On the last Sunday afternoon in May of 1994 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, John Andretti stepped off a helicopter, which had brought him from a tenth-place finish in the Indy 500 earlier in the day, and began his walk across the front stretch grass toward the pit road and an awaiting Chevy that he would drive in the Coca-Cola 600.
The helicopter had set down in front of a grandstand jammed with 140,000 fans, primed for the beckoning start of the 600-mile race. The fans let out a huge cheer once Andretti appeared. Now in his NASCAR driving suit, Andretti may have “bulked up” on intravenous fluids during the trip from Indy. But the moment remained enormously impressive—a lone driver, all of five-foot-five, bringing down the house by merely walking across the grass.
That was the beginning of a long and successful stint in NASCAR’s premier series for the only member of the Andretti family to work regularly in Indy cars and what was then known as the Winston Cup. He was also the only member of his clan to win the prestigious 24-hour sports car race at Daytona and to clock within a hairbreadth of 300 mph in a Top Fuel dragster.
The sports car and drag racing exploits had been accomplished before Andretti invented the Memorial Day weekend double. He teed himself up to drive an A.J. Foyt-owned Lola-Ford at the Brickyard and one of Billy Hagan’s Chevy Luminas for the 600-mile second leg in Charlotte. On the biggest day of racing in America, the diminutive Andretti won the hearts of fans everywhere. It was a calculated move by Andretti, in part, who also gained the attention of those hardened sports editors at major American newspapers who only gave racing a major space allocation on the last Sunday in May due to the huge crowds at Indy and Charlotte.
Far from a stunt, this was the real deal. People were electrified about Andretti’s arrival in Charlotte and the drama continued in a TV interview with Kenny Wallace, a relative newcomer to the broadcast side of the sport. An up-and-coming driver as well as announcer, a nervous Wallace greeted Andretti on the pit road and goofed big time by calling him “Jeff,” the name of his cousin. John took it in stride, referring in deadpan to his TV interviewer as “Rusty,” which, of course, was the name of Wallace’s older and more famous brother. It was a typical moment for the smiling Andretti, his humor undeniable and disarming, delivered in the enormous glare of the moment.
Having known him since he was 23 years old, it came as little surprise that John would eventually top that major career day in Indianapolis and Charlotte.
Andretti celebrates his first Cup win along with the Yarborough team at Daytona. Photo: Daytona International Speedway
He didn’t top it by later winning a summer Cup race at Daytona for team owner Cale Yarborough or by winning at Martinsville for team owner Richard Petty, or by winning poles at Darlington and Talladega. He didn’t top it by pursuing an ongoing bout with the Indy 500, where he raced 12 times and suffered the ill fortune that has followed the Andretti clan at the Brickyard. (Cousin Michael led the most laps of any driver who never won the race; John suffered a different type of family luck, failing to land enough rides capable of leading the field, a prerequisite to winning.)
At Indy, Andretti scored two Top 10 finishes with the Hall/VDS team in 1991 and 1992. Photo: IMS
Eventually, John would top his Indy-Charlotte double and an impressive career across multiple disciplines by how he faced the fact he was diagnosed with colon cancer in his early fifties. He stepped up big time by publicly engaging a problem faced by many who were dodging the well-known, but often shunned, method of early detection—a colonoscopy once every five years after the age of 50. By creating the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti and speaking publicly about his illness, John knew he could make a difference.
“That’s the only reason I went public,” he later confided to a writer for a medical magazine called Coping with Cancer. “Because I really didn’t want people to know. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.” Even now, trying to walk a mile in his shoes, it’s difficult to fathom how hard it must have been for such a proud man to publicly admit he could have avoided a painful and often deadly form of cancer by choosing the standard medical screening.
In round one, John beat the cancer following dastardly difficult surgery and chemotherapy. But as cancer often does, it returned with a vengeance. John fought bravely. We know this from the many accolades and tributes from those familiar with the final year of struggle before his death at age 56.
Andretti, aged 23, paired with Davy Jones and BMW to score his first IMSA Camel GT win at Watkins Glen in 1986. Photo: Tony Mezzacca
It was almost impossible not to like John Andretti. I had first met him while he was driving a GTP car for the BMW factory team shortly after he had graduated from Moravian College (and simultaneously raced USAC midgets at the Indianapolis Speedrome). Near the end of that 1986 season, at age 23 he scored a major victory for BMW in a co-drive with Davy Jones at Watkins Glen. Even then, Andretti had a disarming manner and was outgoing in a way that really engaged people—which he always seemed to enjoy. His perspective was his own and invariably unique, as later witnessed by his response to colon cancer.
It can be odd, sometimes, how a friendship strikes up. John had what might be described as an Italian temper as well as temperament, the latter being about a capacity for the joys of life and an individualistic viewpoint. As for the temper, it was easy to tell when John was angry. As far as I knew, it didn’t happen very often. But when angry, John lit up like a bulb. One day during an IMSA race weekend, he was considerate enough to lower the boom where nobody else could hear us. “When I read your race reports,” he said with a generous amount of heat, “it’s like you think everybody else on the team is responsible and I’m just along for the ride.”
John posted his first major victory at the Rolex Daytona 24 in 1989 with the Busby team, co-driving with Bob Wollek and Derek Bell, all the young age of 25. Photo: Peter Gloede
This conversation took place during IMSA’s 1989 GTP season when John was paired with Frenchman Bob Wollek on the Porsche 962 team owned by former star driver Jim Busby and sponsored by Miller beer and B.F. Goodrich. The team had won the season-opening 24-hour, where Derek Bell had been part of the three-man driving crew. Thinking back to when Davy Jones co-drove with John in what turned out to be the crucial stints in the BMW victory at Watkins Glen in 1986 and then considering the 24-hour win at Daytona, co-driven with Wollek and Bell, I realized John had raised a valid point.
“Brilliant” Bob, as Wollek was known, was regularly hired by factory teams for his deep understanding of tires and chassis. He had a Machiavellian way of dealing with journalists, alternating mild sarcasm with approachable friendliness and then, inevitably, angry tirades. Bell, the Brit who won his eighth 24-hour between Le Mans and Daytona that year, had an established reputation. The young Andretti, on the other hand, was still proving himself in my eyes, which I realized may have been a mistake, because I was paying too much attention to other story lines. At Daytona, this included John’s scheduled start in a sister Busby Porsche with cousin Michael and uncle Mario. That car departed early, allowing John to switch to what became the winning machine initially driven by Wollek and Bell.
“OK, John,” I told him, “I understand what you’re saying. From now on, I’ll pay closer attention.” I talked with a trusted member of the Busby team and got more details about John’s role entering the fifth race of the season. Then, John delivered. He and Wollek won that weekend on the fairgrounds circuit at West Palm Beach against a deep field of Porsches, two Jaguars entered by TWR and the Nissan of Electramotive. My story included this line: “Andretti was not only instrumental in setting up the Goodrich-shod Porsche, he nearly matched Wollek’s times in the race that ended Electramotive’s three-race winning streak.”
Although drivers make their own way, racing magazines always made an impression. That’s what John was angling for, understandably, the kind of third-party information in the media that would help him get a good ride in a CART Indy car. If John got a ride in CART, which he did, that was up to him. But I had to admit he had nailed me on initially adopting a wait-and-see attitude about him during the inevitable cacophony of GTP races with multiple contending teams and co-drivers. Had I fallen guilty to thinking he got the ride in the BMW and the Busby Porsche just because of his family name? Had I doubted his sports car endurance ability due to his diminutive size? Where his cousin and uncle were short and stout, at that time John was a similar height but slender by comparison, almost wispy at 135 pounds.
I’ve had young drivers tell me how wrong my reporting was and then declare, “I’m never speaking to you again.” They’re the type that usually sabotages their own career in equally disastrous relationships with teams and co-drivers. But after the West Palm Beach victory, John went back to being outgoing, engaging and funny whenever I saw him, bearing no hint of a grudge or the usual frostiness of drivers after swords have been crossed. As it turned out, our careers advanced along similar lines. John landed an Indy car ride in the legendary Pennzoil colors of Jim Hall, winning out of the box in Australia in 1991. I added the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to my publications list, the largest newspaper in the Southeast and the largest that regularly covered NASCAR. The paper sent me to Indy in 1991, where John joined uncle Mario, cousins Michael and Jeff in the starting field; John scored his best-ever finish of fifth in that year’s 500.
