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Articles

The article below appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Shark Magazine. Michael LaEnvi was the author.

 

 

From Captain Tracy II’s Royal Corvette to

Tracy Performance

If Captain Andrew Tracy II of England only knew the corvettes of his time would become the American dream sports car and could have, he would have copyrighted the word. For newbies, General Motors did, not create the word Corvette. Per Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary: cor.vette kor-vet n [F] 1: a warship ranking in the old sailing navies next below a frigate 2: a highly maneuverable armed escort ship that is smaller than a destroyer.

Yes, Dennis Tracy is from a notable English family. A recent genealogical study indicates the Tracy’s lived in England during the 1100’s to the 1200’s, Sir William de Tracy was the first of King Henry II’s four Knights to help assassinate Thomas à Becket! Skipping along in time, Captain Tracy, who came to America around 1636, was the son of Deacon Andrew Tracy. It’s absolutely fascinating, that centuries later, Captain Andrew Tracy II’s descendant, Dennis Tracy, also became involved with Corvettes.

Starting out in the fifties with small toy cars, Dennis moved to tricycles with playing cards on the spokes and streamers on the hand grips, then on to modifying Radio Flyer wagons, building plastic model car kits, and assembling bicycles from parts. In the early sixties, he built go-karts and mini-bikes from scratch. With the tractors and other equipment on his father’s farm in Iowa, he built his own quarter mile dirt road racing track and one-sixteenth mile drag strip to pursue his motorized adventures. The first car Dennis bought as a teenager was a 1953, (Chevrolet station wagon, not a Corvette), which wasn’t running but he got it fired up while his dad towed it back to the farm with a tractor. That was followed by three 1955 Chevrolets, a 1953 Chrysler Hemi Car, and a 1952 Henry J. He loved anything mechanical especially motorized vehicles and racing cars. The 1955 Chevy two door Bel Air Sedan was built up as a drag racer with very minimal funds. High school consisted of college prep courses, drafting, and shop classes. He made drawings of the cars he liked including Corvettes and made designs for racing go-carts, drag cars, (like the "Hemi J" built with components from 2 of the above vehicles), futuristic engines, clutchless and variable ratio transmissions. He dreamed of owning a Corvette, but he was sure it would never happen. He even tried to arrange a tour of the Corvette plant during a Science Club Trip to St. Louis, not knowing how important that experience could have been later in life. During the mid-sixties, there was only one Corvette there in the small farming community Dennis grew up near. It was a 1964 convertible owned by one of Dennis’ science teachers. Dennis tried to get to drive it in the homecoming parade, but was only offered the choice of a Mustang convertible or a Jeep. He chose the Jeep rather than driving a "Wannabe Corvette"!

After high school, the college prep courses and his automotive interests moved Dennis to Detroit as a co-op student at General Motors. After 5 months in the Motor City without a motor vehicle, he started to look for a car to buy. He saw a Corvette for sale while walking home from work and realized they were a lot more plentiful and therefore cheaper than they were in Iowa. After searching the want ads for several weeks, he found a 1963 Split Window Corvette Coupe for sale with minor front-end damage. It was a Daytona Blue, dark blue interior, 340 HP 4 speed with a 4.11 Posi, just what he wanted. He purchased that 4 year-old car for $1450, which was all the money he had at that time. He had to do most of the car repairs himself due to lack of funds. It was an exciting period in Detroit with the famous Telegraph Road, Woodward Avenue, and Gratiot Avenue as they were developing into cruising, and street racing icons. Dennis and his buddies were out there with their wild "street machines".

One thing led to another, and he repaired Corvettes in a rented garage in his spare time and started to buy, sell, and trade Vette parts. A job change took him to the Chevrolet Engineering Center about the same time, so Dennis purchased a home, (the garage was almost as big as the house), on the North East Side of the Detroit Metro Area. After being laid off from Chevrolet Engineering in the early seventies, he decided to try to make a living selling Corvette parts and speed equipment. He was already drag racing his 1963 Coupe and lettered the sides to help advertise his new company, Tracy Performance. He also was involved in road racing, having built a SCCA B Production car from the ground up. He had a 3-car team of drag racing Corvettes at the Indy Nationals in 1973. About that time, the city inspector decided that Dennis should find a new location for his business operations! Tracy Performance moved to an industrial building and had much more room to store cars, parts, trucks, and trailers. This was about the period that Corvette swap meets became popular, and Tracy got into the act by organizing and promoting the "Detroit Area All Corvette Weekend" and other events that help enthusiasts pursue their interests. He also coined the phrase, "Wrap Your Ass in Fiberglass, Drive a Vette", which he used on many of his company T-shirts with a picture of his drag car and also some bumper stickers.

