Gainesville resident honored by a racing hall of fame in Sebring
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:39 a.m.
Phil Currin was 20 years old when he rescued a 1963 split-window Corvette for $1,900 from a used-car lot in Fort Lauderdale.
"I was a sophomore at UF then," Currin, 67, recalled from his garage in Gainesville.
The red, four-speed Sting Ray was his first Corvette, he said. He towed it to every race, took it on his honeymoon, sold it, rebought it, then restored it. Now, almost 50 years later, the two are still together -- but this time as "Fast Phil" and "Giantkiller."
After half a decade's worth of competing in the International Motor Sports Association, auto-cross and amateur races from New Hampshire to Mexico to Daytona, "Fast Phil" was recognized about two weeks ago when he was invited to display the "Giantkiller" at the Hall of Fame in Sebring for the association's 40th anniversary at the racetrack.
"It was an honor," Currin said. "I ran that car at Sebring (a 12-hour race) on that track in 1973."
Of the 72 cars, he finished 11th overall, and out of 18 Corvettes, 16 of which were newer models with bigger, more powerful engines, he finished second, he said.
"One of the newer models beat me," he grumbled, a phenomenon that wasn't uncommon for the Gainesville native.
Because he financed most of his career, Currin ran smart races, preferring a low finish to a blown-out engine. To save money, he didn't pay for pit crews; he had friends from school who would volunteer.
He would buy whatever stock engines the Chevrolet dealership was selling on the floor at the time and modify them himself. And when it came to tires, sometimes he had Firestones on the front, Goodyears on the back or old, thrown-out tires that other racers considered "worn out or no good."
"Virtually, there was no team out there that had less money than me," Currin said.
Whereas most affluent racers bought newer, flashier models, Currin stuck with his '63 Corvette -- and when he started routinely winning, he was nicknamed "Fast Phil," and his was car was christened "Giantkiller."
Louis Galanos, a longtime friend who first met Currin through volunteer work with the Sports Car Club of America, remembers how much time Currin used to spend fixing his car before races.
"For the 1972 Daytona Continental, which was six hours, he worked through the night," Galanos, 67, recalled. "He did it without sleep at all."
As Galanos remembers, Currin was "literally running with almost no brakes at all" by the end of the race but still finished sixth in his class.
"There's some good drivers out there, but they drive so hard and recklessly that they crash," he said. "Phil knows how to get the car to the finish. That's why he's had a number of top-10 finishes in his career with an under-powered, older car."
Outside of the praise, Currin's numbers hold up.
Total number of racetracks raced on: 24.
Total number of professional race laps completed: 2,677.
Total number of professional lap miles: 6,132.
And over $9,000 worth of prize money, which amounts to roughly $40,000 in today's dollars.
"It is possibly the most professionally road-raced C-2 (the second design of Corvettes made from '63 to '67)," Currin said. "I think it has won more prize money, has completed more racing laps, has more racing miles than any other '63, '64, '65, '66, '67 Corvette in history," he noted proudly.
What Currin might not realize, however, is the lasting impression he has on the racing community.
When he visited Sebring two weekends ago, he stayed overnight in a van within eye's view of his Corvette, and one of the most frequent questions people asked him, he said, was whether he was Fast Phil and if this was his car.
When recounting the experience, he said, "Uh, yeah, I'm Phil" with a quizzical tone and a hunched eyebrow.
But Galanos views it differently.
"He had people who would show up and get his autograph, take his picture in the car; they remember Phil from back in the day," he said. "Of all the cars that were there this past Sebring at The Hall of Fame Gallery of Legends Building, Phil's car was the only car that was still owned by the driver. That's special."
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.