In the year of his double, I covered the final leg in Charlotte. In the previous year, the newspaper had me covering local drag racing, which meant reporting on John clocking 299 mph in the Southern Nationals at the Atlanta Dragway and winning two rounds in Top Fuel, before bowing out in the semi-final round of eliminations. At the time, John was an out-of-work, young race car driver who had taken the extraordinary step of doing something completely different to keep his name—and skills—in front of the racing community. It could not have been as easy to adapt to the high-powered, finicky Top Fuel machines.
The money soon ran out on the drag racing side, but then John landed a full-time gig in NASCAR as a result of the Indy-Charlotte double, once again taking it upon himself to call attention to his talent, stamina and media appeal, which led to 393 career Winston Cup starts, including 15 in the Daytona 500.
Looking back, John had driven in IMSA sports cars and taken the journeyman ride in Top Fuel to demonstrate his ability with high horsepower cars, which for young drivers was a prerequisite to entering the major series that included deeper fields and stiffer competition. If people thought maybe he wasn’t big enough or strong enough to handle major 500-mile races, it occurred to John how he might change the minds of potential team owners and sponsors. He could give himself a better opportunity to land a ride in either Indy cars or NASCAR if he created and pulled off the Memorial Day weekend double. We never talked about it, but looking back, it seems I was not the only one who had doubted this Andretti early in his career.
Not only did John and I continue to cross paths throughout his days in NASCAR, but I also got to know his father Aldo, the twin of Mario. Aldo frequented NASCAR events to watch John race, often getting around to various parts of the track to observe on his own. In conversations with Aldo, I could see where John got his insightful and wry view of the world. His father had suffered a head injury that forced him out of racing while Mario continued and achieved worldwide fame. Despite his misfortune, Aldo retained a generosity of spirit and ability to handle life’s fate with pride and humility, two attributes that run deep in each of the twin brothers whose fates were so disparate. Although he never achieved the considerable heights of his uncle or cousin Michael behind the wheel, John not only made his father extremely proud, but sustained those twin pillars of pride and humility.
As far as the world knows about the second half of his double in 1994, for example, the engine expired in his Chevy after 220 of 400 laps. The fact was that John hit the wall to bring out the first caution, which damaged the radiator and later the engine. He didn’t make any excuses, such as starting in the back after qualifying ninth, because he had missed the mandatory pre-race drivers’ meeting. “I was really loose,” he said. “It’s a tough job driving a loose car and I was hoping for a yellow. Unfortunately, it came out for me.” He soldiered on, eventually completing 830 miles of racing that day and night.
Once his driving career was over, John found himself in a world where racing had evolved into a TV-enriched state. Appearance fees started reaching five figures, even for retired stars. John, who always seemed to draw energy from those he engaged as well as give it, chose his own way. He continued to voluntarily raise money for the Riley Children’s Hospital, where he regularly visited with patients and their families, by promoting the “Race for Riley” go-kart event. He also helped promote son Jarett’s sprint car career.
The signature car design known as ‘The Stinger’ raised $900,000 for charity. Photo: unknown
John promoted the Indy 500 through the “Stinger” project, a modern car built in homage to the Marmon Wasp that won the first Indy 500. It was a joint effort by John, the Andretti Autosport team of cousin Michael and Window World, one of John’s longtime sponsors. When necessary, John traveled with the car around the U.S. to gain signatures of as many living Indy 500 veterans as possible, including every winner, before it was sold at auction in 2016 after the 100th running of the Indy 500, raising $900,000 for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
In another twist of fate for me, John and cousin Michael launched a go-karting facility in the Atlanta area, once again establishing a common link. After this first one closed, Mario eventually joined them and the trio later helped launch a new state-of-the-art indoor karting facility in Marietta, just up the road from Atlanta. The night of the opening, I had a car problem and missed the Andrettis by a matter of minutes after locating a back-up vehicle and dashing through the snarl of Atlanta’s rush hour. Looking back, how I wished I’d had one more chance to say hello in person away from the hectic environment of a race weekend. As it was, I later called John and talked with him about the karting business on behalf of a friend looking to get into that line of work. We had a long, engaging conversation, including talk about the ongoing “Stinger” project, because John always had time for people.
When fate called on him early, John answered with the #CheckIt4Andretti campaign. In the initial treatments, John shared his story on TV with local Indianapolis sportscaster Dave Calabro, helping to leverage his message. After an all-too-brief hiatus of cancer-free status, he and wife Nancy then focused on the private side of his medical struggle and on their children, including son Jarett and his sprint car career, and two college-age daughters. John vowed to see both daughters graduate.
John and Nancy never stopped sending out Christmas cards. They probably sent more than anybody in U.S. racing, cards that were high-quality and featured a family photo. As a result, each year I’d see their children growing up, experiencing the pride John and Nancy felt about their family while taking note of their understated religious conviction. The cards, including this year’s version that showed a smiling John, have been a yearly reminder of how John always did things his way.
(Editor’s Note: Jonathan Ingram is entering his 44th year of covering motor racing. His sixth book “CRASH! How the HANS Device Helped Save Racing” is in current release. To learn more and see excerpts, visit www.jingrambooks.com.)
For a guy who recently finished a book on some of the deadliest years of professional racing—and the safety revolution those years spawned—I felt strangely numb the day after Ryan Newman escaped from his finish-line crash at the Daytona 500. A brutal series of events, the crash included four different circumstances in a couple of seconds that could have potentially killed the driver.
The end of this Daytona 500 was like a near-death experience, except not your own. Once the thankful outcome became certain, there’s an aftermath. Relief comes first and before nagging doubts finally pass in one last shudder of horror.
On Tuesday the day after, I found initial relief in some thoughtful online comments plus the professional work of a couple of fellow commentators. Writer Ryan McGee and broadcaster Ricky Craven helped sum up that whole oddball process of a brilliant racing enterprise, invariably part ritual and part magic, turning into something else.
Those two summed up the nagging doubts that creep in when the close-to-the-bone nature of racing gets revealed and how the sport’s community of participants and fans face up to the reality of the mechanized, ritualized danger. Oh, there was plenty of standard stuff out there, too. Some expressed their doubts by criticizing the drivers—or NASCAR for how it operates the races on the Daytona and Talladega tracks. Some took it as an opportunity to express envy disguised as sarcasm because NASCAR’s stock cars and drivers are so popular compared to their own preferred style of racing.
In fact, the Daytona 500 requires each driver to make critical split-second decisions at sustained speeds of 200 mph every lap. If it becomes a race of cautions and attrition, well nobody complained in the years when only three or four drivers finished on the lead lap.
I felt lifted, and fully relieved, at the end of the day on Tuesday when I came across one road racing photographer’s Facebook post that was a funny take on his family members’ relative lack of racing knowledge. It underscored that everybody, not just race fans, were talking about Newman’s crash. (This was a particularly poignant as well as funny post considering the family has been fighting, successfully, alongside a teenage son in his battle with cancer.)
The potential for gut-wrenching outcomes have always been there in racing and will continue. Newman’s crash, for example, was a reminder of Sebastien Bourdais’s head-on collision with the barrier at Indy during qualifying for the 500 in 2017 at a speed of 227 mph. The difference was the French driver, who suffered a fractured pelvis and broken hip, remained conscious and alert afterward, immediately easing fears of the worst-case scenario. By contrast, it took almost a week for Newman to release a statement that he had suffered a head injury and would return to full-time status pending a medical clearance.
The replays of Newman’s finish-line crash will be repeated ad infinitum—because the driver survives to tell about it. I like this element, given that I wrote a book titled “CRASH!” containing voluminous research on how the safety revolution brought racing to the point where this kind of crash can be survived.
The safety revolution occurred across all the world’s major racing series. It started in Formula 1 with the death of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna in 1994. CART simultaneously began making major safety improvements after the injurious crash of two-time world champion Nelson Piquet during practice at Indy; CART became the first to mandate the HANS device prior to the 2001 season. The movement then came to NASCAR as a result of four driver deaths over a nine-month period, including Dale Earnhardt’s last-lap crash at Daytona. Given that these series operate in their own orbits and fans often do likewise, very few fully recognized how the safety revolution actually occurred. And how decisions in all three of these series helped make it happen.
The book is subtitled “From Senna to Earnhardt” for this reason. One could argue that their deaths—the great F1 champion from an errant suspension piece and Earnhardt from a basal skull fracture—during races watched by tens of millions of fans on live television were the two biggest events in motor racing in the last 100 years. After a full century of professional racing where death was commonplace, organizers realized, as we all did at this year’s Daytona 500, the sport simply could not be sustained if it continued to kill its drivers on live television.
