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Corvette's No. 1 driver tamer than the average mom

Ron Fellows during the 2008 24 Hours of Le Mans.

General Motors

You'd think that having your name on the first and only signature Corvette in the model's history would be cause enough to drive it around at every opportunity and bask in the glory.

But when you're a low key guy named Ron Fellows, that kind of thing just isn't your style. Besides, the veteran road racer insists that people always gawk at his shiny white 2007 Ron Fellows GT1 Champion Z06 Corvette, but they rarely recognize the guy behind the wheel.

"I think the colour of the car is pretty striking so people tend to notice it, but I don't know if anybody knows what the significance is," he says. "It is really cool to have a car named after you. General Motors has never done that before in the history of the Corvette and for them to do that for me as recognition of my tenure with Corvette Racing was pretty special."

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2007 Ron Fellows GT1 Champion Z06 Corvette In Pictures: Veteran road racer insists that people always gawk at his shiny car, but they rarely recognize the guy behind the wheel

In his time behind the wheel of Chevy's flagship sports car, Fellows scored Corvette Racing's maiden win, took two class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three American Le Mans Series (ALMS) driver titles, and 27 chequered flags in ALMS. He also has four NASCAR Nationwide wins to his credit in Chevrolets, with the most recent coming in the 2008 NAPA 200 at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Three years ago, Chevrolet produced 399 of the special Z06s to reward Fellows for his contribution to General Motors' racing efforts and also handed him the keys to the first car to roll off the line. While exceedingly proud of the honour, he rarely takes his #001 Ron Fellows Corvette out of the garage and has put less than 1,000 kilometres on the car in three years.

Part of the reason he keeps the car sheltered from the mean streets of Toronto is that he worries about the way others handle their rides, something that has been magnified since he started his Ron Fellows Performance Driving School last year at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, about 65 kilometres west of Las Vegas.

"When I'm at home and I drive around the Queen Elizabeth Way, the 401, the Gardiner Expressway and the 404, I wish that we had better driver training - it's amazing there are not more accidents," he insists.

"The driving habits of the majority of the people out there are horrible. We need to make some big changes in our driver training and we need to have a lot more pride in the quality of our drivers."

Getting drivers to raise their game is close to Fellows' heart after he lost his father, and his newlywed brother lost a wife and mother-in-law to traffic accidents.

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Fellows feels there needs to be a culture change in the way drivers are being taught. As sees it, new drivers are not shown how to be better behind the wheel; instead, the training simply teaches students how to pass the driver's test.

"That's wrong: You're taught how to pass the test and then you are on your own and you're a crappy driver for the rest of your life," he says.

"It's on my list of things to consider how to effect some change."

So, when his kids needed to learn how to handle a car, Fellows searched for the best training he could find. And even though their dad is more than proficient behind the wheel, he left the driver training to the experts.

The training he chose had in-depth classroom and practical learning and incorporated simulators to help his kids be prepared for the challenges of Toronto's streets.

"I went and tested the simulator and I was really impressed with its ability to have them experience poor weather, emergencies, and all kinds of hazardous situations and teach them the right manoeuvres without having them wreck anything," he says. "We are dealing with a generation that really respond to that kind of instruction and apply it."

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But even with expert instruction in their pockets, Fellows isn't about to hand over the keys to his eponymous Z06. That's because he's got another reason for wanting to keep his namesake Corvette out of harm's way: He plans to leave the car to his three children, Lindsay, Sam, and Patrick, as a kind of life insurance policy on wheels.

Luckily, should Fellows get the itch to drive a Vette, he's also got a 2006 Z06 - the first performance car he ever owned - sitting in the laneway.

But like most dads, the Mississauga, Ont., resident finds himself needing his wheels to run errands, do the usual tasks like shopping and groceries, and, of course, ferrying the kids around to all their activities.

For those chores, he's usually behind the wheel of his trusty 2011 Cadillac Escalade ESV. With two sons heavily into sports, Fellows needs something that will hold multiple hockey bags and other gear. Being spoiled rotten with multiple television screens doesn't hurt either, he adds. He also owns a 2011 Equinox for running around town.

When things do go awry, having thousands of kilometres of racing experience does come in handy.

"There are lots of defensive habits that I developed on the racetrack that I just take it for granted, which will keep you in good stead on the roads but a lot of those are just instinctive," he says.

But that doesn't mean he hasn't had an accident. About 30 years ago during a break from racing to make money by working on gas pipelines, Fellows had a "big one."

"I wasn't fooling around. It involved a dump truck pulling a trailer carrying a backhoe, and a cement truck. It was a big crash," he laughs.

"I was driving the dump truck in a whiteout and we managed to run into the cement truck and turn it over. It was a pretty good one."

Three decades later, Fellows the dad likely wouldn't take a chance driving in the same conditions. And even when the roads are perfect, don't expect him to break any speed records as he gets around town.

"When Lindsay was going to a private girl's school in Oakville, we carpooled with four other families in the neighbourhood, so that meant once a week it was our turn and generally I drove them. In the early days, it was in a Suburban and later in the Escalade," he recalls.

"Apparently the girls swore I was the tamest driver of all the moms."

2007 Ron Fellows GT1 Champion Z06 Corvette In Pictures: Veteran road racer insists that people always gawk at his shiny car, but they rarely recognize the guy behind the wheel

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Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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