As I am reading Mark Donohue’s biography and with the upcoming vintage races at Sebring, I was looking at another book that I have, “Pro Sports Car Racing in America” written by Dave Friedman. This covers the era from 1958 to 1974. I have included a couple of photos from that book that I found interesting.
The photo below shows the “Le Mans start” for the 1968 race at Sebring. This type of start was certainly another unique aspect to some road races of that era. I can’t recall the year that they quit doing the “Le Mans start”, but the practice was ended due to legitimate concerns about the extent that drivers had their seat belts on as they left the start area.
“Le Mans Start” at Sebring in 1968
This safety aspect might be illustrated in the above photo of the leading cars just after the start. It looks to me that the second place car at this point is the Shelby Mustang of Moffat/Kweech just behind the leading Lola T70. That Shelby Mustang is ahead of another Lola T70, a couple of Ford GT-40s, and a couple of Porsche 907s. It’s hard to believe that the foot speed of the driver or the qualifying speed of the Shelby Mustang would justify this excellent track position. It does make you wonder though about how much time the driver of the Shelby Mustang took to fasten his seat belts.
Another photo that caught my attention was the photo below of the final Can-Am race of the 1966 season. This photo was taken as the cars entered Turn 1 at the now-vanished Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was reminded of just how strong the race field was in the Can-Am series of that era.
Can-Am Racing in Las Vegas in 1966
Consider the drivers at the front of the field. That’s John Surtees in Car 7, a Lola T70. Just behind Surtees is Jim Hall in a Chaparral 2E and Car 98, which is Parnelli Jones in another Lola T70. Behind Parnelli Jones is Phil Hill in another Chaparral 2E who is being challenged by Jackie Stewart’s Lola T70, Car 43. Other cars behind Hill and Stewart are George Follmer’s Lola T70 (Car 16), Bruce McLaren’s McLaren M1B (Car 4), Chris Amon (Car 5) in another McLaren, Mark Donohue’s Lola T70 (Car 6), and Masten Gregory’s McLaren (Car 88). Driver came from all over the world and from other series to run in the Can-Am series.
I doubt that we’ll ever see this happen again. I think that the recent rally accident that Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica had, which has severely damaged his hand, will make teams and sponsors even more reluctant to let their drivers compete outside their contracted series. I understand the business logic of this, but as a race fan, I would like to see the top drivers in many venues. An example of a driver who excelled in all types of cars was “Quick” Vic Elford. I doubt that we’ll ever see another “Quick” Vic.