There’s a touch of controversy to the book because it’s based on the idea that the brilliant work of so many dedicated racing professionals to achieve the safety revolution might have faltered absent the HANS Device. That’s the organizing principle of the story and the reason for the other subtitle: “How the HANS Helped Save Racing.” I worked directly with HANS inventor Dr. Robert Hubbard and his business partner, five-time IMSA champion Jim Downing, to write the book. But the thesis is entirely mine. Resolving the issue of basal skull fractures was the one thing sanctioning bodies could not figure out entirely on their own. During the 1990s, this type of injury was the most frequent cause of death or critical injury in all forms of major league racing around the world.
There’s no doubt all the elements of safety developed by NASCAR came into play on this year’s Monday running of the Daytona 500. The cockpit safety cocoon with its carbon-fiber seat, six-point harness, the head surrounds and a head restraint were the first line of defense. The SAFER barrier did its job—which includes sufficiently reducing g-forces so that the cockpit restraints could do their job without being compromised. The impacts of Newman’s Ford getting hit in the door and then the final impact of landing on its roof – in addition to the initial impact with the wall – all showed the value of NASCAR’s Gen 6 car construction requirements.
When it comes to safety, NASCAR operates from its own dedicated Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., which makes it the world leader. (The FIA’s Formula 1 and IndyCar must rely, in part, on vendors instead of a fully equipped staff under one roof.) Although it’s not really feasible, I, for one, would like to see the in-car video from Newman’s cockpit taken by one of the recent innovations of a digital camera installed to observe what happens to the driver during a crash.
It’s not as if the safety revolution stands still. F-1 has introduced the life-saving Halo and IndyCar enters the 2020 season with the first generation of the Aeroscreen in place. Roger Penske’s ownership may yet lead to improvements in track fencing for open-wheel cars. Competitors to the HANS have emerged and the cost of a certified head restraint continues to decrease without a compromise in safety. (My favorite new arrival is the innovative Flex made by Schroth.) Weekend warriors can no longer offer the excuse that head restraints, which are needed in all forms of auto racing, are too costly, too uncomfortable or don’t fit in their vehicle.
History reminds us that far too many drivers died while Rome was burning and before the major sanctioning bodies recognized they needed to apply their technical and financial resources to greatly reduce the chance of death behind the wheel. The sanctioning bodies realized they had to act to save a sport dependent on the fan appeal of star drivers and dependent upon participation by car manufacturers, TV networks and corporate sponsors. This Daytona 500 was a reminder they did the right thing.
(Editor’s Note: Jonathan Ingram is entering his 44th year of covering motor racing. His seventh book “CRASH! From Senna to Earnhardt—How the HANS Device Helped Save Racing” is in current release. His Amazon bio is located at https://amzn.to/2wwPQ3V . To see “CRASH” excerpts, visit www.jingrambooks.com.)
In the Ferrari factory yard in Maranello on September 27, 1947, this new sports car is the final envelope body iteration of, we believe, chassis 01C, the very first Ferrari sports car. This latest body, showing its new hood scoop to feed the three centrally located Weber carburetors of its now 1.9-liter motor, was modified in-house at Ferrari by Aristide Govoni who may well be sitting in the passenger seat, looking somewhat nervous. At the wheel is Signor Armando Pastorino di Tortona, owner of a tool company and a friend of Enzo Ferrari, so he gets to sit in this important sports car just to have his picture taken. The new motor is simply an enlarged version of its original V12 of 1.5 liters, as first created by Gioacchino Colombo, a highly successful engine design that will endure at Ferrari in various iterations for the next 20 years.
But this car is not for show. It has just been rolled out of the Racing Department where it has been prepared for the Circuito di Modena for sports cars on the next day with its race number 16 visible on the hood and the left side as shown here. This race would be held on the streets of nearby Modena where this car will be driven by one of Ferrari’s good clients from Modena, Ferdinando Righetti.
Unfortunately, Righetti will crash the Ferrari and be forced to withdraw. During the following F1 race, there was a more serious accident which resulted in the deaths of five spectators. As a result the Modena Grand Prix was not held again inside the city but was moved to the Modena Aerautodromo starting in 1950.
However, Righetti’s car will return to Maranello where it will be repaired and again modified with a different body and another new engine to become a cycle-fendered 166 Spyder Corsa. And of course it will then have its chassis renumbered so it could be sold as a “new” racing car.
Photos from the Archivio Corrado Millanta ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
The following contains excerpts from “IMSA 1969-1989” written by Mitch Bishop and Mark Raffauf, and published by Octane Press, which tells the inside story of how IMSA got started and its first 20 glorious years. Available from Octane Press or wherever books are sold.
When IMSA started sanctioning GT races in 1971, the big prizes on the horizon for the organization were always the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Both events had achieved international fame by then, attracting the best and brightest drivers from Formula One, world endurance racing, USAC, and the SCCA. But for different reasons, both events were in trouble by 1973. The FIA had dictated track and safety improvements at Sebring, which led the Ulmann family to announce that the 1972 race would be the last. IMSA picked up the pieces in 1973 thanks to the backing of John Greenwood, the organizational efforts of Reggie Smith and the work of IMSA founder and president, John Bishop.
In the meantime, ever-changing FIA technical rules for world endurance racing were limiting interest and even the length of the Daytona event, which ran as a six-hour event in 1972 due to concerns that the fast prototypes from Ferrari and Alfa Romeo wouldn’t last a full 24 hours. Other manufacturers like Porsche had long decided to pull out of the event.
Once IMSA joined ACCUS in 1973, it successfully lobbied to take over organizing the 24 Hours of Daytona starting in 1974. Unfortunately, in October that year, Saudi Arabia- controlled OPEC organized an oil embargo in retaliation for United States support of Israel during the Yom Kippur war. Over the next few months, the price of oil spiked globally and long lines formed at the pumps as shortages spread. Things got so bad that a rationing system based on the last digit of license plate numbers dictated which days people could purchase gasoline.
The shortage quickly put pressure on motorsports, which some saw as the wasteful use of a now precious commodity. Recently promoted NASCAR President Bill France Jr. organized an effective lobbying campaign in Washington D.C. to keep Congress from legislating NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies out of business. He pointed out the reality that it took less energy to put on a race than to fly an NFL football team coast-to-coast. The strategy worked, but concessions had to be made during the embargo, which lasted until April of 1974. Some races were shortened such as the Daytona 500, which ran only 450 miles.
IMSA’s two major endurance races were canceled outright in 1974. Even though IMSA had become a full member of ACCUS and had won the right to sanction the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1974, the race was shut down due to the shortage; Daytona’s owners could not guarantee a supply of fuel to support the thousands of fans expected to attend the event. Sebring was canceled for similar reasons, making the Road Atlanta round the opening race of the 1974 Camel GT season. The event was stretched to 6 hours in homage to Daytona and Sebring and was won by Al Holbert and Elliott Forbes-Robinson in a 3.0 liter Porsche Carrera RSR.
George Dyer’s Porsche Carrera RSR at Daytona in 1975 at sunrise on Sunday. Yes, there used to be trees visible in the infield section of the road course. Photo: MarkRaffauf
Thus, the 24 Hours of Daytona became the opening round of the Camel GT Series in 1975 and marked the first time that IMSA sanctioned the event. A healthy field of 51 over- and under-2.5 liter GT cars started the race on Saturday, February, 1st. There were no prototypes running in IMSA at that time. Although the first All-American GT cars were beginning to be built, none showed for the twice-around-the-clock endurance event. Horst Kwech would debut the first production AAGT DeKon Monza later that year at Road Atlanta.
The winning Brumos Porsche Carrera RSR enters Turn One during the 24 Hours of Daytona in January 1975. Note the crash damage caused by an incident earlier in the race with Hector Rebaque that required a lengthy pit stop to repair. Photo: MarkRaffauf
Twenty-one of the entries were Porsches. By then, Porsche had been building a very successful customer car program under the direction of Jo Hoppen, the head of Porsche Motorsports USA. Hoppen aggressively drove a customer car program that became the de facto model for other manufacturers in the sport. When the International Race of Champions switched from Porsche to Camaros for the 1974 season, 15 Carrera RSRs instantly became available for IMSA racing. They had rolled off the production line at a German factory ready to race; anyone with the right-sized checkbook could buy one. The cars were sorted, reliable and fast. Hoppen placed the cars with good teams, which filled up IMSA fields for the next few years with strong entries carrying the Porsche banner. He also arranged for a fully stocked Porsche parts trailer to show up at every IMSA event, ensuring that all the teams were well supported.
