A True Grassroots Racer – For The Love of The Sport

GrassrootsIn an industrial park just off Hercules Avenue in Clearwater, Florida there is a small, three stall garage that houses Ken Hazelton’s stable of vintage Corvette sports racers. Hazelton’s race shop is very functional; however, there is no clean room for engine rebuilds or a chassis dyno to determine optimum horsepower, there’s not even a lift to get his beautiful old Corvettes off the floor.

What you will find however are a couple outboard motors in the corner, an old scratched up refrigerator along the back wall, a few lawn trimmers in various stages of repair on the workbench, and an uncountable number of assorted automotive parts and pieces scattered throughout the building.

Oddly enough, Hazelton’s race shop is really not that unusual, in fact, Hazelton is a living, breathing example of what grassroots racing is all about. No multi-million dollar sponsorship package, product endorsements, or a crew of hands to build and maintain the race cars. Just one man, with the help of a few friends, doing what he loves to do.

Ken Hazelton is a personable kind of guy, and his broad smile seems to be a permanent fixture. He’s a lifelong motor head and Corvette enthusiast. His love for road racing is actually the direct result of a trip to the Skip Barber School of Racing. “A good friend of mine invited me to come along and enroll in the school.” Hazelton recalls, “When I finished the school, there was no turning back, I was hooked.”

Hazelton blames his addiction to the Corvette on his wife Cherie. “Cherie bought a 1968 convertible early in 1980.” Hazelton remembers. “The car needed some work, nothing real major, just normal maintenance, brakes, and a tune-up; that sort of thing.”

A long story short, Hazelton ended up doing a frame-on restoration to his wife’s Corvette, “I really enjoyed working on that car, I was very impressed with the overall performance of the car, and it was just an all around fun car to drive.” Hazelton said. From this point forward, Hazelton’s vehicle of choice would be the Chevrolet Corvette.

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The classic lines of the ’63 split window coupe.

After restoring his wife’s convertible, Hazelton began concentrating on the possibility of building a race car. He was actively involved with a group of friends racing what he described as “one of the old bug eyed Sprites‘ in a few regional SCCA events. I was having fun racing the Sprite but I wanted to do something different, I guess I just wanted to do my own thing,” Hazelton grinned.

What his own thing was exactly, was yet to be determined, “I didn’t care about collecting trophies, and I knew I wouldn’t make a ton of money, I just wanted to do something I could really have fun doing.” Realizing he was in no rush, Hazelton continued to search for his something different knowing that sooner or later, he would find his perfect fit.

A true labor of love, Hazelton wanted to retain the classic lines of the '63 split window coupe, and the finished product does just that.

During a weekend trip to Daytona, to spectate at a Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) event with a group of his fellow SCCA racing buddies, Hazelton found what he was searching for. “When I saw all of the old historic cars, I knew immediately, this is what I wanted to do.” Returning home from Daytona, Hazelton began the search for an older Corvette that would be affordable, and provide a solid platform to build his historic racer.

Knowing a project of this nature would be expensive, Hazelton needed a budget to work with, after some discussion with his wife, the decision was made to sell their restored convertible and use the proceeds to build the race car. “When the car sold, I got a lot more than I expected for it and that gave me a bigger budget to work with.” Hazelton smiled.

Hazelton's stable of vintage Corvettes are very different in appearance, but are very similar under their fiberglass bodies

With a solid budget in place, Hazelton received a tip from a member of a local Corvette club about a guy that had an old Corvette race car he was trying to sell. Shortly thereafter, Hazelton made arrangements to go by and take a look at the car. The seller told him the car was a converted straight line racer, and was last used as a high-speed autocross car, it didn’t run, and the car needed some cosmetic body work.

When Hazelton arrived at the man’s home, he introduced himself, and was escorted to a large building at the rear of the property, under two years of dust and dirt, in the back corner of the building sat an old Corvette fastback Sting Ray, and not just any Sting Ray, but a 1963 split window coupe.

Both cars sport the same engine package with very few exceptions, and the cockpits utilize the same gauge package and safety equipment.

Hazelton brought the car back to his shop and began a five year project to restore the car to its original glory, as a piece of American road racing history. Working with a set budget, Hazelton wanted to keep the classic lines and technologies of the era, but also allow for a number of modern, safety related technologies.

There were a few important factors Hazelton considered during the build. The first of which was that every piece installed in the car had to be dependable as he would not be able to afford many mechanical failures and broken parts. Secondly, only the best safety equipment available would be installed into the car. Hazelton pulled the car down to the bare frame and had a full 10-point roll cage welded into the standard stock Corvette frame, he also added additional bracing to the chassis during this stage of the build. Other safety measures would include proper seats, safety harnesses, and a complete fire suppression system; budget would not be a factor as it related to safety.

