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Vintage Race Car Comes Home

by and on August 03, 2014 3:00 PM

Chevrolet rocked the automotive world of 1967 when it introduced the sporty Camaro.

It was designed to offer serious competition to the Ford Mustang, which had been a runaway sales success since mid-1964.

Available in coupe and convertible models, the Camaro could be had with engines ranging from an economical 230 cubic inch 6-cylinder to a muscular 427 cubic inch V-8.

Drag racing had become very popular in the mid-1960's, drawing large crowds all over the country. Many factory or dealer-sponsored racing teams traveled the drag racing circuits promoting the newest muscle cars from all the American car makers.

Bellefonte resident Bob Thomas, who had years of experience in dirt track racing, contacted his friend Gene Stocker, Sr. at Stocker Chevrolet, suggesting that Stocker acquire one of the new Camaros and run it at local drag races with Thomas driving.

Stocker finally agreed, and ordered a white Camaro coupe with a black vinyl roof and black stripes on the hood and trunk.

Under the hood was a 302 cubic inch V-8 engine coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. The car had hand-painted lettering on its doors, naming it "Stocker's Shocker," along with Thomas' name as the driver.

Thomas drove the Camaro in drag races for a year with great success. He set a track record at Numidia Dragway in Numidia, Columbia County, topping out at 121 miles per hour. It ran in the SS/E class, which was a class for factory stock vehicles.

The Camaro was sold to Jim Schaeffer of Lewistown in 1968, who also raced the car, racking up many wins that year.

There is a story that Steve "Hypo" Kinzer, who owned a 1968 Ford Mustang with Ford's fire-breathing 428 Cobra Jet engine challenged Schaeffer to a street race in Lewistown. According to Joe Buono of Fleetwood, the Camaro's current owner, the race drew a huge crowd of spectators.

"I know a guy who was there, and he said he had to stand seven rows deep to see the race," says Buono. "This was a big event in Lewistown."

The story goes that even the local police officers were there and did not cite anyone for law violations.

The car was later traded to a dealer in western Pennsylvania and changed owners several times over the years. Once, its drive train was stolen. The car had resided in a climate-controlled garage in Greencastle for 28 years, where Buono found it.

On July 27, Buono brought the Camaro back to its original home at Stocker Chevrolet for a reunion with Thomas and Gene Stocker, Jr. before taking the car to the Last Cruise Car Show in State College.

Thomas shared stories of the Camaro in its glory days of racing. Stocker remembers the Camaro well. "I was 17 years old, and was driving a Chevelle SS396 coming up out of Bellefonte when I saw Bob (Thomas) in the Camaro behind me waving at me. I floored the Chevelle and he passed me like I was going backward," says Stocker.

Thomas' son, Greg, and his wife Carol were also at Stocker's that day.

"He's in his glory after 47 years," Carol Thomas said, referring to her husband.

The Camaro still wears its original white paint job and black vinyl roof. Buono said he would like to reproduce the original race car lettering on the vehicle to make it look just like it did on the drag race circuit many years ago, in an effort to preserve a piece of local racing history.

He is looking for information and old photos of the car. Buono can be reached at boss302@ptd.net or (610) 334-5190.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


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