John Greenwood’s Corvette was one of the Porsche antagonists. Seen here under braking for Turn One during the 1975 24 Hours of Daytona, it featured a paint scheme promoting the 12 Hours of Sebring a few weeks later. Greenwood’s big-block Corvettes with wild bodywork were fast (he won the pole for the race) but didn’t last the distance, completing just 148 laps. Photo: MarkRaffauf
In other news, one of the newcomers to IMSA at Daytona in 1975 was the first factory “super team” from Europe. Jochen Neerpasch brought the latest factory BMW CSL team to the premier IMSA series with pilots Brian Redman, Hans Stuck, Ronnie Peterson, Dieter Quester, and Sam Posey. As the U.S. market recovered from the gas crisis, BMW wanted to use racing to underscore its core marketing message: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” The addition of BMW and top European drivers to the series also had the effect of raising the competition level significantly. A proven entity in Europe, the CSL had struggled in the U.S. in 1974 without proper factory backing.
Unfortunately, neither car finished the 1975 24 hour race, with the Redman, Petersen car dropping out after just 29 laps and the Stuck, Posey car ending up in 33rd spot. After the disappointing results against an army of Porsche Carreras, the BMW team regrouped and moved its U.S. operations deep into NASCAR country: the shops of Bobby and Donnie Allison in Hueytown Alabama. The team spent a month modifying the standard European-version of the CSL into a potent IMSA contender by removing weight, stiffening the chassis, improving engine reliability and tweaking aerodynamics. The changes worked; BMW won the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and became a contender throughout the rest of the 1975 season.
The winning factory BMW CSL of Hans Stuck, Sam Posey, Brian Redman, and Allan Moffat navigates the wide-open runways of Sebring in 1975 when Lockheed Constellations and Douglas DC-4s lined the course unprotected between Turns One and Two. Photo: Mark Raffauf
Against this backdrop, the 1975 Daytona 24 Hours was an all-Porsche affair. The only drama was: which Porsche would win. Peter Gregg tangled early on with the RSR that had won the Mexican round of the FIA’s World Championship of Makes the previous year. The No. 5 Café Mexico Porsche was driven at Daytona by Hector Rebaque, Fred van Beuren, and Guillermo Rojas. After the incident, both cars spent many laps in the pits to repair damage and fell back in the standings.
Peter Gregg leads the similar machine of Rebaque/Rojas/van Beuren during the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1975 on Sunday morning. The two cars came together early in the race, requiring extensive repairs to both. Hurley Haywood and “Peter Perfect” came back to win with a car that was not so perfect. Photo: MarkRaffauf
Throughout the evening the Brumos car gained ground back with Gregg and Hurley Haywood alternating behind the wheel. A thick fog rolled in as the night progressed and visibility became a real issue. Haywood got into the car just past midnight for what was expected to be a three-hour stint since Gregg was never a big fan of driving at night or in lousy weather. Haywood, who had extraordinary vision, always seemed to get the nod in those conditions.
Despite the fog, Hurley kept circulating at close to qualifying speeds through the night. He drove longer than expected and probably longer than technically allowed. In the process, he dragged the battered No. 59 back onto the lead lap and eventually into the lead, the entire time his car barely visible to race control.
When asked his status by IMSA officials over the radio, he continued to report, “I can see everything fine down here on the ground,” which may or may not have been entirely true. Haywood drove an epic six hours straight, taking the lead and ultimately winning the race for the Brumos team. It would be one of five victories for each of the hall of fame drivers at the storied 24-hour event. In the end, Porsches occupied 13 of the top 15 spots in the results.
Porsche was pretty good at keeping secrets. Before the 917 was shown at the Geneva Salon in March of 1969, even the factory’s team drivers were unaware of its existence. Porsche had designed and built the first car in near-complete secrecy over the previous eight months. Once the car began testing and appearing at races, it was obviously fast. Jo Siffert put a 917 on the pole at its first race, the 1000 KM at Spa, but tellingly elected not to race it. Siffert and Brian Redman went on to win the race in a longtail 908. By June, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was no secret that the 917 had a serious handling problem. At high speed on the Mulsanne straight, it was wandering across the road. The high-speed bends were equally difficult. But in the race, Vic Elford and Richard Attwood employed some judicious driving to hold the lead for about 18 hours. They might have won had the transmission case not cracked allowing oil to flood the clutch.
Despite a continuing issue with instability, Siffert and Kurt Ahrens managed to take the first victory for a 917 at the final race of the Manufacturer’s Championship season. In the Zeltweg 1000 KM race in August, the 3.0-liter Cosworth-powered M3 Mirage was faster than the 917, but Porsche reliability and hard-driving prevailed. Two months later, Porsche returned to the Osterreichring at Zeltweg for a test session, determined to resolve the evil handling characteristics of the 917 once and for all. Meanwhile, Porsche had contracted with John Wyer’s Gulf-sponsored JW Automotive Engineering team to run the official factory cars in the 1970 Championship. The Zeltweg test would be the first with Porsche and JWAE personnel working together. While the Porsche engineers, Peter Falk and Helmut Flegl, concentrated on trying numerous shock absorber and spring settings (to no avail), Gulf team Chief Engineer, John Horsman, famously noted the lack of dead bugs on the tail surfaces of the test cars.
Jo Siffert takes the checkered flag at Zeltweg, August 1969 – Porsche Archive
The little gnats led Horsman to suspect the real problem was aerodynamic – lack of downforce over the rear wheels. In an inspired bit of shade-tree engineering, he worked with his mechanics, Ermanno Cuoghi and Peter Davies, to reshape the tail of the 917. Using sheet metal, tape, and screws, they extended the line of the tail from the top of the rear wheel arches to the top of the tail fins (already running nearly straight up). Finished overnight, the new tail was first tried by a skeptical Brian Redman on the following morning. Instead of coming in after the customary two laps with a grim shake of the head, Redman stayed out for seven progressively better laps. Returning to the pits, Redman stated simply and prophetically, “Now it’s a racing car……”
View of modified 917 tail, Zeltweg test, October 1969 – John Horsman Collection
By the end of the Zeltweg test, the 917 was fully five seconds faster per lap than it had been three days before. Even Ferdinand Piech, as head of R&D for Porsche and doggedly committed to minimizing drag on his race cars, had to approve of a new tail design. However, there was a huge amount of work to be done. The Porsche design team, led by Eugen Kolb, had to finalize the new tail shape and this included redesigning the rear window, creating a ‘tunnel’ in the upward sweeping tail for rear vision, and re-routing the exhaust pipes to the now-open area behind the rear wheels (the 917 originally had side exhaust outlets for the forward cylinders of the flat 12). This required new side pods as well. The new nose shape had to be finalized, including larger ducts and fender vents to improve brake cooling. All of this work was accomplished in a mere four weeks as there was another important test scheduled. The new version of the 917, now commonly referred to as the 917K, was scheduled to test at Daytona on November 19 and 20, 1969.
This test was kept highly secret and no photos were taken. Even Speedway employees were kept out of the grandstands and the infield. Attendees included Ferdinand Piech, Helmut Flegl, Peter Falk and Helmuth Bott plus a group of mechanics from Porsche. The Gulf team was represented by John Wyer, John Horsman, team manager David Yorke, mechanics Alan Hearn and Ermanno Cuoghi. Test drivers were Jo Siffert, Kurt Ahrens, Pedro Rodriguez, and David Hobbs. Pedro Rodriguez had signed to drive for JWAE and would have his first chance at the 917 during this test. David Hobbs was on hand as a tryout, potentially to co-drive with Pedro.
Artist conception of November 1969 Daytona test by Steve Jones – Steve Jones Scan 1 painting for “Gulf 917”
This was the first chance to test the finished version of the new tail at high speed, along with the other detail revisions (new nose shape, engine exhaust, rearview tunnel, etc.). Porsche also brought a long tail for testing but the drivers were not enthusiastic compared to the new ‘K’ tail. The activities combined specific testing, including tire comparison between Goodyear and Firestone, with simulated races or endurance runs. Testing was hampered by several on-track incidents. Ahrens had a tire failure that damaged chassis 012, requiring significant repairs. There is mention in sources such as Karl Ludvigsen’s Excellence Was Expected that Rodriguez was hit by a wind gust, causing a crash on the banking. However, John Horsman and Alan Hearn could not recall this incident specifically when consulted for my book, Gulf 917, and it is not mentioned in Walter Naher’s 917 Archiv.
