldstrand. The new 1967 coupe (VIN: 194377S113787) was prepared by Guldstrand and his team on a shoestring budget. Guldstrand wanted to prep the car properly, including installation of race-tested parts, but Chevrolet insisted upon the car being completely stock with the exception of safety equipment. The car even ran the race with it stock bumpers (although they had been removed for qualifying).
Bob Bondurant, another prominent Corvette racer, was selected as the second driver. The car was owned by the Botany 500 clothing company, primarily sponsored by Sunray, painted in Sunray colors of blue and white with red stripes, and entered with race number 9 for the event. The car ended up setting a record on the Mulsanne Straight at 171 mph before going out on lap 167 in the 13th hour. This was 109 laps further than the Shelby Mustang GT350R of Claude DuBois managed to travel. Ironically, the wrist pins that were among the parts that Guldtrand wanted to replace failed while the car was leading the GT class.
Upon its return to the States, this car was supposed to embark on a tour of Chevrolet dealerships, but it was stolen and repainted. It took authorities some time to locate the car, but it was recovered. Today it resides in a private collection and can occasionally be seen at concours events. This car was never actually part of the Sunray DX Team Corvettes, but remains the only DX-liveried car to compete in Europe.
Sunray and Dana Chevrolet also collaborated on a Lola T-70 that was driven by Peter Revson. The Lola was no match for the McLarens in the Can-Am races in which they competed.
A more valiant effort between Sunray and Dana Chevy was a McLaren Chevy in the 1967 USRRC series. Bob Bondurant was tied in the points standings for 4th with Masten Gregory and Sam Posey when he rolled the McLaren at the Watkins Glen GP. Bondurant ended up in the hospital, the car was destroyed, and Sunray was out of the USRRC series.
The Sunray DX Motorsports Team
By 1967 the Sunray DX Motorsports Division was well funded and was moving forward with plans to create its own in-house team. Ralph Morrison was still at the helm and decided that the best choice of team car would be an American-built regular production based car. Corvette was the most competitive car at the time that fit his criteria.
Morrison contacted Don Yenko and outlined his plan. Yenko was the SCCA B-Production national champion in 1962 and ’63, and owned his own Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Yenko Chevrolet, similar to Dana Chevrolet, was also known for its high performance achievements; most notably their Camaros and Novas. Sunray ordered a 1967 Corvette coupe through Yenko who, using his connections at Chevrolet, was able to get the first production L88 package available. The car was picked up at the assembly plant in St. Louis on March 9th and driven back to the Yenko dealership by Dave Morgan. They had about three weeks of prep time before the April 1st 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race where the car was to compete in its maiden outing. The car was painted white and blue with red stripes and was assigned the number 8 for the Sebring race. Firestone goldline race tires were fitted on American Racing Torque Thrust wheels, side exhausts were fitted, and larger air extractors replaced the ‘gills’ on the front fenders. The rear wheel arches were fitted with a larger cover to enclose the larger rear racing tires, a roll bar installed, and the front and rear bumpers were removed. The car was a radio/heater delete car, as all L88 Corvettes were.
Dave Morgan and Don Yenko qualified this car and broke the GT track record in the process. Morgan and Yenko went on to finish first in GT class and 10th overall. The car’s top speed of 194 mph was in no doubt enabled by the special differential gearing from Chevrolet Engineering and the 31 degree banking
In the final forty minutes of the race #8 had a brake failure heading into the hairpin turn on lap 195 and ended the race on top of a sandbank. After this race Morgan campaigned the car solo for the rest of 1967. In doing so he took home the SCCA Mid-West Division title.
Bigger, faster things… and more of them
Through the end of 1967, Sunray made plans to expand the team from the one 1967 Coupe to three cars and enter all three big endurance races, Daytona, Sebring, and LeMans. With the destruction of the McLaren Chevrolet, and the withdrawal of the Lola T-70 from Can-Am racing, more funds were freed up in 1968 to field a larger Corvette team at these endurance races. The fortunes of Sunray had gone up dramatically in the last two years and much of it could be attributed to the racing program.
In early February 1968 Don Yenko showed up at the 24-hour Daytona Continental race with a team of three Sunray DX Corvettes, all painted in the now familiar Sunray colors of blue and white with red stripes. This was also the debut of the new 1968 Corvette body style, and the team was equipped with two of these new roadsters with hardtops, as well as the 1967 coupe from the previous season. This time Don Yenko and co-driver Peter Revson (fresh from his Can Am driving for the Sunray/DANA sponsored Lola) drove 1968 L88 Corvette # 29. Dave Morgan and Jerry Grant co-drove the 1967 L88 Corvette # 31 (this was Yenko and Morgan’s #8 car from the year before with a slightly different paint scheme). Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson co-drove 1968 L-88 Corvette # 30, which was sponsored by Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Michigan. The #31 Jerry Grant/Dave Morgan car finished first in GT class and 10th overall which, coincidentally enough, was the exact same placing as the year before for the same car. Yenko and Revson finished 4th in the GT class and 25th overall. DeLorenzo and Thompson finished 5th in the GT class and 27thoverall. Dick Guldstrand was also back in a Corvette for this race, but was now driving for James Garner’s AIR team.
