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2001 Rolex 24 hrs / NCRS Baton Rouge Regional
by Gary Bishop [C5R# X1856], Burlington, Ontario, Canada

The idea of this trip started in the Summer of 2000 when we considered attending the NCRS Regional in Baton Rouge on Feb. 15 - 18, 2001 held by the Louisiana Chapter. We had met a few members of the Louisiana Chapter in the past at other events including Regionals in Bowling Green and the National Road Tour and their friendship and hospitality was fantastic. Also, the Meet was during Mardi Gras so we could stop in New Orleans before or after the Meet.

When it was announced that the Earnharts were going to drive a Factory Corvette in the 2001 Rolex 24 hr race in Daytona on Feb 3-4, 2001, I suggested to Nancy we could attend the Rolex with the C5 Registry. We would be able to attend the banquet and meet some of the drivers, possibly get to drive the track before the race and hopefully watch Corvette win 1st in class at the Rolex 24 hrs. After the Rolex we could stay in Daytona for a couple of days, drive the north Florida Gulf coastal route to New Orleans, and then to the NCRS Regional in Baton Rouge. We had a Plan!!

As Nancy had to work the week before the Rolex 24 hrs I would leave the first of the week and Nancy would fly later. When I left on Monday I was planning on taking I-75 but they were calling for an ice storm so at the last moment I decided to go down through Pennsylvania and West Virginia on I-79. The roads turned out to be dry under sunny conditions and by the time I reached West Virginia there was very little snow along the side of the highway. I got to Daytona Tuesday afternoon under sunny 80 conditions.

The weather didn't last as it turned cooler to 55 and rainy. It lasted like this until the following Monday. Not great weather to enjoy the Race.

GM Parking Area

On Wednesday I drove on The Beach and around Daytona to find the best way to the Track from the C5 Registry Host Hotel which was on the Beach just north of town. While picking up supplies I met two fellows from the Corvette Owners of Luxembourg who also are members of the C5 Registry. This World is getting smaller.

Thursday when I went to the track to visit the pits and watch some of the practice I got to get some good pictures of the Corvette garages and into the #2's garage to get some photos when Ron Fellows recognized I was from Canada.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Registry Banquet

Friday Nancy flew into Orlando so I left early to pick her up at 9:30. The plane was an hour late so we missed seeing the Corvettes place 1-2-3 in the Motorola Cup Race run in the mid morning. We did get to see the Historic Grand Sports Race from the front straight when 2 cars blew tires in a BIG way. After lunch we then went into the infield and parked in the GM area and went into the garage area. We walked around and visited the Corvette Garage and watched them change the engine in #2 Vette in short time. We also visited the Goodyear Tire center, the gas pumps, and the pit row.

That evening we did attend the C5 Registry Banquet and met a lot of friends and drivers. Nancy got Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. to autograph the license plate cover from our `99 Vette. Little did we know how special that is to us now. After the dinner, which was very good, I got the inside of the cover autographed by Dave Hill, Rick Baldick, and Cheryl Pilcher on the inside of the license plate cover.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. At Registry Banquet

On Saturday we got to the track at 7:00 A.M. at the back straight to form up for the parade lap of the track at 11:00 AM. While we filled out waivers and met with friends GM supplied breakfast upstairs in the Back Straight Tower. At 10:00 AM 2 members of the C5 Registry who met at a previous C5 Event got married. At 11:00 we started to file out onto the track. By the time we got on the track the first Vettes were coming off. Because of the numbers of Vettes that wanted to tour the track this could have been the last year to do so. A lot of C4s and older did not get on the track.

When we got back to the parking area we went up to the Tower to watch the start of the race. Thanks to GM and the Registry we had use of 6 Suites until mid-night. At the very start of the Race #2 had to head for the grass in turn one to avoid being in a major mix up. Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim started the Race. #3 and #2 are 16th and 17th respectively after the first lap.

After lunch we went and sat in the stands across from the pits to watch for a while. As it started to rain we sat under the overhang of seats above but it was still cold. At 2:30 #2 and #3 are 8th and 13th overall and 1st and 2nd in class. We left the track at 4:00 PM and went back to the hotel to get warm and have dinner. #2 was 6th overall - 1st in Class and #3 was 10th overall - 4th in Class.

We got to see some of the race on TV before heading back to the track and watching until 11:30 PM up in the Back Stretch Suites. That evening Dave Hill and other GM personal were in the Suites watching as well. At 8:00 #2 is 4th overall - 1st in class and #3 is 9th overall - 4th in class. When we left for the evening at 11:00 it was # 2 1st in Class and 4th overall and 33 3rd in class and 6th overall.1st

Sunday we arrived at the track at 8:30 AM and sat across from the Corvette Pits to watch the ending. When we got there # 16 SRP Ford R&S Dyson Racing was well ahead of the #2 GTS Corvette, #31 GT Porsche GT3, #81 GT Porsche GT3, and # 3 GTS Corvette. #2 is 2nd overall - 1st in class 24 laps down. #3 is 4th overall - 2nd in class 45 laps down.

At about 9:30 AM the #16 car pulls off in corner 3. It is slowly towed into it's garage and the door is lowered. After awhile I saw the garage door go up and it was decided the race was over for this year for them. #16 was still quite a few laps ahead so the leader board still showed they were in first place for a while. 

