By Art EvansI was saddened to learn that Pete Lovely died on May 16, 2011. He was a wonderful friend and a great competitor. I understand that he passed on peacefully with his two daughters at his side. Pete’s beloved wife, Nevele, died in 2008. Some friends remarked to me that he never really recovered from her loss.
We knew him as “Pete.” (Not Peter!) When he was born, his thin mother looked as if she would have twins. His dad said if they were girls, they would be named Kate and Duplicate; if boys, Pete and Repeat. The result turned out not to be twins; just one boy.
During the fifties, Pete entered so many California sports car races that many assumed he was a native. He won the first Laguna Seca in 1957 in Fred Armbruster’s Ferrari 500TR, he won the one and only 1955 Glendale Airport race in his famous Pooper, finished second at Golden Gate Park in 1954 and qualified 20th and finished 11th as a privateer in the 1960 U.S. Grand Prix at Riverside.
Gerard Carlton Lovely was born on April 11, 1926 at Livingston, Montana. His father was a rancher who supplied horses to pull plows. Along came tractors and then the Depression and the ranch went broke. From 1933 to 1943, his dad was a deputy sheriff; then the family moved to Seattle and Lovely Sr. went to work at Boeing.
Pete attended Park County High School in Livingston and then transferred to Garfield High School in Seattle in 1943. After graduation, Pete was drafted and served in the Army Air Corps as an aviation mechanic. Discharged in 1946, his skill led to a job at North American in El Segundo, California, then back to Seattle and Boeing.
As a new civilian, Pete used his mustering-out pay to buy a 1932 Ford roadster into which he installed a Ford truck engine. He campaigned at local oval tracks from 1947 to 1950. While still racing the roadster, he acquired an MG TC. Then he sold the TC and bought a Renault 4CV and entered a road race at Ft. Lewis, just south of Tacoma. He failed to win, so he traded the Renault for an XK120 Jaguar, returned to Ft. Lewis the following weekend and placed first overall. Lovely raced the Jaguar until 1954 when he built his first special, a VW-Porsche. He didn’t have a trailer, so he drove the car from his home in Seattle down to San Francisco and placed second at Golden Gate.
Later that year, Pete started his own VW dealership, bought a Cooper Streamliner record car and installed a Porsche engine; it became the famous “Pooper” in which he won the 1955 F-Modified SCCA National Championship.
Lovely entered his Pooper in the 1956 Pebble Beach event. Some years ago, I asked him about it: “In 1956, I bought a streamliner from John Cooper. It was British Racing Green and gorgeous. I installed a Porsche Super engine and a VW gearbox. At Pebble, there was a whole bunch of Porsche Spyders, but at only 920 pounds, my Pooper was a lot lighter. Early on, I was either second or in the lead when, coming out of Turn 3, the loud peddle went all the way to the floor and the engine went to idle. So I pulled over to see what had gone wrong. It was apparent the cable that connected the pedal to the carburetors had come undone. I realized I couldn’t fix it on the course. So I got in the car, reached back with my left hand, worked the throttle and got back up to speed. The only problem was that when I shifted, I had to momentarily let go of the wheel. So I would wait until a straight stretch to shift. With the 4-speed VW box, I could shift rapidly. I knew that there wasn’t anything I could do back in the pits to fix it in less than 30 minutes, so I decided to keep going. I ended up fourth overall!”
In 1957, Pete joined the GMC factory team at Sebring driving an SR2 Corvette. Some time afterwards, he told me his remembrances: “About two weeks before the race, John Fitch called me on the phone and said he needed another driver. He had called me because of the successes I had driving the Pooper. I had won the SCCA National Championship again in 1956 in my class, F Modified. I replied, ‘Well yeah, I can come, no problem.’ After the race started and just as it was getting dark, my teammate, Paul O’Shea, was going down the Warehouse Straight and he put the brakes on, but they didn’t work. So he went straight off into a sandy berm that was about four feet high. When he hit the berm, he went right through it. So he drove around slowly and came back to the pit. I got in the car and put on my open-face helmet. I drove to the end of the pit lane and was waved out. When I accelerated, all of a sudden I was almost blinded. When Paul had gone through the berm, a lot of sand got on the floorboard. It blew up under my helmet. So I came back in and, while I was trying to get the sand out of my eyes, the mechanics got a vacuum cleaner and cleaned it all out. We lost a lot of time what with all those goofy things going wrong and we ended up 16th or something like that.” John Fitch wrote me, “Pete Lovely was one of my stalwart drivers. I requested his talent for top speed with no mistakes…and he delivered.”
Lovely’s record was such that he was invited to join Team Lotus in 1959. When he arrived in Europe, he found that he was expected to survive on prize money. That year’s Lotus wasn’t very reliable, so when the money he had brought with him ran out, he returned home.
The following year, Pete finished third in Jack Nethercutt’s Ferrari at the L.A. Examiner Grand Prix. Then he stuffed a Ferrari engine in a Cooper for the U.S. Grand Prix. That same year, he and Nethercutt placed third overall at the 12 Hours of Sebring even though they spent 39 minutes in the pits with a split fuel tank.
In 1969, Lovely revisited Formula One. He purchased the Lotus 49B in which Graham Hill had won the previous year’s championship. Pete finished seventh at the Canadian and ninth at the Mexican GPs.
In 1985 when I ran the vintage races at Palm Springs, I called Pete and asked him to join us, so he loaded his Lotus on his VW pickup and started to drive from Tacoma. On the way, he got stuck in a snowstorm. Somehow, he made his way to an airport and arrived on time. So I got him a ride in a borrowed Lotus and he made the race! In more recent times, Pete added a vintage racecar restoration shop to his dealership. Then he sold the dealership and started traveling all over the world entering historic events. In 1999 and again in 2000, Pete and his wife, Nevele, were invited to Australia for the Race of Legends.
He was a consistent entrant at the Monterey Historics, often running his 49B in the Formula One race. He had a large transporter complete with kitchen and chef. I was fortunate to be asked to partake the wonderful paddock food and drink as well as the companionship.
May the road rise to meet you, Pete
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.