DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Last month at Sebring, Oliver Gavin stepped aside from his full-time role with Corvette Racing, leaving as one of the legends of sports-car racing.
This is the second installment of a two-part look at Gavin’s career.
When he arrived at Sebring Int’l Raceway last month, Oliver Gavin sat in a line of cars outside turn 17, waiting to pass through security. His wife, Helen, noticed the banner first.
Stretched across the side of the bridge over turn 17, in large black letters, was a tribute:
OLIVER. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.
“Is that for you?” Helen asked.
Stunned, Gavin replied. “I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose it could be.”
Teammate Antonio Garcia sat in the back seat, trying his best to hold back laughter.
“He says, ‘Of course it’s for you. Who else would it be for?!’” Gavin said. “Both Helen and I were sitting there speechless. … We couldn’t believe it. (We were) just so touched that the track had done something like that.”
Fitting, though. Sebring, the host of Gavin’s first test for Corvette Racing in 2001 and a circuit at which he has logged more racing and testing miles than any other race track – “by far,” he says – was honoring him in his final race as a full-time participant.
It was the first of a weekend of honors. Competitors greeted Gavin in the paddock and on pit lane. Past and present teammates pulled him aside to express gratitude. Nineteen years with one team and 30 years as a professional racer have a way of adding up in friendship and respect and tributes on bridges.
“You feel very humbled,” Gavin said. “You want to thank them for their time and all those moments that you’ve had on track together. As a driver, you’re out there competing hard against all of these people. You want to do well, you want to win and you want to have success, but also you want there to be that respect from all of the guys you’re competing against.”
To the point, Gavin explains, it’s about trust.
“We’re all racing around the track absolutely to the limit,” he said. “There’s all kinds of decisions that are being taken out there. You’re putting yourself at risk. You have to trust these guys. You’re wheel to wheel, and there are points where literally one wrong move and you could end up having a huge accident. You’re putting someone’s life at risk. You have to have this respect.”
The banner on the bridge spoke of respect. Sebring was a jumble of reminiscence, joy and sadness, most notably for people who worked directly with Gavin for years.
“It’s hard, but it’s also racing,” said Brian Hoye, Gavin’s longtime car chief. “We all know that. You put your heart into it, but it’s not a perfect world. People move on. People get older. Things change in racing. It’s a moving target. You try not to get too attached because you know that nothing lasts forever. It was difficult, and it’s still difficult.”
Hoye and Gavin shared a racetrack brotherhood. They joked and taunted each other, but they also turned serious when the circumstances demanded it.
“He had my back, both on the track and off it,” Gavin said. “We’ve got this great relationship where we can make fun of one another and pick on one another but then also have these very serious, deep conversations about what’s happening – not just at the racetrack, but away from the racetrack. I’ll miss Brian a lot.”
Ask Gavin about his most memorable accomplishments as a racer and you’ll get a list of dates, tracks and details of remarkable clarity. Brands Hatch in British Formula 3 in 1995. Lime Rock in 2016. All five victories at Sebring. Five more at Petit Le Mans.
But it is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which Corvette Racing has eight victories and Gavin five, that carries the weight of his pride and the fondest of his recollections. Specifically, the 2015 race.
That’s when the team was left with just one car. A mechanical failure in qualifying caused a heavy crash by Jan Magnussen in the team’s No. 63 car. The entry had to be withdrawn, leaving just the No. 64 C7.R co-driven by Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. It was starting ninth in the LMGTE Pro class, a bleak prospect from even the most optimistic perspective.
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