He had the looks of a Hollywood movie star and the talent to reach the pinnacle of IMSA stardom in the 1980s. Chris Cord, an investment banker who took up sports car racing as a hobby and closed his career in the center of Dan Gurney’s All American Racers factory Toyota GTO program, died on Thursday at the age of 82. Katrina Cord, his wife of 64 years, was with him when he passed at their home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Cord’s journey as a gentleman driver began in 1975 at IMSA’s six-hour race at Riverside in a Ferrari 365 GTB and after finishing sixth on his debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona the following year in the same car, he formed his own team in 1977 and purchased a thundering Dekon Chevrolet Monza to compete against IMSA’s best drivers and manufacturers.
A trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978 delivered a class win for Cord in a Kremer Racing Porsche 935 he shared with Jim Busby and Rick Knoop, and with the trusty No. 19 Monza serving as his mount through the early parts of 1981, he added a new Lola T600 GTP car to Chris Cord Racing’s stable.
Wearing the same number and red color as the Monza, Cord and his frequent co-driver Jim Adams captured multiple podiums through 1983 with the Lola and its bellowing Chevy V8 engine. It was Cord’s speed and consistency in his privateer GTP entry that caught the attention of Gurney as Toyota recruited AAR to develop a new Toyota Celica car for IMSA’s GTU class for small-bore cars, and in 1984, he became a factory driver and helped develop the Celica into a winner by 1985.
It was AAR’s shift upward to the intense IMSA GTO class in 1986 — taking on the factory Ford and Chevy programs — with its flame-spitting 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Celicas where Cord made a statement. After an intense year of development with the new tubeframe turbo car, he and AAR absolutely throttled their GTO opposition in 1987 where four wins and 10 podiums in the No. 98 Celica resulted in Cord being crowned as IMSA’s GTO champion.
More GTO wins and podiums continued for Cord in 1988, and when AAR made its first foray into IMSA’s GTP class with Toyota, he was nominated as one of its first wave of drivers to make the leap in 1989.
During the height of Cord’s success, he was often cited as the grandson of Errett Cord, founder of the once-famous Cord Automobile company, but with his success as a businessman and champion race driver, mentions of the historical strands were replaced by the respect due for his own accomplishments in life.
Among those to pay tribute to Cord, his AAR brethren shared the following:
“The Gurney family and AAR teammates are filled with sorrow to hear of the passing of one of our greatest champions, Chris Cord. He was the center of the 1980s IMSA era, a talented driver, a gentleman, and a class act on and off the track. 1987 will forever be one of our most favorite racing seasons. Everything came together in that magical year: exciting races, a great crew, beautiful team spirit, fun-filled post-race celebrations, and a nail-biting season finish with Chris being crowned IMSA champion. Our hearts go out to his wife Katrina and his family. We will miss you Chris !
“With love and gratitude, Evi, Justin, and Alex Gurney, and his AAR family.”
IMSA president John Doonan watched Cord race while in his youth.
“I am very sorry to learn of the passing of Chris Cord,” he said. “All of us at IMSA send condolences to his family and those close to him. I vividly remember the No. 19 both on his Chevy Monza and his Lola T600 as a young IMSA fan. And who can forget his championship performance in the Gurney GT Toyotas? Chris drove in over 100 races in his career and won roughly 10 percent of those. He accomplished those victories through consistency in building his career from being a privateer to being a factory driver, and his career emulates the spirit of what IMSA is about. Godspeed Chris, thank you for representing the IMSA spirit.”
IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal raced against Cord in IMSA and remembers him as a gracious champion.
“What a class act Chris was, just the nicest guy,” he said. “He never talked ill of anybody. If you’re looking for somebody that exemplified the best in racing and as a human being, it was Chris.”