The Imperial Tobacco Co., through its Player’s brand of cigarettes, is launching its second decade of support for Canadian motor racing with an expansion programme offering over a quarter of a million dollars (£100,000) for three international races and two Canadian championship series. Under the expansion programme, Player’s will continue its support of the Player’s Grand Prix of Canada and will add sponsorship of two Trans-Am races, a Canadian Formula B series and a Player’s Road Race of Champions to determine Canadian champions in all amateur classes at a year-end run-off. Player’s has been closely associated with Canadian motor racing since 1961 when it stepped in to sponsor the first Player’s 200 at Mosport only a month or two after the new circuit opened. This annual Group 7 race, together with the Player’s Quebec, which began when St. Jovite opened in 1964, were the forerunners of what was to become, in 1966, the Can-Am series. It was in 1961, too, that Player’s began sponsoring the Canadian Drivers’ Championship, but this was dropped when, in 1967, the company became the first commercial sponsor to support any country’s Formula One Grand Prix counting toward the world championship (an example to be followed in Britain this year by the International Wool Secretariat).
Entering its second decade of support for the sport in Canada, Player’s will be putting up $150,000 in prize money for the Grand Prix of Canada, $30,000 each for Trans-Am races at Edmonton International Speedway and St. Jovite, and $57,000 for the new national Formula B series and year-end run-offs. (The run-offs will be patterned after the SCCA’s American Road Race of Champions, under which the regional champions in each class are determined during the season and they then meet at year’s end to determine the national champions in each class.) In all, the actual cash prizes for this expanded programme will amount to $267,000 but with an additional $250,000 expenditure for promotion of the various races, Player’s expect the total cost of their 1971 support programme to exceed half a million dollars. This is obviously a large amount to spend on an advertising programme (for that, really, is what it is) but equally obviously Player’s would not have launched its expansion programme if it hadn’t been satisfied with the results over the past decade. Perhaps there is a lesson here for those sponsors, and there have been several in Canada, the United States and Europe, who have complained about getting their fingers burned when they entered into motor racing sponsorships.
The Riverside/Motor Trend 500, NASCAR’s first Grand National race of the year and the only one it runs on a road circuit, proved interesting from several points of view. It was, for one thing, the first race since Ford announced its complete withdrawal from racing and the only works car present was Richard Petty’s 1970 Plymouth. Petty was using NASCAR’s new standard engine of 6-litre maximum capacity and he promptly won the pole position on the first day of qualifying. On the second day, however, David Pearson, former NASCAR champion and ex-Ford works driver, lapped the 2.62-mile stock car course 1.56 seconds faster than Petty in his ex-works Ford. Because the first 15 positions were guaranteed to those who qualified on the first day, Pearson had to start in 16th place—but within five laps of the start he had charged to the front and taken the lead from Petty. It wasn’t to last, though, and when Pearson’s engine gave out after 55 miles Petty dominated the first half of the race until he, too, was sidelined with a broken valve.
The second half of the race then developed into a battle between second fastest qualifier Bobby Allison in an ex-works Dodge and fourth fastest qualifier Ray Elder in a similar but independently-owned and prepared Dodge. Allison is a veteran on the Grand National circuit, while Elder, though champion of NASCAR’s West Coast Division for the past two years, doesn’t compete regularly in Grand National events—but at the chequered flag it was Elder over Allison by 10 seconds. Elder’s victory was a significant triumph for the underdog in two senses. First because it was the first time a 500-mile Grand National race had been won by a non-works driver, and second because it was achieved on Firestone tyres—and thus ended a string of 109 consecutive victories by Goodyear that began in September, 1968.
Ironically, Elder was still in the winner’s circle receiving congratulations when Riverside President Les Richter, NASCAR and three NASCAR officials were served with papers launching a $365,000 (£152,000) lawsuit by Parnelli Jones. The lawsuit arises from last year’s Motor Trend 500 and in particular from the very same tyres with which Elder won this year’s race. Jones, who is also the West Coast distributor for Firestone’s racing tyres, won the pole position for the 1969 race on the then newly-developed Firestones but NASCAR then invoked its rule that any participating tyre company must have enough tyres on hand to service all competitors if necessary. Jones and Firestone said they had enough but NASCAR said they didn’t, so Jones and other Firestone drivers using the same tyre were forced to start from the back of the grid on an older type of tyre. Jones threatened to pull out but then reconsidered, started from 35th position, drove spectacularly right through the field and was leading the race when his transmission failed with only 25 laps to go. Jones proved that even with an older type of tyre he was competitive on the track and apparently he now wants to settle the dispute in court.
Less than two weeks after this year’s Motor Trend 500 NASCAR was in hot water again. Although only one race had been run with the new 6-litre engine size, officials decided that these engines were too powerful and would have to be restricted to bring them in line with the other engine sizes that were still permitted. To understand this complicated situation one has to go back to 1969 when it was announced (over a year in advance) that beginning in 1971 the maximum engine size in Grand National cars would be reduced from 7-litres to 6-litres. Among the reasons given for the change were that smaller engines would lead to lower costs, lower speeds, and fewer engine, suspension and tyre failures. By August, 1970, however, NASCAR decided that the high rate of attrition was already reducing competition to the point where it might hurt spectator attendance. Now NASCAR knows which side its bread is buttered, so for the remainder of the 1970 season all cars were required to use a NASCAR-furnished carburetter restrictor plate.
About the same time it became apparent that there would be very few of the new 6-litre engines available at the start of the 1971 season (only Ford and Chrysler were building them and Ford was later to withdraw from racing), so in September it was announced that in the interest of keeping costs down the 7-litre cars would still be eligible in 1971 provided the carburetter restrictor plate was used. But there were exceptions. So-called “special cars” such as the winged Dodge Daytona or Plymouth Superbird and the Ford Talladega—thinly disguised racing cars that were built only in sufficient quantities to get them homologated—would be restricted to engines of only 5-litre capacity. That was the situation at this year’s Motor Trend 500 but following the announcement after that race even the new 6-litre engines are required to use a carburetter plate, though it is less restrictive than the plates required on the 7-litre engines. (The situation is actually even more complex because different designs of 6-litre and 7-litre engines are required to use different size plates that depend on their power output!)
The latest rules change was made less than three weeks before qualifying began for the Daytona 500 and provoked vehement protests from Chrysler, who were using 6-litre engines in the works Plymouth driven by Petty and the works Dodge driven by Buddy Baker, but was welcomed by independents, who have found the new engines almost unavailable and very expensive when they were available. No one would ever claim that NASCAR is the most democratic of sanctioning bodies but its president William H. G. France and its officials have always had a very shrewd awareness of the various power balances in racing and have never been afraid of sparring with the big-budget teams if they felt that the ultimate product would be better racing for the paying spectator. And the big advantage of the carburetter restrictor plates now being used by NASCAR to equalize performance is that they are both simple and inexpensive—and despite vocal complaints from some competitors they all seem to have modified their engines in very short order.—D. G.