The Automobile Club de l’Ouest is continuing the festivities linked to the 90th anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013, and it wished to pay homage to all the American drivers having competed in the greatest endurance race in the world at the International Sports Car Weekend taking place today and Sunday. This homage was paid to them in collaboration with Corvette whose cars will carry the names of all the drivers having raced at Le Mans!
In the context of the meeting combining the American round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the start of which will be given at 11h00 (local time) 18h00 in France, and the eighth round of the American Le Mans Series (today, Saturday, start 22h45 in France) ACO President Pierre Fillon chaired a ceremony in honour of American drivers.
This took place in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas in the presence of numerous Le Mans drivers of today and yesteryear starting with Patrick Dempsey, Track Krohn and Tommy Milner, and major figures of American Motor Sport, the officials of both championships and the American and international media.
The 93-year-old dentist, the ‘Flying Dentist’ as he was known, was entered for Le Mans seven times and took part in the race on six occasions between 1960 and 1968. In 1960, he drove for Briggs Cunningham in a works Corvette on the make’s maiden outing in the Sarthe. He was in the lead shortly after the start but was forced to retire.
In 1961, he came back again with Cunningham, this time in a Maserati (4th overall) and again in 1962 (rtd). In 1965, he helped Cobra to victory in the over 5-litre category and finished eighth overall. In 1967 he drove a Mirage (rtd) and for his last outing in 1968 he was at the wheel of the amazing Howmet powered by a turbine from a helicopter! Unfortunately, his race ended in a big shunt at Indianapolis when the throttle jammed open. He got out unhurt but the revolutionary racer was destroyed.
He retired to Florida not far from Miami, and although he was unable to come to Austin he was at the centre of the ceremony thanks to a film shot at his home where he was inducted in the Hall of Fame. Dr. Dick Thompson joined the doyens already honoured by the ACO and the Le Mans 24-Hours International Drivers Club: Eric Thompson at Silverstone, Freddy Rousselle at Spa, Robert Manzon at Le Mans and Hermano da Silva Ramos in Sao Paulo.
Symbolic American make, Corvette, whose racing activities are intimately linked to the Le Mans 24 Hours made a point of associating itself with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest at the American celebrations, all the more so as Dick Thompson was one of its drivers. Thus, the names of the 307 Americans who have taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours since 1923 were written on the rear windows of the American cars, which will compete in the ALMS race. It is a marvellous consolidation of the links between the ACO and the United States via a legendary car manufacturer.
Pierre Fillon, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest President: “In the context of the ceremonies linked to the 90th anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest wished to honour the American drivers who have raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours through their doyen, Dr. Dick Thompson, a former works Corvette driver. Symbolic American make Corvette’s racing history is intimately linked to the Le Mans 24 Hours, so there could not be a more appropriate manufacturer to carry the names of all the American drivers who have shone in the Le Mans 24 Hours.”
Jim Campbell, Vice-President Chevrolet Competition and High Performance Vehicles: “We would like to pay tribute to all the American drivers who have taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hours, including Dr. Dick Thompson. In 2000, he was inducted into the Corvette National Museum’s Hall of Fame, which is a great honour in the Corvette community. I was lucky enough to drive alongside him a few years back in the Sebring 12 Hours during a Corvette Stingray Racer demonstration. It was a very moving experience as it was the car he raced in 1959.”
The Automobile Club de l’Ouest will continue the homages paid to the drivers having taken part in the Le Mans 24 hours at the Fuji 6 Hours (Japan, 20th October), the sixth of the eight rounds in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Corvette - ACO