On the second day, Hobbs missed a gear coming out of the infield and on to the banking. Finding second gear instead of fourth on the upshift over-revved the engine. In the glare of this intense test session with the Porsche personnel, the mistake likely cost Hobbs the job of partnering with Rodriguez for 1970. Porsche had already specified that Siffert and Redman would be the ‘factory’ drivers in one Gulf car (those drivers to be paid by Porsche). JWAE would have the choice of drivers for the other car (to be paid by Gulf). John Wyer had hoped to form what hindsight says could have been a ‘dream team’, pairing Pedro Rodriguez with Jacky Ickx. Ickx had played a prominent part in JWAE’s success from 1967 through 1969. To Wyer’s chagrin, Ickx signed with Ferrari for both Formula One and sports car racing in 1970. Wyer opined in The Certain Sound: “Probably one of his greatest mistakes.” This left the job to the relatively unknown Leo Kinnunen from Finland to co-drive with Rodriguez.
The Daytona testing led to a number of design and detail changes that would be incorporated into the race cars for the 1970 season. Cockpit heat issues led the JWAE team to reroute oil to the cooler through dedicated oil lines rather than using chassis tubes as originally designed. Dedicated oil lines also seemed safer than relying on chassis tubes to conduct the oil. Taper wear on brake pads was a concern as was general stability under braking. This led Porsche to rethink the design of the front wheel hub carrier. The test also resulted in several detail changes to the steering rack and the transmission. Rodriguez requested the steering wheel to be closer, so JWAE fabricated a 19mm spacer to be used in the 1970 races. Forward vision on the banking became a concern for the drivers and this led to the development of the D-shape roof window to help with this problem. Best lap times at the Daytona test were in the 1:47 range, about five seconds faster than the existing track record. Complete details of the Daytona test and follow-up work were published in Walter Naher’s book, 917 Archiv.
Although no photos exist of the Daytona test, we do know what the cars looked like when run in Florida. Upon their return from Florida, one of the cars (Chassis 011) was used for wind tunnel testing at the University of Stuttgart facility. There had not been time to check the new nose and tail prior to the Daytona test. However, the December 1969 wind tunnel review confirmed acceptable drag and downforce readings. The increase in aerodynamic drag resulting from the new ‘K’ tail was partly offset by the reduced weight of the rear bodywork. No further changes were made to the body shape prior to the 1970 Daytona race except for the addition of the roof window.
Chassis 011 in the wind tunnel after returning from Daytona, December 1969 – Porsche Archive
The Daytona testing largely finalized the form and specifications for the 917 that JW Automotive would start with for the 1970 racing season. How well did it start? The Gulf-Porsches would finish first and second in the 24 Hours of Daytona with the winning car setting a distance record that stood until 1987. Given the level of documentation throughout the 917 program, it remains surprising that no photo exists of the truly secret Daytona test.
The famed Daytona International Speedway was built in the late 1950s as a state of the art facility – the crown jewel of the NASCAR stock car season. But the track had been designed from the beginning to include a road course layout and “Big Bill” France, Sr. aspirations beyond just stock cars. In June of 1961, he attended the 24 Hours of LeMans and was stunned by the sight of more than 250,000 spectators. Upon returning home, he hatched an idea to bring global credibility and prestige to his new Daytona facility. Partnering with the SCCA, he started the Daytona Continental sports car race in 1962. Originally run as a three-hour event that year and the next, it was expanded to 2,000 kilometers in 1964 and 1965. By 1966 it had expanded yet again to a full 24-hour length to match the Le Mans 24 hours race. The first 24 Hours of Daytona was won by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby in a Shelby Ford GT40 MK II. The Daytona 24 then became a fixture on the World SportsCar Championship schedule. Ferrari had their famous 1-2-3 finish in 1967, followed by Porsche with their own 1-2-3 finish in 1968. The 1970 and 1971 races were highlighted by great battles between the Porsche 917 and the Ferrari 512, both races being won by the Gulf Porsche 917.
The driver’s meeting just before the1972 Daytona race, which was shortened to six hours by the FIA over concerns that none of the 3.0-liter prototypes would survive a full 24 hours. From the left: Ronnie Peterson, Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Clay Regazzoni, and Peter Revson (in the blue jacket). Photo: Martin Raffauf
For 1972 the FIA had changed the rules dramatically. The Sports Car World Championship was now limited to 3.0-liter cars, effectively banning cars with 5.0-liter displacements. With some foresight, Ferrari had been working on and racing their 312P car during 1971, gaining experience for 1972. The Ferrari 312P was powered by a derivative of the then-current 12-cylinder Formula 1 engine. Alfa Romeo also had a 3.0-liter car, powered by a V8. Porsche, as a factory, withdrew from the series, as they only had the aging 908, with a 3.0-liter flat 8- cylinder engine. The FIA also raised the minimum weight for the class which handicapped the lightweight 908, as it was underpowered in comparison to the Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Porsche racing was left in the hands of privateers. Due to reliability concerns, the FIA mandated 6-hour maximum races in 1972, except for Le Mans. Sebring fought this and kept their 12-hour race, however, Daytona agreed to the 6-hour limit. Daytona did schedule several support races over the 24- hour time period, to make it seem like it was 24 hours of racing. But the World Championship race would run on Sunday for six hours only.
The winning Ferrari 312PB of Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti sits in the paddock before the race. Photo: Martin Raffauf
The Alfa Romeo T33 of Vic Elford and Helmut Marko in the garage area. It would finish third. Photo: Martin Raffauf
The Kremer Porsche 911S was one of many GT cars that filled out the field in 1972. The car was a DNF. Photo: Martin Raffauf.
Both Ferrari and Alfa Romeo entered three cars each. The Ferrari’s were the new 312PB (a further evolutionary development of the car run in 1971) and were driven by Mario Andretti/ Jacky Ickx; Ronnie Peterson/Tim Schenken; and Clay Regazzoni/Brian Redman. The main competition would come from the Alfa Romeo TT33/3’s of Peter Revson/ Rolf Stommelen; Vic Elford/ Helmut Marko; and Andrea de Adamich/ Nani Galli. There was also a quick Lola T280 entered by Jo Bonnier and co-driven by Reine Wisell. A full field of GT cars and a few older prototypes and 2.0-liter sports cars filled out the grid.
Reine Wisell in Jo Bonnier’s Lola 280-Ford ran well until an accident. Photo: Martin Raffauf
Mario Andretti qualified on the pole and took an immediate lead. However, in the early going the car lost a cylinder with no spark. There was some kind of wiring or electrical problem that could not be fixed quickly. They just carried on. Mario reckoned they lost 800-900 RPM, so just drove harder. Their team-mates, Regazzoni and Redman took the lead and were in front until a tire blew in the banking just in front of Reine Wisell who was running second in the Lola. Both cars were damaged in the incident and needed extended pit work to continue. The Alfa Romeo of Revson and Stommelen then took over the battle for the lead with the slowed Ferrari of Andretti/Ickx, leading several times until the Alfa engine failed about halfway thru the race.
Peter Revson in the Alfa Romeo on the East banking during the 1972 Daytona six-hour race. The pair of Revson/Stommelen would blow the engine halfway through the event. Photo: Martin Raffauf
The Andretti/Ickx car led the rest of the way, winning on just 11 cylinders over their teammates, Ronnie Peterson and Tim Schenken (who had a clutch problem the whole race). Vic Elford and Helmut Marko ended up third in their Alfa, four laps behind. The Regazzoni/ Redman Ferrari was fourth after earlier repairs from the tire failure cost them 15 laps. Of the 72 cars entered, 58 qualified but only 21 were classified finishers. So, it seemed apparent the FIA was correct with their reliability concerns.
In a foreshadowing of things to come, Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood finished 7th overall and first in class with a 2.5-liter Porsche 911S. They would return with some success in subsequent years!
In 1973, the race returned to its normal 24-hour length and has remained as such ever since, with the exception of 1974 when the race was canceled in the middle of the fuel crisis. In 1975, IMSA took over the sanctioning of the event and it remained on the World Championship calendar until the early 1980s. At that point a large rule divergence between the FIA (Group C) and IMSA (GTP) caused the race to fall off the international calendar.
The 20-year struggle by Dr. Robert Hubbard and Jim Downing to gain universal acceptance for their life-saving HANS Device—now in use by over 275,000 competitors worldwide—is an amazing tale of family, genius, perseverance, tragedy and triumph. It tells how the world’s leading auto racing series shouldered the task of saving their driving heroes—and a sport. Excerpted from the book CRASH! by Jonathan Ingram (with Dr. Robert Hubbard and Jim Downing), this is the story of Jim Downing’s awakening to the very real dangers of high-speed frontal impacts and his resolve to do something about it. The full book can be purchased here.
Chapter 2. Downing’s Awakening
A five-time road racing champion, Jim Downing first met Dale Earnhardt in the NASCAR hauler at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000, where he was talking about the HANS Device to a longtime acquaintance, Mike Helton, soon to be named the NASCAR president.
