More than any other name or face, Dan Binks was the living embodiment of Corvette Racing. Its legendary crew chief, a barrel of a man, presided over the cars and mechanics for the factory sports car team for nearly 20 years until retiring in May of 2020.
Altogether, the Californian spent 38 seasons before bidding farewell to the intensive life of 18-hour work days and constant travel. And in typical Binks fashion, the joys of ample rest and sitting idle lasted a few weeks before trailers started arriving at his home shop in Michigan. Corvettes he’d built during that span–ones that raced and won on the biggest stages, now in the hands of private owners–began lining up to have Binks freshen their engines and perform restorations.
So much for sipping adult beverages on the lawn and slowing down.
“My wife said, ‘You can't even quit right!’” a laughing Binks said.
Having dedicated the majority of his life to road racing, Binks is indulging in something radically different these days. Going in circles is about as far away as he can get from firing Corvettes out onto Sebring’s infamous road course for 12 hours, and that’s bringing a huge smile to his face.
You won’t find Binks Motorsports listed as an entrant in late January at IMSA’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, but if you look towards Oklahoma at the start of January, his cars, drivers, and engines will be making plenty of noise at the Chili Bowl, one of America’s last great gatherings for midget sprint cars.
Take all those decades of winning IMSA GTU races with a Mazda RX-7, the numerous Trans Am titles with Tommy Kendall in flame-spitting Ford Mustangs, and the aforementioned global domination with thunderous Corvettes, and all Binks wants to do now is watch Kody Swanson and Darin Naida chuck his little buzzbombs sideways at the indoor oval in Tulsa.
“When I was a little kid, I liked midgets; my dad would take me to see them race at Ascot Park,” Binks said. “And I always wanted to race a midget, and never did because I went pro racing and all that, and now that I'm ‘retired,’ I was like, 'Hey, ‘I'm gonna do this.’ And I built my own midget engine last year for the Chili Bowl and the engine did great. I also built a sprint car engine for Kody Swanson and he promptly won the championship with it.
“But I didn’t enjoy not being the team owner, so, three or four months ago, I bought two midgets from Tim Clauson and now I have my own engines in both cars, and my cars are my own, and I can do it my own way.”
As one of the all-time greats, a Binks sighting at a sports car race comes with an endless array of appreciation and reverie offered by fans, drivers, mechanics and race officials. I’d love to meet the poor sap who felt the need to try and put Binks in his place at the most recent Chili Bowl.
“When I walked into the building last year, somebody said, ‘You know, this is hard, right?” Binks added. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I know. So was winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times with Corvette…’ It was such an odd comment that somebody would make to me. Of course this is hard, and if it wasn't hard, I wouldn't do it.
“It’s not like going to this short track in town and beating up on all the little kids, right? I mean, the best guys in the world come to the Chili Bowl for a reason. Kyle Larson goes there. Alex Bowman goes there. And those guys’ teams are spending three or four or five times what I'm gonna spend, but the reason why I’m doing it because it’s hard and winning it really means you've accomplished something. And I take that as a challenge.”
Back in the wilder days of IMSA and Trans Am, and even the early stages of Corvette Racing’s participation in the American Le Mans Series, Binks was able to express his individuality while cutting, welding, and fabricating sports cars. That’s largely changed in recent years where the rulebooks have swelled with stifling regulations that handcuff creativity.
With Binks Motorsports entry into midget racing, those freedoms have returned and that’s why the hall-of-fame crew chief is loving the latest chapter in his illustrious career.
“It's the last place in the world that you can run where there's virtually no rules,” he said. “I mean, there's a few rules, but there's no rules and there’s no ‘rules of the week.’ It's bring your best stuff and do the best job you can. And if it's not good enough, go home and work on it and do better and come back and try again. And for me, that's where the love comes from.”
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