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'Trans-Am–The Early Years' by J. Huffman


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#1 rvec

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Posted 29 April 2018 - 10:09 AM

Below is a reprint of an article entitled "Trans Am The Early Years of American Sedan Racing" written by John Pearley Huffman on May 18, 2006 and published in May 2006.
 
I have also attached the article in PDF form (it may be easier to read). Enjoy

Trans-Am - A history of the first years in American Sedan Racing

American racing has always been dominated by the drag and circle track varieties. After all, the U.S. is an enormous place where many (if not most) of the roads are arrow-straight and virtually every one of the countrys 3,141 counties has a fairground with an oval horse track. So it was only natural for us to race well there. Its Europe thats filled with twisty roads up the sides of mountains and former goat paths through vineyardstheyre the ones who came up with road racing.

Still if theres one road racing series that has found a place in American hearts, its the SCCAs Trans-Am. Not the current Trans-Am, but the Trans-Am between 1966 and 1971 when American ponycars with American V-8s thundered in brutal battle. Its the series which spawned such muscle-era legends as the Camaro Z/28, Mustang Boss 302, Challenger T/A, AAR Cuda and, of course, the Firebird Trans-Am. Its the series that made Mark Donohue a legend, set Roger Penske up as the most successful racing team owner of all time, and solidified Parnelli Jones reputation as the toughest driver. It was, in short, glorious.
 

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1966: The Beginning

Trans-Am was born alongside ponycars. The 65 Mustang hit racetracks moments after its introduction and (as the Shelby GT350) found instant success in SCCAs B-Production Sedan amateur division. But since there was a void where professional sedan racing should have been, SCCA Executive Director John Bishop established a manufacturers title. He figured that if he attracted Ford, GM, and Chrysler to the series, the big-name drivers would follow.The hook for the carmakers was that these would be production-based machines. Sure, most of the stories about chemically lightened bodies, relocated suspension systems, engines repositioned for better weight distribution, and eccentric engine modifications are true. But fundamentally these were race cars built around stock unibody cars running production-based engines, transmissions, and suspensions. The SCCAs rules for the series were strict, and the competing teams were aggressive in twisting those rules for their advantage.

Initially, Trans-Am was divided into divisions for under and over 2.0L engines, and at the first race on March 25, 1966, at Sebring, Florida, fully 35 of the 44 starters ran in the dinkier displacement division. But the great A.J. Foyt put a Mustang on the pole for the Four-Hour Governors Cup Race For Sedans, and the roar of the seven V-8-powered entries (three Mustangs, three Plymouth Barracudas, and one Dodge Darttwo flat-six powered Corvairs filled out the over-2.0L field), was intoxicating. The V-8s were fragile that first race, and most dropped out, but no one cared about the four-cylinder Alfas, Minis, and Cortinas. Bob Tullius took the first checkered flag for the over-2.0L division, driving that sole-surviving Dart.

Factory teams didnt enter Trans-Am until September of that first season when Carroll Shelby put Lew Spencer in charge of a three-car Ford Mustang effort. With Jerry Titus (then editor of Sports Car Graphic magazine) as the lead driver, the Ford team had little trouble securing the first over-2.0L Trans-Am title, winning four of the seven races.

1967

The factories were a major presence through all 12 races of the Trans-Ams second season. Shelby returned with his Mustangs, Mercury recruited NASCAR legend Bud Moore to build Mercury Cougars for Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, and Ed Leslie, and Chevrolet had Roger Penske and Mark Donohue armed with the all-new Camaro Z/28.When the 12-race 67 Trans Am season opened at Daytona on February 3, a full 34 cars made up the field. Bob Tullius put his well-sorted Dart a full lap ahead of the rest of the field in the first race and then immediately faded for the rest of the year. A startling 61 cars made it to the next race, Sebring, with 26 of them big-motor monsters and 13 of those Camaros. Jerry Titus in a Shelby-built Mustang took that race.
 

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Tituss four wins secured another manufacturers title over the Cougars (who also won four times), but it was Mark Donohues three wins in the Z/28 that should have had his competitors concerned. But not even Donohue could have imagined what was in store for him during 1968.

1968

A full 36 years later, the Penske teams 68 Trans-Am season is still one of the greatest feats in motorsports history. Donohues brilliant driving and the near-perfect Penske Camaros won 10 of the 13 racesincluding eight in a row. Neither Bud Moores nor Shelbys Mustangs (Mercury had dropped out) stood a chance against the Penske onslaught. In fact, the racing wasnt all that fascinating to watch, as Donohue would rip to the front and remain unchallenged.
 
But this sort of overwhelming performance led to other manufacturers determination that Chevrolet should not be allowed to dominate the series.
 
1969

Going into 1969 there was little reason to think that Mark Donohues #6 Sunoco Blue Camaro would be anything but dominant. Fords answer to the Z/28 was the new 69 Boss 302, and Ford financed two teams for 1969Carroll Shelbys with drivers Peter Revson and Horst Kwech, and the other Bud Moores with pilots Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. AMC campaigned the Javelin for a second year with team owner Ronnie Kaplan and had virtually no success. Jerry Titus was tapped by Pontiac to campaign the new Firebird Trans-Am in the series, but that effort would produce little beyond frustration.
 
