The debate over who owns the famous No. 1 Cunningham Corvette has heated up and any potential resolution could be much more than a lap away.
A Florida man filed both a stolen vehicle report and a lawsuit against Carlisle Events co-owner Lance Miller and others claiming that he is the rightful owner of the famous car.
Miller filed a countersuit in Cumberland County Court. Both suits were filed last month.
According to Miller, Carlisle Police and Pennsylvania State Police officers recently arrived at the fairgrounds demanding to search for the vehicle based on the stolen automobile report.
Tampa businessman Dan Mathis Jr. claims appear to have been boosted when New York Times contributing journalist Jerry Garrett posted on his own website what appears to be the official title of the car.
The title has Mathis' name and Tampa address on it and lists the date of issue as Aug. 17, 2012.
Miller has contended that he purchased the vehicle in July and re-sold it two days later. He has declined to reveal the name of the new owner.
“I will respect that wish until the buyer agrees to be named or I am ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction,” Miller wrote in an email published on Garrett’s site.
A former special correspondent for the Associated Press and a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Garrett first broke the story about the competing lawsuits between Mathis and Carlisle Events.
The company heavily promoted the car at a well-attended Corvette event last month.
However, as the event was going on, Mathis was trying to retrieve the vehicle and asked for help from local authorities.
Carlisle Police Lt. Michael Dzezinksi referred inquiries to Capt. Stephen Margeson who did not immediately return messages Tuesday.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said Tuesday that he was aware that there are competing civil cases in the matter.
“We are not actively investigating this matter as we believe it properly belongs in civil court,” Freed said in an email to The Sentinel.
Mathis contends the car belonged to his late father, Dan Mathis Sr., who raced the car in central Florida for a time in the mid-1970s, until it was stolen.
Touted by many car enthusiasts and experts as the most important find in car-collector history, Carlisle Events announced in July that it had found the Briggs Cunningham’s Le Mans Corvette race car.
It was the last of the three Cunningham cars to be located, and the announcement of the find had national automotive magazines and blogs buzzing.
“The wild allegations by Mr. Mathis presented by (Garrett) as fact, are wholly untrue,” Miller wrote in an email posted on Garrett’s blog.
However, “Miller and (his associate) Kevin Mackay were previously contacted by sources inquiring about the true ownership of the car, inquiring about the title for the car, and inquiring about the previous transactions involving the car,” Mathis said.
“They were also informed that there was an owner of record in Florida,” he said. “After learning this new information, Lance and Kevin opted not to take the reasonable and prudent route to legitimize this famous car. Instead they took the route of deception and theft.”
Miller countered that there was plenty of due diligence involved in the process of obtaining the car.
”Prior to my purchase, a 50-state stolen vehicle search was conducted by a third-party investigator, which did not come back with any evidence that the car had been reported stolen,” Miller said. “The car had already been sold by me when the allegations of theft were made by Mathis.”
Miller declined to comment to The Sentinel, referring all questions to Carlisle Events’ lawyer Jim Hughes, who said only that he hadn’t seen the suit filed by Mathis and that Carlisle Events did file a lawsuit of its own on Aug. 28.