In late March 1968, the Sunray team brought their three 1968 L-88 Corvettes to the 12 hour race at Sebring. They had purchased another new 1968 roadster, so the 1967 coupe would be relegated to testing. The first car, #3 was placed in the capable hands of Dave Morgan and co-driver Hap Sharp. They drove a brilliant race Finishing 6th overall and bringing home a 1st place in the GT class. Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson drove the #4 car were but they DNF'd when they lost the drive shaft on lap 48. Driving the #2 car was Don Yenko and Pedro Rodriguez of Mexico. They retired with engine problems on the 43rd lap with a DNF result. The team listed extra drivers Joe Ausburn and Dave Dooley in the Sunray entry roster, but they did not drive.
The next race the Sunray team entered was the 6 hour race at Watkins Glen in July 1968. Only one car was entered in this race and it was a ’68 roadster in the familiar paint scheme with race number 9 and driven by Don Yenko and Dave Morgan. This car was driven until an accident on lap 84. This would be the last major race for the Sunray DX team. The Sunray team was invited to take part in the 1968 LeMans 24 hour race. This race was originally scheduled to be held on June 15th and 16th. The actual race was held in September. Two cars were invited to qualify and were assigned race numbers 1 and 2 by the ACO (the race organizers). Scuderia Filipinetti, the noted Ferrari concessionaire, sponsored the only 1968 LeMans Corvette with race numbers 3 and 4. Both Filipinetti Corvettes would be classified as DNF in that race. The Sunray team had not planned to attend the April 1968 qualifying and instead started to make plans to compete at the 1969 LeMans 24-hour race. It was not to be.
The Checkered Flag
Toward the end of 1968 Sunray DX finalized a merger deal with Philadelphia-based Sun Oil and Pipeline Company. Sun Oil, better known as Sunoco, had sponsored Roger Penske since 1966 with both his Corvettes in endurance racing and had just become involved with the Penske-Hilton Camaros in Trans Am racing. It was decided it would be wasteful to sponsor the Sunray DX team alongside Penske's already successful efforts.
The members of the team continued their involvement in Corvette racing: Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson took their original Sunray DX #4 car and gained sponsorship from Owens-Corning Fiberglass. DeLorenzo’s father was in GM upper management, and with ‘covert’ management help he was able to field a very successful team of cars for many years.
Dick Guldstrand went on to race for other teams, most notably James Garner’s American International Racing Team at 1968 Daytona, later he focused on engineering suspension systems and engine development. He now runs Guldstrand Motorsports in Burbank, CA and was instrumental in putting together the excellent book Corvette Thunder.
Bob Bondurant was severely injured in an accident at Watkins Glen later in 1967, while driving a McLaren Mk II Can-Am racer a steering arm shattered and his car was destroyed while traveling at over 150 mph, sending the car into a dirt embankment. The force of hitting the embankment caused the car to roll end over end eight times. He also was originally to join the Garner AIR team, but he had not recovered from his injuries. After his recovery he taught driving at Carroll Shelby’s racing school, and he finally started the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in 1968.
Don Yenko fielded his own team and also drove for other teams, including the John Greenwood B.F. Goodrich Corvette racing team. Yenko retired from racing and concentrated on his custom performance production line of cars. Yenko was killed in an airplane crash on March 5, 1987.
Peter Revlon Revson was an excellent driver who consistently improved his skills; he finished second in 1970 at Sebring with co-driver Steve McQueen in a Porsche 908. In ‘71 he won the pole at the Indy 500 and finished second overall. He had many more wins in both Formula One and Can Am. While his star was still rising he tragically lost his life while testing his Shadow DN 3 in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1975.
Pedro Rodriguez was a star in the international racing scene, he raced for Scuderia Ferrari in Formula 1 beginning in 1963, as well as others. He would later win the 1968 LeMans 24 hour race driving a Ford GT 40. Other wins include the 1970 Belgian GP and the 1971 Spring Trophy driving for BRM. He also drove a Porsche 917 at 1970 Spa 1000 kms and BOAC 1000 kms at Brands Hatch. He lost his life while racing a Ferrari 512 M on July 11, 1971 at Norisring Circuit, Germany
Hap Sharp, who had also been involved with Ferraris, Corvette Grand Sports and Chaparrals, eventually retired from racing. He passed away at 65 in 1993.
Jerry Grant and Dave Morgan eventually retired and both routinely attend Corvette events.
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