American comment



FOLLOWING the failure of American racing groups to agree with the CSI’s plans for a world-wide 4-litre formula, the United States Auto Club held its annual meeting and modified several of the engine size limits under which it will race in the future. As significant as the modifications themselves was the fact that USAC countered considerable past criticism by officially adopting, for the first time, a two-year lead time for all future size changes. Thus, the changes adopted at the annual meeting will not come into effect until January 1st 1972, and any future changes will require at least 23 months’ notice. Most notable of the changes that will come into effect in 1972 is an increase in the size of stock block engines (rocker arm, non-overhead camshafts, non-supercharged) from the present 5.25-litres to 5.82-litres. This move has been made both in recognition of the fact that at present stock block engines are not competitive with turbocharged engines (which will remain unchanged at 2.65-litres) and in the hope of encouraging the greater use of the less expensive stock blocks. These engines must retain the original cylinder heads and as Charles Brockman who was re-elected president of USAC, pointed out, all the major US manufacturers have engines which will fit this new 5.82-litre size. But the change could also interest European manufacturers because the previous requirement that stock block engines be of specifically “American” manufacture has been dropped, effective immediately.

The category for “Special” rocker arm engines, which must retain the stock block but can utilise special cylinder heads, did not receive as much encouragement and was only increased from the present limit of 5-litres to 5.25-litres. The only other change of significance increased the size of non-supercharged, double-overhead-camshaft engines from 4.2-litres to 4.5-litres. This, too, is in recognition of the fact that Ford’s d.o.h.c. engine, which first dethroned the Offenhauser at Indianapolis in 1965 (Clark in a Lotus-Ford) and then reigned supreme for the next two years, has recently fallen behind the turbocharged versions of both the Offenhauser and the Ford. It is interesting that when USAC last made major adjustments in its engine sizes, in the summer of 1968, the 4.2-litre d.o.h.c. Ford was the benchmark around which all other categories were adjusted. This time, the 2.65-litre turbocharged category has been used as the benchmark and all the other categories adjusted around it. It must be remembered that none of the new sizes will come into effect until January 1st, 1972 and that the present sizes will continue in use until then. To summarise, the present limits of the most commonly-used categories (with 1972 limits in brackets) are: supercharged or turbocharged overhead-camshaft engines, 2.65-litres (unchanged); non-supercharged overhead-camshaft engines, 4.2-litres (4.5-litres); “Special” stock-block engines, 5-litres (5.25-litres) and stock-block engines, 5.25-litres (5.82-litres).

In other action, the USAC annual meeting rejected an earlier plan, reported in January, to eliminate the dirt track races from the Championship schedule and set up a separate dirt track championship. Several promoters objected vigorously to the separate championships because they felt attendance at their dirt races would drop considerably if they were not part of the national Championship. A number of drivers also objected, on the grounds that a truly national champion should prove his ability on all types of track. On the other hand, several car owners and drivers favour the original proposal, the car owners because it would eliminate the cost of maintaining a separate car for the few dirt races remaining in the national Championship (five out of 21 races last year) and the drivers (and mechanics) because it would seduce the schedule to a more manageable 16 or so events. Andretti, in particular, strongly supported the plan to drop the dirt races because it would give him more opportunity to compete in Grand Prix events. But Europe’s loss is America’s gain and the anachronistic but undoubtedly spectacular dirt cars will continue to broadslide their way around the county-fairgrounds, rooster tails of dirt spraying out behind them.

Revelation of the STP sponsorship of March was preceded in America by the announcement of an equally intriguing proposal under which Granatelli’s STP Corporation would have bought control of American Raceways Inc. and operated it as a wholly-owned subsidiary. ARI is the relatively new group that owns or controls circuits in Michigan, Texas, Riverside and Atlanta, and is building another multipurpose circuit in New Jersey. As it turned out, the boards of directors of both companies failed to approve the proposal (even Granatelli must answer to his board), but had it gone through it would certainly have made Granatelli the most powerful man in American racing. Meanwhile, Granatelli could console himself with the thought that STP Corporation’s sales rose to a record 854 million in 1969, with the earnings per share rising over 28 per cent. from $1.15 per share in 1968 to $1.48 per share last year.

Before the abortive takeover by STP was proposed, an ill-concealed feud between ARI and the SCCA came to a head in a simultaneous exchange of letters. The SCCA told ARI that since it would not agree to run SCCA club events as well as the more lucrative professional events (ARI ran Can-Am races at both Michigan and Texas International Speedways last year) it could not have either. ARI, however, told the SCCA that it had decided to concentrate on fewer but bigger events this year and therefore did not want any SCCA races. A classic Mexican standoff. ARI promptly buried the hatchet with USAC — with whom it had had a feud last year — and signed a $500,000 agreement for a series of double-header events (stock car and championship car races on the same weekend) at its Michigan and Texas tracks. The SCCA didn’t waste much time either and quickly rebuilt the Can-Am schedule to 11 races (as it was last year) by replacing Michigan with an event at Donnybrooke, a 3-mile circuit in Minnesota, and by replacing the Texas finale with a race at Sears Point, a 2.5-mile circuit near San Francisco.
Neither circuit has been the site of a Can-Am race before. With the Can-Am schedule now firm, interested readers may want to amend the schedule published in the December issue of MOTOR SPORT. The amendments are: June 28th, add St. Jovite (Canada); Sept. 27th, change to Donnybrooke; Oct. 11th, change to Oct. 18th (still Laguna Seca); Oct. 25th, change to Nov. 1st (still Riverside, but eliminating clash with Mexican GP); and Nov. 8th. change to Scars Point.

In two other announcements concerning Can-Am:—the SCCA and the Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs revealed that the guaranteed minimum prize money for the series will be increased from $740,000 last year to $875,000 this year. This includes the championship point fund of $200,000 which is split among the top to drivers at the end of the series but does not include at least $200,000 in accessory money expected to be posted by manufacturers. Finally, after defying the ban on wings hastily imposed by the FIA last year, the SCCA and the CASC have announced that they are, “with great reluctance”, complying with the FIA requirements this year. “The FIA clearly expects compliance by Can-Am cars in a North American championship,” the two sanctioning bodies said, “and we feel the international nature of the Can-Am makes it necessary to conform to the FIA rules.” However, they added, “We’ve experienced no safety hazard with the wings on Can-Am cars,” and at the present writing the SCCA has no intention of applying the ban to the Formula A cars competing in its Continental Championship. The ban on wings in the Can-Am was only accepted after strong pressure at the FIA meetings in Paris and the unstated but clear threat that if the North American defiance continued the Can-Am might have difficulty in obtaining international listing in the future. As one official (who shall remain nameless) put it, “I went to Paris realising the FIA would probably be about 90 per cent. politics and 10 per cent. judging an issue on its merits. I was wrong. It’s 100% politics.”

That innovative Texan, Jim Hall, will make a welcome return to racing in a Chevrolet Camaro at the Sebring 12-Hour race this month. It will be his first competitive appearance since his horrendous crash in the final 1968 Can-Am race at Las Vegas. Hall thus confirms that he is taking over from Roger Penske as the unofficial campaigner of the works Carnaros in the Trans-Am series. Sebring is not part of the series but Hall will enter two cars to give them a thorough shakedown. He will co-drive one with Ed. Leslie, whom he has chosen to drive the second car in the Trans-Am. At Sebring the second car will be driven by Hap Sharp, Hall’s former partner, and a yet-to-be-named co-driver. D.G.