After the deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin from basal skull fractures earlier that year during two separate NASCAR events at the New Hampshire International Speedway, Helton was very interested in talking with Downing about motor racing’s first head and neck restraint. Since NASCAR closely controlled all aspects of its racing series, any safety device used by drivers had to have the sanctioning body’s approval.
Downing had met the future NASCAR president in the early 1980s while building Mazda RX-7 pace cars at his Downing/Atlanta race shop for the Atlanta International Raceway, where Helton was the general manager and in charge of securing the cars to fulfill a sponsorship deal financed by Mazda. Not long after that deal with Downing, Helton left his post at the Atlanta track to take a similar job at the giant oval in Talladega, Alabama, before moving to Daytona Beach as an employee at NASCAR’s Florida headquarters. Tall and broad with imposing eyes beneath a thick mane of dark hair, Helton had gradually worked his way up the NASCAR hierarchy.
“I knew Jim Downing from his racing days when he was the Mazda driver, when he was up in the wine country of Georgia and I was down in the moonshine country,” recalled Helton. “I knew Jim Downing as a racer. Atlanta Raceway had a deal one year with Mazda. We had Mazda RX-7 pace cars and they were souped-up by Downing. Bob Hubbard came along with that process of knowing Jim and in that time (after the driver deaths) we were getting more aggressive in talking with folks like that.”
Earnhardt wanted nothing to do with the HANS Device at the Indy test. “Dale came through the door of the NASCAR hauler, just walked right in while I was talking to Mike about the HANS,” said Downing of his first meeting with the driver known as “The Intimidator.”
“They had a little desk in there and he threw his leg over the corner of it and kind of sat down. He looked at us with that bristly mustache and a grin as if to say, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ The message was pretty clear. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the HANS and didn’t want Mike listening to what I had to say. Earnhardt sitting there pretty much brought the discussion with Mike to an end.”
Twenty years prior to meeting Earnhardt, Downing’s own experience with a head injury resulted in a fortunate outcome—given the dangerous nature of his crash on a track in Canada in 1980. On a sweltering August day at the Mosport Park track near Toronto, Downing was sweating profusely while competing in the Molson 1000. Onboard a Mazda RX-7 entered by the Racing Beat factory team, the tall, slender Downing was running first in the GTU class with the other Racing Beat Mazda immediately behind him in second place. Its driver, John Morton, was looking for a way past.
The 10-turn Mosport track undulates around glacially carved hills. Because of the almost non-stop high speeds, it’s a thrilling place to watch a race. On this summer day, fans, many of them camping overnight in tents on the various overlooks, had come out to see the World Championship of Makes race sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The race also paid points for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and the combined entry featured some of the world’s best sports car teams and drivers.
This included numerous Porsche 935 Turbos, relatively crude silhouette cars. These ill-handling tube-frame machines were wicked fast due to turbocharged engines producing gobs of torque that hit the drive train like a thunderstorm. They were driven by sports car stars such as Brian Redman and John Fitzpatrick and by moonlighting Indy car drivers Rick Mears, Danny Ongais and Johnny Rutherford. Twenty-year-old future star John Paul, Jr. was another of those behind the wheel of the Porsches. The fearless and fast German, Walter Rohrl, co-drove a Lancia Turbo in search of FIA points and renowned team owner Bob Tullius of Group 44 was competing in a Triumph TR-8 for British Leyland.
In IMSA’s standard endurance racing formula, the GTU class for cars with smaller engines consisted of Mazdas, Datsun 240Z’s and Porsche 911 Carreras. While they relied more on momentum and less on horsepower, the GTUs were scary to drive at Mosport, too, because of their nimble cornering speeds—–and the constant swarm of faster Porsche Turbos.
During this particular summer, the heat and humidity were not unusual for August. But to find more speed, the engineer at the Racing Beat factory team had closed off most of the airflow into the cockpit. Downing had worked his way into the graces of Mazda’s racing management due to his quickness, reliability and low-key confidence that fit in well with the Japanese. He intended to sustain his career momentum and decided not to protest the lack of air coming through the cockpit.
Already a championship contender aboard Mazda RX-3s in the RS series of IMSA for compact cars running on radial street tires, he was looking to advance to the big leagues of American sports car racing and into the GTU category where Mazda was a major player. But he lost so much perspiration during the race’s first hour in the muggy cockpit that he passed out behind the wheel while heading into Turn Two—–a fast, sweeping, left-hand corner.
For the first and only time in his career, the crash briefly knocked Downing unconscious. Events became fuzzy as he was taken to the track medical center. It was like a dream—tumult, and noise all around him, but everything distant and one step removed, the roar of the cars on the nearby track now a distant hum. The memory lingered after an overnight stay in the hospital.
Patrick Jacquemart puts his amazing turbo-powered Renault through its paces at Mid-Ohio in 1981. He would be killed in a testing accident in the same car at the same track a few weeks later. Photo: Peter Gloede
“I just got lucky and the car turned backward,” recalled Downing. “It was a concrete wall with a hill behind it. The impact cracked and broke the wall. The car was so bad, they left it in Canada after stripping a few pieces off of it.”
Downing realized a head-on crash could have been deadly. (Five years later, Manfred Winkelhock was killed by a head-on meeting with the wall in Turn 2 on board a Porsche 962C during a World Endurance Championship race.) Downing began to think about the number of head and neck injuries happening in racing at the time. Like so many racers, he shrugged off his crash as part of the business. Then, the following spring, Downing learned that a frontal impact by fellow GTU racer Patrick Jacquemart at the end of the back straight of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during a test was indeed fatal. The cause of death was a basal skull fracture.
Downing’s first reaction to his own near-miss typified the ambitious racer’s point of view, whether it was Formula 1, Indy cars, sports cars, stock cars or rallying. ‘It won’t happen to me again,’ he thought. But when Jacquemart’s crash occurred, the realization sunk in with Downing that it might have been his funeral. He then asked himself a once again: ‘Why can’t something be done about head injuries?’
The 50th anniversary of Porsche’s 917 has triggered a wave of interest and appearances for the cars. Porsche has led the way with a significant display at its museum. The centerpiece of the ‘Colours of Speed’ exhibit is the newly-restored 917 Chassis 001.
Ferdinand Piech reveals the 917 at the Geneva Salon. Photo: Porsche Archive
Chassis 001 was the first 917 to appear in public. According to Walter Naher’s authoritative book, 917 Archive, there is no record of the exact date of completion, but it was likely March 10, 1969 allowing just one day for transportation to Geneva. The car was unveiled at 3:09 PM local time on March 12 in the Swiss Auto Club booth at the Geneva Motor Show press day. The original body shape may now look slightly dated but it must have been stunning to the assembled journalists. Looking similar to a longtail, 3-liter 908, but more purposeful and menacing, the real news was under the tail. Since the development of the 917 was a well-guarded secret, few could have guessed Porsche would be showing and offering for sale a Group 4 ‘Sports’ racer with an air-cooled flat 12 engine displacing 4.5 liters. The price was listed at DM 140,000. That was about $35,000 or a little under $250,000 in today’s money.
Porsche competition manager Rico Steinemann made a brief statement before Ferdinand Piech, as head of R&D for Porsche and the father of the 917, removed the cover himself. Several of the Porsche factory team drivers were also present for the unveiling. Jo Siffert, Gerard Larrousse and Gerhard Mitter can be seen in the photos along with Vic Elford. Elford was particularly enamored of the 917, a case of love at first site. In his book, Reflections on a Golden Era in Motorsports, Vic wrote: “I fell in love with its curves and the sensation of power that emanated from it, even while it sat still and silent.”
Twenty-five Porsche 917s lined up for homologation inspection. Photo: Porsche Archive
Chassis 001 made its next appearance on April 21, 1969 in the forecourt of Porsche’s race shop in Zuffenhausen, first in line of course. The occasion was the homologation inspection of the initial run of 25 917s. As a Group 4 ‘Sports’ racer, the rules required that Porsche build 25 cars in order to race in the World Sports Car Championship. The FIA/CSI representatives (Delamont and Schmidt) duly reviewed the line-up with Ferdinand Piech and the Porsche team. 001 was then used for some testing duties in 1969. Walter Naher lists tests at the Nurburgring Sudschleife (May 14 with a short tail, engine damaged) and Weissach (in June, an extended wheel bearing test over 220 kilometers on the skid pad).
