The best quarter-mile run that Tommy made with his '61 in the configuration seen here was 10.63 seconds at 129 miles an hour. He had some good times with it on a nearby oval speedway, too. "In September of last year, we took it to the Goodguys show at Pocono Raceway, and actually took it around the track," he recalls. "I was doing 105 (miles an hour) in Turn One, and they couldn't believe it."
Later that show weekend, one of the Goodguys show officials came up to him and asked Tommy if the car handled well at speed. "I said, 'Yeah-it handles pretty well,'" he says. "The guy then said, 'I was driving the pace car, and I was doing 85, and I noticed that you wanted to go much quicker than that.' I said, 'Actually, I laid back the second and third time around the track.'" The crew in the tower also had their eyes on Tommy and his Vette, seeing him taking the high line around the track and passing just about everybody!
Unfortunately, the car you see here no longer exists, at least in this form. "On December 21 of 2009, I had a fire in my garage and I lost the car," Tommy says, adding that the frame is still intact and that he has another '61 Corvette body.
What happened? "I was draining gas out of the gas tank, like I do every year when I want to make improvements to it," he says of the first step he was taking in a planned revision to the rearend to fit lower-profile wheels and tires. "I had it up in the air on jackstands, and some gas hit the floor. Some vapors ignited in mid-air and hit the liquid and ran to me within a couple of seconds." Fortunately, Tommy was able to get the fire out, but not before the car had sustained heavy damage, especially on the body's right side. "The resin on the body would not stop burning," he says.
Some might despair of their loss, but Tommy didn't-for very long, anyway. "The frame is fine, and it's back on the jig," he says, optimistically. "Fortunately for me, I had another body." Turns out that Tommy bought a second '61 Corvette body and frame back in the late '80s, then sold the frame while turning down potential buyers' big-bucks bids for the body. Says Tommy: "I said to them, 'I'm going to hold onto it, because I'm going to build something else.' And now I'm glad that I held onto it!"
In the works for Tommy's '61 is another small-block. "We're going to build it bigger and stronger, but we're not going to need racing fuel anymore," he says of the twin-turbocharged engine that Andy Jensen is building as of this writing. "I've got the turbochargers, and I'm building the headers as we speak, right now on the jig," says Tommy, who adds that he just scored a set of Brodix 11X heads for it. How strong will it be? Says Tommy: "It's going to make 1,100 horsepower on pump gas!"
It'll look different on the outside, too, but will still have '61 Vette styling cues. "There's going to be a completely different paint scheme on it," Tommy says. "I'm looking for an aqua or a teal color that was originally on the '56-'57 Corvettes (Cascade Green? -Ed). We're going to keep it modern at the same time, nothing gaudy, and we'll lower the car, too. Adding to those new looks will be a set of Evod Industries wheels that are also under construction-18x7 inches in front and 20x12 inches in back.
Tommy's got plenty of advice for Vette Rodders (current and potential): "Don't give up on it, because you can't find 'em like you used to be able to. Don't sell it
if you can't afford it at the moment. Just park it, and leave it alone for a while, and get back to it when you can. Because times are tough and the economy's tough, don't give it up. It's better than money in the bank. If I didn't keep this one, I'd have to be looking for another one!"