American Comment

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Despite the fact that they purloined Richard Petty from Plymouth at the beginning of the year and then brought out both a new engine and a new car designed specifically for late model stock car racing, Ford is finding that money alone will not buy them the Manufacturers’ Championship in N.A.S.C.A.R.’s Grand National division. After 23 Grand National races (just short of the halfway mark in the schedule), Ford leads Dodge by just two points—142 points to 140. (The Manufacturers’ Championship uses the International 9-6-4-3-2-1 scoring system but the Drivers’ Championship points are based on the length of the race.) Ford and Mercury have each won three of the six major races over 400 miles but Dodge have compiled a better record in the shorter races on the smaller tracks. Of the 23 races run so far, Dodge have won 10, Ford eight, Mercury three and Plymouth two. Plymouth’s victories came early in the season before they withdrew their works cars from Grand National racing, leaving Dodge to carry the Chrysler Corp. challenge. Ford, on the other hand, have to battle not only Dodge but also their sister division, Mercury, which have won the last three major races—the Atlanta 500, the Rebel 400 and the World 600.

From the point of view of drivers, Isaac (Dodge) has been the most successful with eight victories, followed by Pearson (Ford) with five, and then Petty (Ford), Yarbrough (Mercury) and Bobby Allison (Dodge) all with three each. However, since the Drivers’ Championship points are based on the length of the race and all of Isaac’s victories have been in shorter races, he is not as high in the standings as Pearson and Petty, who have had better results in the longer races. Although both are Ford drivers, Pearson and Petty have been fighting a torrid duel for the Drivers’ Championship. Petty led by barely half a dozen points for the first 13 races and after the 14th race he and Pearson were tied with 1,115 points each. Since then Pearson has nosed in front and after 23 races leads Petty by 1,690 points to 1,626. With more than 50 races on the schedule, N.A.S.C.A.R.’s Grand National Championship is possibly the toughest in the World and the driver who wins the title can truly claim to have worked for it.

* * *

The S.C.C.A.’s Trans-Am Championship for sports saloons doesn’t compare with the Grand National circuit in size but it is producing an equally fierce battle among the major teams. Four works Ford Mustangs and two Chevrolet Camaros (campaigned by Penske’s unofficial works team) are the favourites, but a pair of American Motors Javelins and another pair of Pontiac Firebirds have proved capable of upsetting the odds at any time. Ford won the opening race from Chevrolet but the second event at the Lime Rock circuit in Connecticut clashed with the Indianapolis 500 so Ford lost Revson, Follmer and Jones, and Penske was without both Donohue and Bucknum. The erudite Posey made an able stand-in for Revson by winning the pole position in his Shelby-prepared Mustang and then winning the 2½-hour race at a record average speed of 91.30 m.p.h. over the very tight 1.6-mile course. Savage, filling in for Jones in a Moore-prepared Mustang, was the only other driver on the same lap as Posey at the finish. They were followed by Johnson, taking Bucknum’s place in one of Penske’s Chevrolet Camaros, Cannon driving for Follmer in the second Moore Mustang, and Minter in his regular Pontiac Firebird. For the third race at the 2.4-mile Mid-Ohio circuit all the teams were back to full strength, and Donohue showed he meant business by lowering the previous best qualifying mark by 4.2 sec. (and his own lap record by 2.3 sec.), to put his Camaro on the pole. Jones was equally determined and although he had never driven on the course before he qualified his Mustang second, just 0.6 sec. behind Donohue. For 100 miles these two fought a great nose-to-exhaust-pipe battle that showed what real racing is all about, and when Donohue was slowed by a faulty wheel bearing his team mate, Bucknum, was right there to continue pressing Jones. The final outcome hinged largely on the refuelling pit stops, a fascinating facet of racing that gives the crews direct participation in the victory or defeat of their drivers. Jones’ last stop took a long 44 sec. but Penske’s super-efficient crew took only 18 sec. to give Bucknum 20 gallons of fuel. The Camaro’s wheels were actually stopped for only 13 sec.! Bucknum then stayed ahead to win the 240-mile race from Jones by 12.8 sec. at a record average speed of 83.53 m.p.h. Jones’ team-mate, Follmer, was third, a further 78 sec. back in his Moore-prepared Mustang. Revson’s Shelby-prepared Mustang, Grable’s works Javelin and Jowett’s private Camaro filled out the top six, all of them one lap down. Bucknum’s victory gained a valuable nine points for Chevrolet but they still trail Ford 19 points to 24 with nine races remaining in the 12-race Championship.