Chassis 001 in IAA Frankfurt Motor Show colors. Photo: Porsche Archive
Chassis 001 in Gulf announcement colors. Photo: Porsche Archive
In early September, chassis 001 was shown at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show (International Automobil Ausstellung). The car was white with orange stripes, orange wheels and wore race number 3. The car was then painted in Gulf colors for the announcement of the partnership between Porsche and JW Automotive on which took place on September 30, 1969, at the Carlton Tower Hotel in London. After this press reception, the car was put on display at the Earl’s Court Motor Show. A discreetly small John Wyer signature appeared on the left front wheel arch. Although Herr Naher doesn’t list it, at least one photo exists showing 001 at the Jochen Rindt Motor Show in Vienna (in Gulf colors with a large Porsche badge on the nose). Likely this would have been in November of 1969. The Rindt event moved to Essen after Rindt’s death and continues to this day as the Essen Motor Show.
Historic Porsche display at Courtanvaux Castle. Photo: Porsche Archive
The next appearance was at Le Mans in 1970, but not for racing. Chassis 001 was part of a display of historic Porsche racing cars at Courtanvaux Castle. A 917 engine was also part of the display and at this stage the car still wore its 1969 Le Mans-style, longtail bodywork and Gulf colors.
In September of 1970, chassis 001 was converted to 917K bodywork. For the Paris Motor Show of October 1970 it was painted in red race number 23 Porsche-Salzburg livery to replicate the appearance of Chassis 023, the actual 1970 Le Mans-winning car. Herr Naher lists October 6, 1970 as the official date for 001 to be transferred to the Press Department as an exhibition car. It also appeared at motor shows in London, Brussels and Germany (Essen) during this period. In the spring of 1971 it came to the US for the New York Auto Show.
For many years it was thought that chassis 001 might have been re-numbered 009, possibly in preparation to replace the damaged chassis 009 after the Sebring race in 1971. There is no evidence currently to support this, however. The car remained in the Porsche Museum collection, standing-in for the 1970 Le Mans winner for the next 45 years. 001 came back to the US in 1998 for the ‘Double 50’ celebration at Watkins Glen, organized by Brian Redman. This event celebrated Porsche’s 50th anniversary as a manufacturer and the 50th for racing at Watkins Glen. Also in 1998 the car was shown at Laguna Seca during the Monterey Historic Races. The most recent appearance in the US was in 2015 at Rennsport Reunion V.
Chassis 001 at Rennsport Reunion V. Photo: Jay Gillotti
The restoration project began in January of 2018 with a technical assessment that established feasibility and the originality of many components. Disassembly began in February of 2018. 3D scanning and CAD technology along with the original factory drawings were used to recreate the nose and tail. The frame for the 1969 long tail also had to be recreated along with the rear axle kinetic lever system. This was designed to actuate flaps moving up or down depending on the direction of a turn. As ‘moveable aerodynamic devices’ the flaps were outlawed after the 1969 Le Mans race. The roof section, windscreen and doors were original and did not require rebuilding. The new body was completed and painted by January of 2019, leaving only a few weeks to reassemble the car. The Porsche Newsroom article on the restoration can be found at: https://newsroom.porsche.com/en/2019/history/porsche-917-001-disassembling-restoration-museum-17525.html.
The restored chassis 001 poses with Concorde 002. Photo: Porsche Archive
Prior to the opening of the new exhibit, Porsche debuted the restored Chassis 001 at the Retro Classic show in Stuttgart. This was in March, almost 50 years to the day since the car was first shown in Geneva. Porsche then took Chassis 001 to the Goodwood Member’s Meeting for exhibition runs along with four other 917s. While in England, it posed with Concorde 002, also celebrating a 50th birthday, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The YouTube video link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqBA1JIJ5l4) shows 1970 Le Mans-winning driver, Richard Attwood, visiting with Concorde pilot Tim Orchard. ‘Colours of Speed’ runs until December 8th at the Porsche Museum and all the 917 fans in the US hope that Chassis 001 will make an appearance in the US sometime in the next few years.
Jay is the author of “Gulf 917,” a comprehensive history of the Porsche 917s associated with the JW Automotive/Gulf Racing Team. The book is available at www.daltonwatson.com.
As the founder of NASCAR, Bill France, Sr. was a force to be reckoned with. Physically intimidating but soft-spoken, “Big Bill” guided the growth of stock car racing with an iron hand into a powerful and popular regional sport in the 1960s. But many people don’t realize that Bill Sr. was also keen on establishing Daytona International Speedway, which he built in 1958, as a center for international motorsport.
In June of 1961, “Big Bill” and his son Bill France Jr. attended the Le Mans 24 Hour race as guests of the organizers. The sights and sounds of the cars were enticing but most intriguing were the more than 150,000 spectators filling the grounds of the track. This gave France Sr. an idea: could Daytona hold a similar style event and fill the stands? He reached out to his friend John Bishop, who was about to become the executive director at the SCCA, to help put the idea into action. As Bishop remembered: “When the SCCA went pro racing in 1961, there was an ACCUS meeting in New York City at the Drake Hotel. Bill Sr. invited me up for breakfast before the meeting and asked me: ‘Would you be interested in a new event? We’d like to get involved with the SCCA in putting on a major race in the early part of the year and we’ll call it the Daytona Continental.”
In the ensuing months, Bishop, and the two Frances had several meetings to plan what would become of the Daytona Continental that soon morphed into the 24 Hours of Daytona. The timing could not have been more perfect; the Club was just putting its professional road racing blueprint into motion and sanctioning the Daytona event would give it a much-needed leg up in that direction. Bill Jr. advocated for a 24-hour race from the start, but his father understood the need to ease into a longer event to avoid any political fallout with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizers of Le Mans.
The 1962 Daytona Continental three-hour race for sports and grand touring cars was held in February and fully sanctioned by the SCCA. Internationally famous drivers like Phil Hill, Jim Clark and Sterling Moss competed directly with top U.S. talent represented by A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Walt Hansgen, Roger Penske and Briggs Cunningham. The race was won by Gurney, who coasted his Lotus-Climax over the finish line using only his starter motor since his engine had blown three minutes from the end of the race. In spite of a media tour held in New York the month before, attendance was light.
Fortunately, sports car racing (and Bishop) had an advocate in France Sr. He understood that it was going to take time to build an audience for this new spectacle and his vision of international recognition for Daytona intertwined with sports cars. This friendship culminated in France, Sr. coming up with the idea to start IMSA in 1969 and providing the funding to start the organization. Early IMSA races consisted of Formula cars (Fords, Vees, Super Vees) on ovals. But scary crashes and injuries in 1970 led IMSA to pivot towards sanctioning sports car races for FIA Group 2 and 4 GT cars. Aside from the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Watkins Glen 6 Hour, these cars had nowhere else to race for prize money during the season. It turned out to be the start of something big that eventually grew into the Camel GT Series starting in 1972.
One of the earliest experiments with this category happened in November of 1970 at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now called Talladega). In a show of support, both Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. entered the race in matching Ford Cortinas that had been bought used from a local dealer and outfitted for racing. The ragtag field of cobbled-together machines included the founder and president of NASCAR and his son! Ultimately the son bested the father by finishing 9th in the race, while his father finished 17th. Here are some rare photos from the event.
Bill France, Jr. (left) talks with his father, NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr., before the IMSA sedan race at Alabama International Motor Speedway in November 1970. Note that Bill Sr. is wearing a dress shirt and tie under his driving overalls! Photo: IMSA collection at the International Motor Racing Research Center
It was apparently a do-it-yourself kind of weekend. Bill France, Sr. paints his name on the top of the Ford Cortina he’s about to race in the IMSA event at the relatively new Talladega superspeedway in November 1970. Photo: IMSA collection at the International Motor Racing Research Center
Bill France Sr. leads Bill France Jr. in their Ford Cortinas at Talladega in November 1970. The younger France would finish 9th, ahead of his father, who finished 17th. Photo: IMSA collection at the International Motor Racing Research Center
Bill France, Sr. comes in for a pit stop during practice for the race. Photo: IMSA collection at the International Motor Racing Research Center
In mid-November 1992, thanks to leading 103 laps in the Hooter’s 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Alan Kulwicki was able to secure the five bonus points for leading the most laps in the race, which would, in turn, then allowed him to finish second to Bill Elliott and yet still secure the Winston Cup title. Bill Elliott, driving for Junior Johnson, led for 102 laps, the difference of that one lap deciding the championship in the favor of Kulwicki, despite Elliott winning for the fifth time that season.
