Although Canadian John Cannon had already wrapped up the SCCA’s Continental Championship, Mark Donohue scored his second championship win in three starts when he drove Roger Penske’s long-wheelbase, Chevrolet-powered Lola T192 to victory in the 13th and last race of the series over the 2.2-mile short course at Sebring.
A measure of Donohue’s superiority is indicated by the fact that he put the Lola on the pole at a record 1 min. 03.07 sec. (125.51 m.p.h.), more than one second under the 1969 qualifying record of 1 min. 04.2 sec. established by Swede Savage in a Plymouth-powered Eagle. David Hobbs, the winner of the 1969 race, put his Surtees TS5A alongside Donohue at 1 min. 04.04 sec. and he was followed by the McLaren M10Bs of Canadian Cannon and Eppie Wietzes and the Ford-powered Lotus 70 of George Follmer. (Wietzes, the newly-crowned Canadian driving champion, was still using carburetters on his Chevrolet, but Follmer, who used a carburetter-equipped Ford to score two wins, a second and a third in the last five races, had now switched to fuel injection.)
Both Hobbs and Follmer made excellent starts, the Englishman leading the first two laps before the American took over, but before the quarter-distance mark in the 45-lap, 100-mile race Donohue had got into his stride and taken command. As Follmer fell back with overheating, induced by a wrinkled nose-cone, Donohue reached the half-way mark with an eight-second margin over Hobbs, who was comfortably ahead of Cannon, Wietzes, Follmer and David Oxton, a young New Zealander making his US debut in Follmer’s backup Lotus 70.
By the chequered flag Donohue had doubled his margin over Hobbs to 15.01 seconds but Cannon had retired when a puncture led to suspension damage and Follmer was out with overheating, promoting Wietzes to third and Oxton to fourth, both of them one lap down on the leaders. One lap further back a relative newcomer, 23-year-old Mike Brockman, drove his Lola T190 from last place to fifth, and in sixth, on the same lap, was Dick Smothers’ Lotus 70.
These Sebring results changed several placings in the final championship standings, although Cannon (McLaren M10B) was secure in first place with 129 points and Gus Hutchison, who has driven both a Brabham BT-26 and a Lola T190, retained second place with 91 points when his only potential challenger, Ron Grable, did not enter. Hobbs’ second place in his Surtees advanced him from fourth to third in the standings with 86 points, despite the fact that he missed the first five races, while Wietzes’ third place in his McLaren promoted him from sixth to fourth with 81 points. (Wietzes missed four of the 13 SCCA races while wrapping up the Canadian championship but he scored points in eight of the nine races he did enter—and all of them were run with a carburetter-equipped Chevrolet engine built by Gordon Chance’s Canadian Racing Motors in Toronto.). Grable’s non-appearance at Sebring dropped him to fifth in the standings with 72 points and he was followed by FoIlmer, whose Lotus 70 garnered 71 points from only six starts.
The Sebring race concluded the fourth year of the Continental Championship (the third year with stock block 5-litre engines), but the series has yet to establish a solid footing and gain complete acceptance by the race-going public. Part of the problem lay in scheduling conflicts with Can-Am and TransAm events, which attracted more of the promotable “name” drivers, and while prize money was up 50% over 1969—to $370,000—thanks largely to a healthy infusion from L & M cigarettes, attendance was down 9,000 to 152,000 and L & M wasn’t entirely happy with the return on its investment.
Despite Cannon’s clear cut victory, however, the racing was often highly competitive, with six different drivers in five makes of car scoring wins in the 13 events; Cannon (McLaren M10B) three times and Hutchison (Brabham BT-26), Hobbs (Surtees TS5A ), Grable (Lola T190), Follmer (Lotus 70) and Donohue (Lola T192) twice each. Cannon himself competed in 12 of the 13 events, scored points in nine and failed to finish only twice. In addition to his three wins, he scored three seconds, one third, one fourth and a ninth. Chevrolet remained the dominant powerplant, as it has been since the inception of stock block engines in 1968, but Hutchison with his Cosworth-Ford and more particularly Follmer with his stock block Ford prepared by Falconer and Dunn finally showed that there is an alternative.
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Another American series completed in the past month was NASCAR’s Grand American Challenge Championship for sports saloons—and for the second time in three years the title went to 6 ft. 4 in. Dewayne (Tiny) Lund. Driving a Chevrolet Camaro, Lund began the season in rousing fashion by finishing third in the first race and then putting together a record string of 10 consecutive victories. With one brief exception he led the standings for the remainder of the season and completed the year with 19 victories in the 35 races. He finished in the top five 23 times and in the top ten 26 time, accumulating a season’s total of 1,715 points. Jim Paschal, who drove his American Motors Javelin to 10 Victories during the year, finished second in the standings with 1,648 points, and Buck Baker, who picked up two wins with his Pontiac Firebird, was third with 1,603 points.
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Taking note of the still-growing popularity of imported saloons and of the introduction by American manufacturers of their own small cars to combat the invaders. NASCAR has announced that next year it will launch a new class of racing to be known as the International Sedan Manufacturers’ Championship. The races will be held in conjunction with the Grand American Challenge events and will be open to such cars as Ford’s new Pinto, Chevrolet’s Vega, American Motors’ Gremlin, Toyotas, Datsuns, Cortinas, BMWs, etc. Engines with push-rod valve mechanisms will be limited to 4,000 c.c. and six cylinders, while overhead-cam engines will be limited to 2,300 c.c.
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After fighting tooth-and-nail throughout the season with independent Ford driver James Hylton, works Dodge driver Bobby Isaac has managed to establish a slight breathing space in the hard-fought and still unfinished battle for NASCAR’s senior title, the Grand National Championship. With 45 races now run, Isaac has picked up 11 victories in 44 starts and leads the standings with 3,653 points. Bobby Allison (also in a Dodge) has only two wins in 43 starts but has just taken over second place from Hylton with 3,572 points. Hylton, who was leading the championship after the 34th race, has wan only one race in 44 starts but remains third in the standings with 3,523 points.
Hylton’s fall from second to third in the championship came at the 44th race of the year, the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when his Ford was involved in a three-way crash triggered by another driver. Hylton’s car was virtually totalled and his chances of mounting another attack against Isaac in the remaining races are very slim unless another driver or car owner lends him a competitive machine. The National 500, incidentally, brought the first win of the season for Lee Roy Yarbrough, who last year was almost unbeatable in the major long-distance races on the superspeedways.
The most successful driver so far in terms of races won and money earned is Richard Petty (Plymouth). Despite being sidelined for five races after a spectacular crush in the Rebel 400 at Darlington in May, Petty has won 17 of the 38 races in which he has started and has picked up $133,774 in prize money. The reason Petty does not lead the championship is that NASCAR’s points system is based on the length of the race, and most of Petty’s victories have come in thc shorter events.—D. G.