King of the Hill

Best known for winning a Corvette Challenge championship, Bill Cooper has turned his attention to hillclimb racing, with a 600-horsepower C5 coupe being his weapon of choice.

October 29, 2010

Also from Issue 62

  • Two Race-themed Z06s
  • Mid America Motorworks Funfest
  • 1958 Fuelie
  • Buyer's Guide: C1/2
  • 1966 Big-block Coupe
  • 1991 Coupe
  • Tech: Emissions Testing
  • 1971 LS6 Coupe
  • Race Report: Road America and Mosport
  • How-to: Power Steering
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If you’d told me that after growing up with Porsches and open-wheel racing cars that I would have spent so much of my life driving Corvettes, I never would have believed you,” says Bill Cooper says. He’s standing in the parking lot of a ski resort in Bogus Basin, high up in the mountains above Boise, Idaho, on a chilly morning on Labor Day weekend.

This is a racing paddock, only there are no checkered-flag pennants, no balloons, no announcements blaring from a public-address system, no blimp circling overhead with a television camera and certainly no grid girls in white go-go boots. There’s pretty much nothing that would remind Cooper of Le Mans, where he drove the Billy Hagan Stratagraph Camaro with Cale Yarborough in 1981. There’s nothing that would remind him of the racing paddocks of the 1980s, when he drove Corvettes in the SCCA’s Escort street-stock series. And it’s not like the 1989 Corvette Challenge, where Cooper drove a Doug Rippie Motorsports-built C4 to become the series champion, or the SCCA World Challenge of the 1990s when he drove the Jim Van Dorn-owned Pirate Racing Corvette.

Bogus Basin is instead the grassiest of grassroots racing, and that’s just why Cooper loves it. And that’s why he’s here with a very special Corvette.

Labor Day weekend is the annual date of the Bogus Basin Hillclimb, one of the rounds in the six-event series organized by the Northwest Hillclimb Association, which has the simple slogan, “Great Races in Beautiful Places.” People like Bogus Basin’s Wilkie Myers have been quietly putting on these events for decade—the first Freezeout Hill Climb at Bogus Basin dates to 1966—and they have the same charm that racing had back in the ’50s. If you have a Corvette, this is what you’d want to do with it, a combination of cross-country sightseeing tour and weekend driving test.

With a big wing standing free of the rear deck and semi-slick Hoosier DOT radials, Cooper’s 1998 Corvette coupe doesn’t seem much like a back-to-basics car. But he happily says otherwise: “It’s just a comfortable car that you can drive on the street, just like a Corvette is meant to be.”

Cooper first saw this car advertised in the back pages of Hemmings Motor News, and told his friend Matt Schaeffer, who is usually known to his friends as the Ice Cream King of Livingston, Montana. Schaeffer has owned a string of Corvettes and is known for his autocrossing skills; he beat Cooper the first time they met on the track. Together, Schaeffer and Cooper were looking for a car that they could race on the few weekends these busy men had to spare. Schaeffer is president of Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream, established in Montana in 1912 and served at Yellowstone National Park since the 1920s. Cooper conducts ride-and-drive events for car manufacturers, having left his position as the long-time chief instructor of the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving and moving to Montana about a decade ago.

This C5 had originally been built for a high-speed open-road rally by Gino Burelli, a Chevrolet dealer in Michigan City, Indiana. It has a hood and rear wing made from carbon fiber. Installed by Mallett Cars, the suspension features Penske dampers, P1 anti-roll bars and heavy-duty Baer brakes. Burelli commissioned a Lingenfelter-built, nitrous-boosted 383-cid V8 for the car’s first event in 2002, but promptly blew it up.