It was the war between Ford and Chevy that made the 69 Trans-Am year legendary. Parnelli Jones Bud Moore-prepared Mustang was fast and stoutthe Boss 302 engine thrived at high speeds. Jones won the rounds at Michigan and Donnybrooke, and took three seconds while teammate #16 George Follmer won at Bridgehampton. Add in consistent finishes by the Shelby team and the Mustangs stayed close to the Camaros in the manufacturers championship, even though they only won half as many races.

Mark Donohue only won six times in 1969a disappointment only in comparison to his 1968 season. Penske however wasnt a factory team, despite its professionalism. For instance Donohues engines suffered repeated rod breakage early in the season after Chevy had recommended omitting shot-peening them. Only when engine-builder Traco began to ignore the factorys advice did the reliability return. Beyond Donohues six wins, Penske driver Ronnie Bucknum would win two more.

Roger Penske played some aggressive mind games with the competition. His Camaros wore vinyl roofs at some events to, supposedly, hide the acid-dipped waviness of their roof sheetmetal, and used a fuel tank that soared above the pit to put gravity to work fueling the Sunoco cars.
 

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1970

With limited support from Chevrolet, Roger Penske and Mark Donohue dominated Trans-Am for two years. Imagine how well theyd do with the full support of American Motors and $2 million of AMC money. While the Penske/Donohue move was big news for 1970, it was hardly the only news.

Just about everyone went Trans-Am racing in 1970. Though Ford slashed its racing budget by 75 percent, there was still enough for Bud Moore to build new Boss 302s for Parnelli Jones and George Follmer (Carroll Shelby stayed home). Jerry Titus was back with all-new Firebirds, and the all-new Camaro would now be campaigned by Chaparrals legendary Jim Hall. Chrysler Corporation also dove into the fray with a Dodge Challenger T/A for driver/owner Sam Posey and Plymouth AAR Cudas for Dan Gurney and Swede Savage.

The Chaparral Chevy and both Mopar efforts were fruitless and the Firebirds still couldnt compete. Pontiacs competitive disappointment was tragically compounded when Jerry Titus died in a wreck at Road Atlanta.

Roger Penske and Bud Moore still dominated Trans Am during 1970 with all but two races going to one or the other. Destroking AMCs 360 V-8 proved vastly more successful for Roger Penske than the over-bored and over-stressed 290s had been for previous Javelin efforts. Penske/Donohue started strong with a Second at Laguna Seca, and then won mid-season races at Bridgehampton, Road America, and Mt. Trembiant. Penske teammate Peter Revsons best finish was a Second at Bryar.

Sam Poseys #77 Challenger finished Third three times during 1970, but never could do better. But the most shocking lack of success was that of Jim Hall in the Camaro. Hall himself drove the #1 Camaro with Ed Leslie and Vic Elford in #2. Elford drove the #2 car to a win at Watkins Glen, but that was the new Camaros only win.

The Bud Moore duo of Parnelli Jones (five wins) and George Follmer (one win) combined to earn Ford the 1970 Trans Am championship. Jones legend was greatly enhanced by his run during the season-ending race at Riverside. A back marker bumped Jones #15 into the desert while he was leading, and then, despite extensive damage, he worked his way back from Ninth to win. The car was difficult to turn, so Jones would bounce off the tracks curbing to get the car up on two wheels through turn two. The man was (and still is) one tough hombre.
 

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1971

Ford, Dodge, Plymouth, Chevrolet, and Pontiac all pulled the plug on their Trans-Am support before the start of the 1971 season. That left Roger Penskes AMC Javelin team with nothing but older cars and privateers for competition during the year. In fact the only significant rule change for 1971 was legalizing dry-sump lubrication. Donohue won seven of the ten Trans Am races run during 1971 and finished Second once. The three races Donohue didnt win, George Follmer did. Follmer used Bud Moores 70 Mustangs to win twice and an ex-Penske Javelin run by Roy Woods managed to win the season finale at Riverside.

Donohue dominated so convincingly in the Javelin that at Lime Rock his car was a full five laps ahead of the Second place Mustang driven by Tony DeLorenzo. That sort of dominance wasnt just amazing, it was boring, and interest in the Trans Am was dropping not just among the fans but the racers themselves.
 
Penske left Trans-Am after 1971 selling his equipment to Roy Woods and going off to concentrate on Can-Am and Indianapolis. In fact Donohue would win the 72 Indianapolis 500 with Penske.

The Trans-Am soldiers on to this day but without the stock suspensions and production-based engines. In its day, Trans-Am not only produced some great racing, but spawned exceptional cars like the Z/28, Boss 302, AAR Cuda, T/A Challenger, and the Pontiac Trans Am. That alone is enough to guarantee its place in history.
 

71 Penske Javelin.jpg


Attached File  Trans-Am _ The Early Years of American Sedan Racing.pdf   1.21MB   41 downloads


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#2 geardriven

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Posted 26 July 2018 - 02:34 PM

I am a hugh fan of Trans-Am racing back in the late 60s-early 70s as well as the late Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors (past owner of many Firebird Trans-Ams).
The loss of Jerry Titus was a large one. However, as the article states, he did not die in a crash at Road Atlanta.
Jerry Titus died from his injuries 5 days after he crashed into a bridge abutment on the outside of turn 13 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
I am familiar with the track and have been a spectator there for many years. In the past, I would walk that bridge and stop for a moment of silence in honor of Jerry.
This bridge has since been removed.
Chuck Tresp





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