It was, of course, somewhat more complicated than that. There were, after all, twenty-eight events in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series prior to the Hooter’s 500 in November. The Bill Elliott versus Alan Kulwicki battle for the title as the race wound down was not necessarily what might have been expected when the green flag dropped to start the race, which was, incidentally, the last for Richard Petty and the first Winston Cup start for Jeff Gordon. Coming into the race, the points leader was Davey Allison, not Elliott. The lead for the championship had changed after the previous event, the Pyroil 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway, two weeks previously.
Alan Kulwicki, during the 1992 season. Photo: Hooter’s
Davey Allison held the lead in the points standings for much of the season before Elliott moved past him at the Miller 500 at the Pocono International Raceway in mid-July. Elliott was about to take a slim nine-point lead in the standings thanks to Allison having a massive crash that left him with a broken right collarbone, forearm, and wrist. That Allison was not injured more severely was little short of a miracle given that his Ford Thunderbird rolled eleven times, slammed into the guardrail and ultimately came to rest on its roof.
At the next race, the Diehard 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway, using Bobby Hillin Jr. as a relief driver to be credited for finishing third, the injured Allison managed to take a one-point lead over Elliott. However, from the Budweiser at the Glen in August until the Phoenix race, Bill Elliott held the lead in the Winston Cup standings. It was not without problems, however. He blew an engine at the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville and suffered with an ill-handling car during the Tyson 400 at North Wilkesboro, relegating him to a 26th place finish. He then hit the guardrail and broke a sway bar during the Mello Yello 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, spending eighteen laps in the pits for repairs. But after the AC-Delco 500 at Rockingham, with a sixth-place or better finish at the remaining two events on the calendar (Phoenix and Atlanta), Elliott was in a position to clinch the Winston Cup championship.
Tribute Card issued by Hooter’s after Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 Winston Cup Championship that was used during autograph sessions. Credit: Hooter’s
At Phoenix, Elliott’s Thunderbird cracked a cylinder head and started overheating, relegating him to a thirty-first place finish. This allowed Allison to retake the points lead with his win. A fourth-place finish by Kulwicki moved him past Elliott and into second place in the standings. As they headed towards the season finale, Allison was now the leader, with Kulwicki thirty points back, and Elliott forty points in arrears. Also within striking distance, mathematically or at least possibly or theoretically, were Harry Gant, Kyle Petty, and Mark Martin. The latter three would require some very serious problems among the top three given that Gant and Petty were over fifty points behind.
What all this meant was that to be the 1992 Winton Cup champion, Davey Allison simply needed to finish fifth or better to ensure the title regardless of whatever the others might end up doing. Plus, he had a thirty point buffer over Kulwicki with an additional ten points on top of that over Elliott. In other words, it seemed quite reasonable that Davey Allison would emerge as the 1992 champion, especially in light of the difficulties facing Kulwicki and Elliott, not to mention Allison coming off a victory at Phoenix, having the momentum that success creates going into the finale.
The Atlanta race was run under a points schedule that was put in place by NASCAR beginning with the 1975 season. It replaced a series of point systems that were often confusing to fans and teams alike. Until the 1968 season, the Grand National series, as it was then known, used a combination of prize money and distance to determine the points awarded for an event. In 1964, for example, points were awarded using sixteen different schedules based upon the prize money posted and the distance of an event. From 1968 60 1971, this somewhat chaotic system was replaced by a very simple three-tiered system: points were awarded for events less than 250 miles, those between 251 and 399 miles, and those 400 miles or longer.
In 1972 and 1973, points were awarded based upon the finishing position and then with additional points given according to the number of laps completed in a race. If that system wasn’t enough of a bookkeeping nightmare, in 1974 NASCAR managed to outdo itself: Winnings from purse posted for an event, with qualifying and contingency awards not counting, multiplied by the number of races started, with the resulting figure divided by 1,000 determined the number of points earned in the championship. Needless to say, it turned out to be so hopelessly difficult to compute that even the teams were more often than not often confused trying to figure it out. Although the 1974 system has been the subject of a massive case of organizational amnesia in Daytona Beach, the system was clearly intended to reintroduce one of the major components of how NASCAR – and Big Bill France in particular – weighed the early points system by giving emphasis to the prize money being awarded.
In 1975, Bob Latford – usually referred to as a NASCAR “historian,” but in reality, a public relations flack for the organization who also just happened to be a high school classmate of Bill France, Jr. – devised a system that was used from 1975 through the 2003 seasons. It awarded points on a sliding scale in increments of five, four, three, two, and one down to fifty-fourth place, beginning with 175 points for first place. Points were awarded for an event regardless of the distance or the purse that was posted. Five bonus points for leading a lap with an additional five points for the driver leading the most laps in a race.
This meant that a driver finishing second in a race, earning 170 points, could earn five more points for leading a lap, and another five points for leading the most laps. In other words, with the winner getting an automatic additional five points thanks to leading a lap, earning 180 points, it also meant that a driver finishing second, 170 points, could equal the points awarded to the winner by leading the most laps in a race, therefore adding ten bonus points to his score, also earning 180 points.
It was this quirk in the points system that came into play as events played out during the Hooters 500 at Atlanta in 1992. As mentioned, although it was theoretically possible for Harry Gant, Kyle Petty or Mark Martin to win the championship, this meant that Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, and Bill Elliott all needed to fall out of the race very early on, earning very few points, and that one of the trio needed to win the race. As it turned out, Martin retired with engine trouble and neither Gant or Petty were much of a factor at the end, finishing thirteenth and sixteenth, respectfully.
Needing only to finish fifth or better to wrap up the championship regardless of what Kulwicki or Elliott did, Davey Allison’s championship hopes ended less than fifty laps from the end. Running in the top five most of the time, making sure to gain five bonus points by leading a lap thanks to pitting late during the third caution period, Allison’s Thunderbird was shoved into the wall by the Chevrolet of Ernie Irvan when the Morgan-McClure team driver lost control in the fourth turn. With the damage to the car such that Allison was out of the race, the attention now shifted to the cat-and-mouse game that the Junior Johnson and Kulwicki teams had been playing just in case something like this happened.
The decision by Kulwicki’s crew chief, Paul Andrews, to stay out an extra lap while leading, ensuring that the five bonus points for leading the most laps was critical for Kulwicki. This meant that by finishing second, even if Elliott won the race and collected 180 points, that Kulwicki’s second-place points total of 170 would have an additional ten points added, therefore equaling Elliott’s 180 points. Had Elliott and Kulwicki finished first and second, but with Elliott collecting the five bonus points for leading the most laps, his 185 points and Kulwicki’s 175 points would have resulted in a tie: 4,073 points each. With the tiebreaker being the total number of wins in the season, Elliott would have become the 1992 Winston Cup champion, with his five wins against Kulwicki’s two wins.
Alan Kulwicki’s Ford Thunderbird, with Ford’s permission, ran the race as an “Underbird,” with a cartoon Mighty Mouse on board also adding emphasis to the team’s position as the underdog in the championship fight. That Alan Kulwicki Racing defeated the Junior Johnson team, which had attempted to hire him at one point, also meant that by earning the 1992 title Kulwicki also ended up as the last owner-driver to do so. Alas, on 1 April 1993, Kulwicki and three others died when an aircraft owned by the Hooters restaurant chain crashed on its way to the Bristol International Raceway. Later that year, on July 12, 1993, Davey Allison crashed his Hughes 369 HS helicopter while landing at the Talladega Superspeedway, dying the following day.
Alan Kulwicki hoisting the Winston Cup Championship Trophy, at the conclusion of the Hooter’s 500, Atlanta on November 12, 1992. Photo: Racing One/Getty Images.
If the legacy of the 1992 fight for the Winston Cup ultimately ended in tragedy for Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, there were other notable aspects to the season as well. One of them was the debut of Joe Gibbs Racing, a single-car team with Dale Jarrett driving a Chevrolet Lumina sponsored by Interstate Batteries. The addition of a lighting system for The Winston, the series all-star event held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway was not only a spectacular success at the time, but a harbinger of the future that the Daytona added later for racing under darkness.
There was also the deaths of Anne and Bill France, Sr. in January and June, respectively. Although Big Bill had turned over the helm of NASCAR to his son, Bill Jr. in 1992, Big Bill’s presence still loomed over the organization. His death was literally the end of an era for NASCAR, the links to its origins beginning to fade and its mythology becoming even more embedded in American folklore and the culture of motorsport. That said, it was Anne France who was possibly the real reason that NASCAR both survived and literally prospered: it was Mrs. France who ran the financial side of the family business, who kept the books and an eye on the real moneymaker for NASCAR, the Competition Liaison Bureau, the entity to which the promoters posted their purses so as to guarantee that the money would be available at payout time.
That, of course, is another story…