As they say, you tend to fill the space you have and he needed to move to larger quarters in about three years. In 1977 he acquired a very nice facility in Roseville, Michigan, about 3 ½ miles east of the GM Tech Center where he used to work. The place seemed huge and had room for expansion as well as having a service area with 8 hoists, a machine shop, a body shop, and a one acre salvage yard for disabled Corvettes. With 2 stories of new, used, rebuilt and reproduction parts, accessories and racing equipment, the new facility became know as the World’s Largest Complete Corvette Parts and Service Center!

At about the same time, Tracy Performance was sponsoring several IMSA road-racing Corvettes. His team, with Phil Currin driving, qualified the Rick Hay Corvette in 5th place at the Sebring 12-hour endurance race in 1977. In 1978 he sponsored the "Motown Shaker" Corvette Funny car owned by Al Bergler as well as the "Mongoose" Corvette Funny Car owned by Tom McEwen. Their first NHRA event was the Springnationals where the "Mongoose" was the 2nd fastest qualifier, runner-up in Funny Car Competition and also received the Best Appearing Car Award. McEwen took the car into the winner circle at the most important race of the year, the NHRA Indy Nationals and also became the runner-up in the NHRA World Championship competition. In 1979, they followed that by being the AHRA Funny Car World Champion.

The eighties brought Tracy Performance back to their origin with the return of wild street machines including nitrous oxide injected, supercharged Corvettes and the "World’s Fastest Street Machine", a real 200 MPH, former IMSA Corvette road racer with mufflers and turn signals! Other projects included Corvette restorations, stock and high performance engine building as well as general Corvette repairs, interior trim, glass replacement and insurance work.

The nineties brought more sophistication to the Corvette industry with the use of modern technology. Computers, toll free numbers, fax machines, E-mail addresses, and internet web sites are still creating changes in the business as Tracy Performance takes advantage of them to provide more information to Corvette enthusiasts. You can see some of his products on the Internet at his web site TracyPerf.com. Other information available at Tracy’s web sites includes block casting numbers, Chevy engine pad codes, cylinder head and intake casting numbers, a list of rare Corvette parts they have in stock, and much more. With a massive warehouse full of new, used, and NOS parts for Corvettes from the 1953 to the new C5 model, their inventory also includes thousands of Chevy V8 blocks, heads, intakes, carbs, transmissions, and rear axles. They also stock lots of original fiberglass and also a full line of the finest American Custom Industries manufactured fiberglass as can be viewed at his web site aciglass.com.

Many of Tracy’s Competition Corvettes have been featured in books, magazines, and newspapers. There is the Piece Of The Action, pages 91-93, 134, 204, 205 andCorvette! America’s Only, pages 30-31 and 58. Aurora even used one of the IMSA Sebring Corvettes to promote their slot car racing set and AMT used one of their funny cars to make a model kit.

Tracy Performance is truly an international business as they ship Vette products worldwide. They also help Canadian customers almost daily since they are less than one half hour from the border! You may see the Tracy Performance Crew set up at a number of Midwest Corvette swap meets. They have always been active in this area including being a Bloomington Gold Sponsor and 23-year Bloomington Goldtimer. They also supply many wholesale customers with parts. Not only can you usually find the parts you need, you will find Dennis Tracy and his knowledge and experience accumulated over 30 years of working on, playing with, and racing Corvettes! Where will he be in the next decade? He still plans on "Leading to the 21st Century with Total Corvette Involvement". If you see Tracy Performance at a swap meet or if you are ever in the Detroit Metro Area, stop in, talk to them, and see their massive inventory. As Dennis once said, "We, at Tracy Performance, are Corvette enthusiasts just like you. We’ve been fortunate to experience many of the things other enthusiasts would like to do. We are proud of these experiences and are willing to share them with you. We’re not a post office box. We will be glad to show you our place which we think is the largest and most complete Corvette center in the world!"

On a recent trip back to his hometown, he bumped into his old science teacher and remarked: "You probably don’t remember me. I was upset because I didn’t get to drive your Corvette in the homecoming parade, but it doesn’t matter now, I’ve owned over a thousand Vettes since then!" By the way, after over a thousand vehicles, Dennis still has his first car and his first Corvette! Sometimes dreams do come true.

 

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