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classic cars

1972 Corvette racing coupe owned by Del Bruce

Corvettes of various vintages and racing stripes will take part in the Canadian Historic Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) this weekend, where the legendary American sports cars will hold pride of place as this year's featured marque.

But none of the entrants will be keener for the action to begin than Scarborough's Del Bruce, who fell in love with these big fast cars as a teenager and who will fulfill a long-time dream when he straps into his 530-hp Corvette racer and takes his place on the grid to await the fall of the starter's flag.

The 33rd annual Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) festival, renamed this year and hosted by Corvette dealership Wilson-Niblett Performance of Richmond Hill, drops the flag on its three days of vintage and historic racing for single-seaters, sports cars and sedans today, with a cruise night slated for this evening.

The weekend's roster of events includes Canada's largest classic Mini gathering, the Great Canadian Racers Reunions that brings together racers, crews and volunteers, the Wilson-Niblett Hillfest expected to attract up to 200 Corvettes Saturday and the race finals and the all-makes PartSource Field of Dreams Car Show on Sunday. Events support the Wounded Warriors of Canada charity. Day tickets are $20.

The event's focus on Corvettes gets the jump on the iconic sports car's 60th anniversary in 2013 – the prototype was unveiled at the General Motors Motorama car show in January, 1953, and it went into production six months later – and celebrates a racing heritage that began not long afterwards.

The original Corvette looked neat but with its 150-hp "stovebolt" family sedan six and two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission didn't generate many racy aspirations. That soon changed with the arrival of Chevy's small-block V-8 and engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov.

With the Duntov right foot planted firmly on the Corvette's gas pedal, competition soon came to define the car's character, as it still does. Of the 1.35 million built so far, only a small percentage may have spent any time on a race track, but all were created from the lessons learned in competition by Corvette enthusiasts.

The Corvette name first hit the headlines when Duntov drove one in the Pike's Peak hillclimb, then topped 150 mph on Daytona Beach and entered three in the 1956 Sebring 12-hour race. By 1960, Corvette was taking its first run at Le Mans and increasingly providing thrills for drivers and spectators alike in the hands of amateur and pro racers on U.S. and Canadian racing circuits.

Among the Corvette racers that will be pounding around the track this weekend will be the 1971 roadster and 1972 coupe owned, and being raced for the first time, by long-time Corvette enthusiast Bruce.

Bruce, now 55, wasn't a car guy as a teen – in his family, he says, they were looked on as a necessary evil – but he was keen on all things mechanical, which led to his apprenticing as a tool and die maker. He went on to craft a career making automotive components, eventually becoming a partner in the company he worked for, which was wound up a couple of years ago leaving him sort-of-semi-retired. "I'm too busy playing around to call it retired," he says.

A lot of that "playing around" time, not surprisingly given his line of work, involves cars, collecting them and, for the past 10 years, vintage racing them.

The collection includes the 1979 Triumph TR7 he treated himself to new – "it's still as beautiful as the day I bought it." But Corvettes predominate with models from '58, '63, '78, '88, '93, '95, '03 and '04. Plus the two recently acquired racers. And, just to add a little variety, "a couple of Ferraris" – a Testa Rossa and a 308GT4 – and four racing Porsches.

He says he began racing due to peer pressure, with friends urging him to take some of his cool collector cars to the track. But he decided instead to acquire something more racing-oriented, a 1977 Porsche 930 with 935 bodywork. The car is much like the one he'd watched Canadian ace Ludwig Heimrath race in the 1970s which planted the seed that led to his own eventual involvement in the sport.

Bruce still runs the 930 (in Heimrath's racing yellow colours), but says it's "quite a wild machine and more than I was capable of driving at the time." Going racing in it wouldn't have been a wise move, but a Triumph TR8 proved a bit more tractable and Bruce began using it for Solo 1 events while getting some Porsche driving school instruction in the 930 under his belts before starting to race it in VAR AC events in 2004.

But he says that while he loves his Porsches, he's always been a Corvette guy at heart and always wanted to race one of the older models. And what better year to do so than when the car was to be the featured marque in the annual VARAC race-fest.

"I just couldn't not have a 'Vvette for the festival," he says, and his hunt for the right car saw him end up with a pair of instead, veterans of regional racing in Ontario purchased early this year. The '71 roadster, with 400-hp, 350-cubic-inch small-block, runs in the Vintage/Historic class and the 383-cubic-inch, 530-hp '72 coupe in the G70 class.

Bruce has spent the spring months fettling the cars and getting in some track test laps, but this weekend at the Canadian Historic Grand Prix will mark the first time he will actually compete in them.

And when the flag drops it should get really interesting really fast as Bruce and the drivers of up to 20 Corvettes, along with other high-horsepower machinery, stand on the gas and charge down the hill into Turn One.

Check out this week's picture gallery here: In pictures: Racing Corvettes