Bill Graves Sr. Applied Knowledge and Skill to Claim the 2022 CPP AutoCrosser of the Year Title
It’s difficult to beat cubic money in any form of auto racing. Those who have the means to buy the latest parts and craft the most sophisticated cars will frequently finish on top. But you should never discount experience and determination. Sometimes the right combination of old-fashioned know-how, persistence, talent, and time will gel in a way that allows a modest racer to claim a major win.
You could argue that was path to success for Bill Graves Sr. in winning the Goodguys 2022 CPP AutoCrosser of the Year title. Fueled by a lifetime of learning and experience, “The Professor” – as he’s affectionately known by friends and fellow competitors – mapped out a route to victory last season that included competing at 12 Goodguys events across the country, where he claimed seven class wins and eight shootout victories. His consistency and the sheer number of events he attended were strong advantages after the rules were adjusted to award the AutoCrosser of the Year title to the racer who accumulated the most points throughout the season.
You could call Bill’s strategy racing the rulebook, but he’s quick to point out that he and his wife, Marti, regularly attend as many Goodguys events as possible. Being retired, they love to travel, and the events provide a great excuse to see different parts of the country. “We just love doing that stuff,” Bill says. “We’re fortunate that we can. To race the car in addition, that’s just a bonus.”
Bill says his history with Corvettes and competition goes back to his street racing days in the late-’60s, when he traded a GTO for a ’67 Corvette. That was sold in favor of a new shark-nose ’69 ’Vette, which Bill used to learn to autocross in the 1970s and still owns. There were few bolt-on suspension parts designed for improved handling in those days, so Bill learned to study the Chevrolet parts catalogs and dealer service materials passed along to him from a friend at the local Chevy parts department, picking up tips on parts and suspension improvements.
Memories of those earlier racing days were revived when Bill bought this ’66 Corvette roadster back in 2007. He suspects the car had some outlaw street racing history of its own, as evidenced by the healthy big block engine and hidden switches for turning off brake lights and rear running lights. The car needed work but was a good foundation for Bill to begin improving and enjoying.
Bill says he never really planned to do any serious racing with the Corvette and was content to enjoy more leisurely street driving the first few years he had it on the road. He ran a few local SCCA events and a few Charlotte Goodguys AutoCrosses, but competing in Goodguys AutoCross at the 2015 North Carolina Nationals in Raleigh whet his appetite for competition, especially after he earned a Muscle Machine of the Year finalist nod and an invitation to compete in the Duel in the Desert at the Southwest Nationals. By that summer he had swapped in an LS engine to replace the big block and began making other upgrades. A successful trip to Scottsdale and competing in the Duel in the Desert cemented his interest in Goodguys AutoCross. “We went out there and met friends who are still friends today,” Bill says.
In the years since, Bill has continually improved the Corvette, to the point where it’s a consistent winner whenever he competes in the Forgeline Street Machine class, where he has won three season points championships. And while others might have been tempted to chase faster speeds (and a possible move up to the PRO or PRO-X class) by spending money on a new custom chassis or exotic braking system, Bill was more intrigued by honing what he already had.
“That was the challenge I gave to myself,” Bill says, “Let’s see what we can do with what we have. That’s the way we stock car raced, and that’s the way we road raced years ago. I challenged myself to take a low-budget situation and see how competitive we could be on a national level.”
It helped that he was starting with a great platform. “Corvettes have good bones,” Bill says. “You’ve got to know what they are and how to apply them.” Thus, Bill kept the Corvette’s original frame and improved the suspension with select products like SPC adjustable upper control arms in front, Viking coil-over shocks front and rear, Van Steel rear trailing arms, and adjustable sway bars. A Borgeson power steering box replaced the original, while a Tom’s Differential center section was set up with 3.73 gears from GearFX. Bill retained the factory disc brakes and used a hydroboost to help provide extra clamping power. Assistance on the chassis through the years has come from Jules Broom and Bill’s sons Billy and Jason. And the support he receives from his wife and racing partner, Marti, makes the travel and competition more fun.
Much of the success Bill has experienced in past seasons has come with a stroked LS3 engine. That engine finally expired during the 2022 Summit Racing Nationals in Columbus, so Bill swapped in a 434c.i. LS7 built by George Gable with forged internals, a Comp camshaft, Brodix heads, FiTech fuel injection, Daytona Sensors ignition, a Holley accessory drive system, and owner-built stepped headers leading to the side pipes. The engine is cooled by an aluminum radiator from Summit Racing and is backed by a Ram clutch and a Tremec five-speed from Silversport Transmissions.
The Corvette’s body is mostly as it came from Chevrolet in 1966, with a charcoal metallic Imron paint job that dates back to 1989. Bill took advantage of the Covid slowdown in 2020 to splice in widened front wheel flares and rear quarter sections to better cover the 18×11- and 18×12-inch Forgeline wheels, which are shod with 285/30/18 Falken and 315/30/18 Yokohama tires.
Kirkey aluminum seats are the biggest departure from stock inside. There’s also an Ididit steering column and 14-inch wheel to improve steering control, an AutoMeter tachometer augmenting the factory gauges, and three-point shoulder-and-lap seatbelts.
As you can see, nothing on the car is particularly exotic, but it’s a combination of parts and modifications that simply work well together. Those elements came together in a very deliberate way, not just by throwing money at a problem or buying the latest parts. “Homework. Time. Research, research, research,” Bill says, are the keys to success. “That’s why they call me The Professor.”
The other elements that frequently set Bill apart from the field are his driving skill and his attention to detail when making suspension and engine adjustments. “The car will tell you what it wants if you pay attention to it,” Bill says.
It’s a very thoughtful approach to AutoCross racing, one that has rewarded Bill with long-term success. And for 2022, this approach helped “The Professor” earn the highest series honor – CPP AutoCrosser of the Year. Congratulations to Bill, Marti, and everyone else who helped make 2022 a championship season for this charcoal metallic Corvette. And rest assured Bill and the ’Vette will be back on the track in 2023, tuned up and ready to take the competition to school!
Photos by John Jackson & Terry Lysak