“They threw the green flag and the oil light went on! As the oil light came on, I said, ‘that’s it. I’m not doing this again.’ ” Is it really possible that Mark Rife’s ’63 Corvette Stingray coupe had run its last lap in anger? After 35-plus years of heavy abuse on autocrosses and road courses, you can see Mark’s dilemma. Why continue to beat on an old car that was not only a sought-after classic, but an important family heirloom laden with golden memories?
Quitting, however, was not an option. Competitive to a fault, this highly driven businessman and Vietnam veteran from Dayton, Ohio, soon saw the light. The red mist of competition cleared from his skull, Mark saw the bigger picture: he and his family had derived so much enjoyment from the ’63 over the decades that he couldn’t bear the thought of retiring it to mere show car status.
Let’s turn back the clock to 1972, when Mark originally purchased the 22,000-mile split-window coupe to use as a race car. He’d rescued it from an ill-fated attempt at a stock restoration, but don’t worry chalk-mark dudes, Mark still has all the original parts. “I bought it to race. It even had a rollbar in it,” Mark says. “I had it together that winter for a mall show in Dayton and by summer I was racing the car, autocrossing it. We didn’t embarrass ourselves too bad.” It quickly became the family toy that the Rifes all enjoyed. As events would unfold, the now Viper-red split-window will have been raced by Mark and his family for some 39 years. “We made many friends. It was a great big extended family group of about 20 or 30 of us. All the kids grew up together. We were all tied together because of that Corvette.”
Mark and his family started to get more serious, and began vintage racing it. He did some SCCA stuff and things sort of grew from there. “I kind of retired it and did some vintage stock car racing and some spec Miatas,” Mark says. Then about five years ago, a bunch of guys he did some racing with bugged him about going back to vintage racing. He brought the car out and went through it, replacing the foam in the fuel cell and updating the belts to get it ready. Mark ran the 327-powered Corvette over the weekend and things went great—until that dreaded oil light flickered.
Not wanting to take the chance of messing it up, Mark put it in the trailer and went back to Dayton with it. “A friend of mine thought we should pull the engine out and look at it. Turns out it was just the oil pump drive off the distributor. We put autocross tires on it and ran it that weekend.” Problem solved, but it got Mark thinking. If he was going to dust off the old split-window for more serious track work, he really needed to update it with a modern chassis and an über-reliable powerplant.
Mark’s friend, Mike Combs, helped him pull the body off the car back in Dayton. That move prompted an interesting bifurcation of the project that would eventually lead to two cars being built. More on that later. Mark had been to an NCRS show where he found out about Tray Walden at Street Shop in Athens, Alabama. Walden specializes in building modern chassis for old Corvettes using C4, C5, and C6 suspension components. It was just what Mark needed to update the ’63, and by selecting an earlier C4 style, it would allow Mark to mount a five-speed overdrive Tremec in front, behind the engine, instead of in the rear which would necessitate cutting up the body.