* * *

In the report on the first Can-Am race at Mosport that appears elsewhere in this issue reference is made to the fact that the C.A.S.C. and the S.C.C.A. did not enforce the C.S.I.’s ban on wings. At the time, James E. Kaser, the S.C.C.A.’s director of professional racing, said the two clubs felt the ban applied only to C.S.I. Championship events, not all International races. “The point here is that the Can-Am is not a C.S.I. Championship”, Kaser said, “and we feel the prerogative is ours in determining the regulations. There is no defiance here of the C.S.I. We don’t feel it (the ban) is applicable. If this were a Formula One race or a Manufacturers’ Championship event, then I think there would be no question about it. Even if we disagreed, we would certainly comply.” In the week that followed the Mosport race there was an exchange of cables between New York and Paris in which the two North American sanctioning bodies made it very clear that they intended to be masters in their own house. The result was a joint statement by the C.A.S.C. and the S.C.C.A. saying that “there would be no change in the rules that permit the use of wings or airfoils on Group 7 cars. . . . After objections from North America, the ban has been clarified and does not apply at this time to Group 7 cars as run in the Can-Am series”. In addition, the two clubs said that wings will continue to be permitted on Formula S.C.C.A. cars (Formulae A, B, C, etc.) as run in the Continental Championship, the Canadian Road Racing Championship and S.C.C.A. club events. To make the point abundantly clear, their statement ended by saying: “Neither sanctioning organisation contemplates any rules change concerning wings for Group 7 or Formula S.C.C.A. cars in 1969.” I don’t necessarily agree with the C.A.S.C. and the S.C.C.A. on the subject of wings but I do admire Kaser’s general philosophy: “You know, when you have a problem with some mechanical component of an automobile the first tendency is to write a rule. But you (must) resist that temptation to make God-like decisions on the specifications.” My objections to wings are based on the belief that unlike, say, disc brakes or four-wheel-drive, they do not have an easily foreseeable application in general automotive design. If wings are banned, on the other hand, racing-car designers would be forced to devote more attention to the aerodynamics of the car body itself—and the results could have direct application in the general automotive industry. At the same time, one of the great attractions of both Formula One and Can-Am racing is that they are relatively “free” formulae that encourage creative solutions from designers. Too many rules, regulations and restrictions only inhibit designers, stifle initiative and encourage mediocrity.

* * *

If this year’s Indianapolis 500 proved anything, it is that U.S.A.C.’s engine formulae are still not entirely equitable. Despite the fact that supercharged or turbocharged engines were reduced in size from 2.8-litres to 2.65-litres, 30 of the 33 starters were using engines of this type. The only dissenters were Brabham and Revson with their Repcos (non-supercharged overhead-camshaft engines, which are allowed 4.2-litres) and Gurney, whose stock block Ford with Eagle heads is permitted 5.25-litres. By finishing second for two years in a row Gurney has shown conclusively that he could be a contender for victory if his stock block engine had not been giving away as much as 100 or 125 h.p. (approximately 575 h.p. against 675 h.p. for the turbo-Offenhausers and 700 h.p. for the turbo-Fords). But second place is not first and Gurney has now become disillusioned in his attempt to prove that a stock block engine, costing less than half the turbocharged units, can do the job. “If the stock block engine is to be competitive here (at Indianapolis) they have to make it bigger”, Gurney said after the race. “I’m sure no one else will bring a stock block here next year the way the rules stand, and I definitely won’t either.” Gurney would like to see the stock block formula increased to 6-litres, the same size that will be used by N.A.S.C.A.R. and U.S.A.C. stock cars in 1971. There is also considerable support for the use of 6-litre engines in the Can-Am series (at present unlimited) and possibly in Formula A and Trans-Am saloons as well. With N.A.S.C.A.R., U.S.A.C. and the S.C.C.A. all using 6-litre engines in their major races, the increased market for such engines would make them a more attractive proposition for specialist engine builders. This, in turn, should keep the cost down and make the engines more available.—D. C.

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