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Both cars ride on American Racing Wheels and Goodyear rubber, and both have identical Hooker Headers and side pipes

With some help, and guidance from the folks at VanSteel Corvette Suspension Brakes & Steering, Hazelton retained the geometry of the standard stock Corvette front suspension with an additional bar attached to the upper shock towers to prevent twisting during high speed cornering.

The standard factory 11-inch drum brakes were replaced with GM dual-piston disc brakes on all four wheels. The rolling chassis sits on 15-inch American Racing wheels wrapped with 26.5/8/15 Goodyear Eagle tires.

DSC_0168Keeping dependability as a major factor, the powertrain consists of a iron block, first generation, GM 350 cubic-inch small block motor with flat-top pistons, and steel connecting rods. The remaining hardware consists of a set of RHS aluminum heads with a Comp Cam roller system, an Edelbrock high-rise manifold, and a Holley 750 CFM carburetor.

An Accusump pressurized oiling system prevents dry starts and allows high-speed cornering without cavitation at the pickup. MSD supplies the spark and a set of custom Hooker Headers and side-pipes allow the small block to breathe properly. The motor is coupled to a Tex Racing T-101 transmission, and the horses are transferred to the ground via the stock Corvette differential and 3.56:1 rear end gears.

The cockpit of the '63 coupe is all business, no extras here.

The interior of Hazelton’s racer features a Butler Built seat with a five-point G-Force restraint system, complete Quick Car instrumentation, and a fire suppression system by Fire Bottle. The fuel is contained in a 15 gallon ATL fuel cell and is moved to the motor with duel Holly pumps.

DSC_0169After a five year build, Hazelton had accomplished what he had set out to do and was now racing at several Historic Sportscar Racing, (HSR) Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, (SVRA) as well as a select few SCCA events throughout the southeast. As a true independent, Hazelton is very conscious of the events he attends.

“Working with a limited budget, I really have to pick and choose what races I want to go to, I don’t want to blow my entire budget for the year on one or two races, so I am pretty selective.” Today Hazelton runs anywhere from six to eight events a year, “I like to run maybe two HSR events, a couple SVRA races, and maybe a regional SCCA event or a special event like the Brickyard Historics in Indianapolis, That would be a full year for me.”

DSC_0172After running his 63 split window coupe for several years, Hazelton believed the car should be saved for special events only, such as the Brickyard Historics, or the Vintage National Championship at COTA.

With this in mind, Hazelton needed a car he could use for the regional SCCA, HSR or SVRA sanctioned events. Again, the car had to be affordable, provide a solid platform, and above all, it had to be something that would be classed as vintage. After a bit of searching, Hazelton found a 1972 Corvette that was originally built as a GT-1 type sports racer. When Hazelton found the car it was no more than a rolling chassis, the cage was intact, the body was in pretty good condition, it needed a drivetrain.

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Neat and clean, it’s very obvious Hazelton paid great attention to detail on his ’72 beauty.

Keeping his limited budget in mind, Hazelton came up with a build for his new racer that could only be recognized as ingenious. Relying on the previous build, Hazelton opted to use the same parts and pieces he used on his first car: the same motor, transmission, rearend, gauges, restraints. Everything he could possibly duplicate on the car, he did so. His logic was simple, if the cars are essentially the same, with only minor exceptions, he could save a big chunk of his budget with a smaller spare parts inventory.

Quite the plan, and it worked; if you look at the tech sheet on the ’63 coupe, the sheet for the ’72 hardtop reads pretty much the same. The dollars saved in spare parts can now be used for additional entry fees or a new set of tires here and there.

The dual Holley fuel pumps are tucked up nicely beside the ATL fuel cell and the carbon fiber top is actually a wrap, but it really looks cool. In fact, this red and black beauty looks good from any angle

With two nearly identical race cars, Hazelton is a prime example of how it’s done; a true grassroots racer working within his means, for no other reason, than a true love of the sport, and a firm commitment to preserve the legacy of America’s Sports Car, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Hazelton, and countless others across our nation, are directly responsible for keeping motorsports alive, they are indeed the lifeblood of the sport, and without these dedicated individuals, the automotive world would not be what it is today. If you took the time to Google the term “grassroots racer” we think Ken Hazelton’s picture should sitting right up top.

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About the author

Chuck Green

As a professional writer, and photographer Chuck has always had an affliction for anything related to motorsports. Over the years he worked events from local short tracks to the high profile series of NASCAR, Indy Car, IHRA, and NHRA.
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