of Can-Am Racing
Driver Editor Leon Mandel tells how Can-Am
rules were set via 'after-hours' calls
between Jim Hall and Tracy Bird.
note: This article appeared in the
1969 program guide for the Monterey Castrol
GTX Grand Prix.
They take things very seriously at
the International Sporting commission of the International
Federation for Automobiles.
They have to otherwise how could
they have such long names?
Still, it would come as something
of a shock to them to know that the rules written for one
of their premiere car categories was arrived at over the
phone when the day got late enough so the telephone company
charged a straight buck a minute to anywhere in the U.S.
That's just about the way it happened
with Group 7, or unlimited sports/racing cars and things
have worked out very nicely since, thank-you.
You can't have a race car unless
you put it into a category - Parkinson must have a law about
that somewhere - and all the categories are defined by the
FIA which is the controlling body for auto sports and which
lives its curious, bureaucratic life in Paris.
Those countries which have active
racing are FIA participants and it has happened, reasonably
enough, that each promotes particular kinds of cars - perhaps
according to terrain, perhaps according to national character.
The result is that Formula 1, the panatela-like single seaters
which vie for world championship, are the vital concern
of France and Italy and England while sedans, which race
in more countries, have broaded based rule makers.
The big unlimited sports / racing
cars, known to the FIA as Appendix J, Group 7 cars, are
almost exclusively North American and it was in North America
that their genesis came. Well, almost. It was certainly
in North America where the rules defining them were written.
It may have been that the very first
G/7 cars as we know them today were the Poopers built by
Pete Lovely in the Pacific Northwest and Tippy Lipe in upstate
New York in 1951. There were Cooper record cars, streamliners,
with Prosche engines and they went so fast no one could
believe it. It was a kind of notional expression of irreverence
toward the already-created car which gave them birth. Of
course you could get a Cooper, and certainly you could get
a Prosche, but a Pooper? The whole idea was to capitalize
on ingenuity and build a car for local competition and to
hell with the world over there.
The flower really bloomed in southern
California and to some extent in eastern Canada where clean,
effective spedials were being built with some regularity.
But they, unlike the Pooper, were front engined cars and
their areas of competition were limited. It was only after
local constructors saw themselves being beaten by the factory
Porsches that the modern-day G/7 car was born. It was born
in rear engine form and true to its orgins, it was a hybrid.
The impetus came from a very European
source, the appearance money syndrome. Chaparral-builder
Jim Hall was not in the least pleased that appearance money,
or starting money, was being paid in Europe and not in the
U.S. and his complaints were becoming more and more vocal.
To quiet him, the racing establishment did what establishments
are forever doing - it invited him to become a part of the
administration and he accepted. From then on he worked untiringly
for U.S.-Canadian series of races with points fund money
to replace appearance money and when it became known to
Sports Car Club of America Competitions Board Chairman (now
SCCA Executive Director) A. Tracy Bird and Hall that the
international ruling body was willing to accept a formula
for such racing, the two worked out rules for what was to
be G/7 - on the telephone.
It was not a formal proceeding. Each
had a car of his own, Hall a Chaparral and Bird a Cooper,
and they would call each other after 8 p.m. when rates were
cheap and propose wording for the new rules. One would mention
scoops and the other would tell him to hang on and rush
out to measure scoop size on the car sitting in his garage,
rush back in and either agree or propose a modification.
The resulting rules were submitted
to the SCCA's Competitions Director (now Director of Professional
Racing) Jim Kaser and from there, via the Canadians to the
international group in Paris where they were accepted.
Thus the American formula was made
legitmate and the way was paved for the Canadian-American
Challenge Cup series.
While that fateful meeting of the
CSI (Commission Sportif of the FIA) nailed it down, the
rear engined G/7 cars were already beginning to thrive on
North American race circuits.
And the turing point had probably
been the summer of 1963 at Continental Divide Raceways.
With a United States Road Racing series already established,
North American constructors were working hard at beating
the Porsches with a combination British chassis and American
stock block engine. Indianapolis great Roger Ward had appeared
in a Cooper with a Buick engine in it as long ago as 1957,
and Stirling Moss was the principal stockholder in California's
Laguna Seca track with two wins in his Lotus 19-2.7 but
his had a Coventry Climax engine.
The real big bore engines, the everyday
engines (much modified), had yet to make any impact. The
chassis builders, including Roger Penske and the famous
Zerex Special, were way ahead of the engine men.
Then in August of '63 the USRRC at
CDR turned the tide. Bob Holbert won it in a King Cobra,
a Cooper-Ford with Bob Bondurant right behind in a similar
car. Dave McDonald in a front-engine car was third.
Chuck Daigh in a Cooper-Chevrolet was forth and the Porsches,
driven by such accomplished drivers as Don Wester, were
nowhere to be seen.
That put the American Engine Solution
in the limelight, and such things have been going in that
direction ever since.
The British, who were faced with
a choice between Formula 2, a lesser version of F/1 and
Group 7, decided to go with the open wheel cars - their
pool of sponsors couldn't support both; and now they regret
it. The Europeans who couldn't have been bothered have begun
to take notice and for two years Ferrari has had a token
respresentation in the Can-Am. This year he's serious. And
no one would be particularly surprised if a Prosche showed
- built to American Formula.
It was a long struggle, but these
days, Can-Am makes the going great.