Ron Fellows by C5-R

Just after 10:00 Ron Fellows and Andy pilgrim take over driving #2 and #3 Corvettes. At about 10:30 # 2 is in 1st place with #31, #81, and #3 following. At about noon it was 2, 31, 3, and 81. Another half shaft on #3 broke and it put it behind #81 again with not enough time to pass again. With about 20 minutes to go #2 pulls into the pits and sits there. They pull off the rear panel and work on the rear end putting in fluids. Our hearts sink until we realize that #2 is far enough ahead to wait until the end and still win 1st overall. While waiting, the pit crew, GM Race Executives, etc., line up behind the car for a "photo op". With 5 minutes to go to 1:00 PM and the end of the Race Ron Fellows driving #2 pulls out onto the track and stops half way down the back straight to wait for Andy Pilgrim driving # 3. The Two Corvettes parade around the track for another lap and a half side by side and other teams line up to do the same. By this time the crowd was standing and cheering. The problem was some cars were still racing for position. It did get a bit dicey when the cars still racing started passing on the inside and outside of the Parade. It did affect the winners of the SRP Class as the 1st and 2nd place cars ended in opposite positions. We were cold and damp so we headed back to the hotel for a jacuzzi and a swim in the indoor pool instead of waiting to join in the festivities in the winners circle and pits.

Monday the weather didn't sound promising for our visit to the north shores of Florida. Sooooo, what to do? We headed for the Keys where it is going to be Sunny and 80. We stayed there for 6 days to relax and enjoy the sun and food. By the number of C5s we saw a lot of other C5 Members that had the same idea as we did.

The next weekend, Sunday we headed for New Orleans and arrived noon Monday. We stayed at the Holiday Inn - French Quarter, parked the Vette and toured the area for 3 days. All I can say is Bourbon Street sure is different and fun. The weather was 70 and a bit cloudy.

Some of the best music I heard was by street performers. One in particular located on a quiet street away from the hustle and noise of Bourbon Street was a fellow in a wheel chair playing an alto-sax and his friend playing a bass guitar. I stood there for half an hour listening to their mellow sounds.

Nancy Receives Masters!

We had a chance to dine at K-Paul's, Chef Paul Prudomme's restaurant, and had a fantastic reasonably priced meal. We mentioned to our server that we did not know what we really wanted and left it up to him to serve some of their signature dishes. We were not disappointed. When we were chatting to our server about the type of food Nancy asked if Chef Paul ever comes in and she was told "once in a while". A few minutes late he came back and took Nancy down stairs to the bar and was introduced to Chef Paul and had her photo taken. After dinner when we were leaving Chef Paul was still there so I met him and had my photo taken with him. He was very gracious and hospitable.

On Thursday we head for Baton Rouge and the NCRS Louisiana Chapter's Regional Meet. It was 80 and sunny. When I registered for the Meet at the Fairgrounds I found that there was not enough Solid Axle Vettes entered and I was not picked to judge. But Nancy was down for `78 - `82s. After I mentioned my situation to the Meet Chairman I was quickly assigned to judge `67s. Both Nancy and I will be judging on Saturday.

At 1:00 PM we were privileged to meet and have lunch with Noland Adams. Later we got a chance to meet friends and relax. That evening there was an organized bus tour to New Orleans but we declined as we just came from there.

Friday we headed over to the Fairgrounds to help out and attend the Advanced Judging School. When we arrived Nancy was told that the Vette she was to judge did not show up. Some arrangements were made and Nancy took my spot to judge on the `67 Team. I helped run the Advanced School where a 4 Star Bowtie `67 Side-pipe Coupe was looked at. A "Superior" brand 4 post lift was made available and as I have one, was put in charge of operating and making sure of safety. At the Afternoon School a `57 was made available. Both were very educational for all of us and I hope to be able to assist more in Advanced Judging Schools in the future. That night we traveled with the group back to New Orleans area for a small Mardi Gas Parade then out for dinner at a great seafood restaurant.

Saturday Nancy judged and I helped with the Advanced Judging School again. We left early to pick up supplies, pack, and get ready for the banquet that evening. When we got back to the Hotel at 3:00 PM the power was off and the whole area of Baton Rouge was in darkness. We sat in the lobby for about 45 minutes before the power came on and we could go up to our room. There was a Tornado and Hurricane watch and the winds knocked out some power lines. We only had rain and a bit of wind.

That evening the banquet was done in a Mardi Gras theme and the 5 course dinner was very good. After dinner when they started handing out the Awards Roy Sinor, National Judging Chairman, went to the podium and announced that the "First Woman outside of the U.S.A." to receive the Masters Judging Level was Nancy Bishop. It was very gratifying to see all of our friends and other members come over and congratulate Nancy. We knew Nancy was close to achieving this Level so when her `78-`82 Class was cancelled I asked if she could take my place judging `67s. Thanks to John Maggiore - Meet Chairman, Keith Biggers - `67 Team Leader, Brian Pearce -`78-`82 Team Leader, and Roy Sinor.

Sunday morning when we left at 6:00 AM it was 31 F with frost on the windows. We drove through to Elizabeth, Kentucky, just north of Bowling Green, while we listened to the Daytona 500 on the radio. We were just approaching Nashville when the race ended. Later when we went out for dinner, we just sat down and heard on the television that Dale Earnhardt did not survive the last lap crash. We were very shocked and did not feel like eating. It was a very quiet evening after that. The next day we got home at 5:00 PM under sunny skies with a total of 4600 more miles on the `99.

This trip turned out to be all we had hoped for except the weather the first week in Daytona and Nancy achieved her Master Judging status which was one of the main reasons for the trip.

It sure was great to drive the `99 Corvette on the trip. We got about 33 mpg Canadian and did not use any oil. I would set the cruise control at 2-5 miles over the posted limit, turn on the tunes, and relax.

 

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