Sports Car Racing in the Mid-1960s

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.

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4 Responses to Sports Car Racing in the Mid-1960s

  1. Kerry Hitt says:

    I just stumbled on your site while searching for pictures of the “Donahue” racing seat that we have been building for a number of years. There seems to be an infusion of enthusiasm in vintage motorsports. I hope it continues because this is history that really needs to be preserved. My good friends Oscar Koveleski and Jack Deren have done a talk over on some old Can Am films, alot of them 8mm. They bring out many unknown or forgotten facts that went on behind the scenes.
    This kind of history needs to be preserved!
    I’ve been involved in sports car racing since 1968. At my company we are replicating some of the truly famous cars like the Shelby Daytona Cp, the Grand Sport Corvette, and the Spirit of LeMans Corvette. One will never see any of these cars on the race track because they are simply too valueable. HSR understands this and they have already given their blessing n some of these cars.
    It looks like you are doing a good job of keeping the history alive.
    Stay in touch.
    Thanks, and keep up the good work!
    Kerry Hitt

    • Hi Kerry,
      It sounds like you are up to your elbows is sports car racing. I share your enthusiasm for this racing and you can be sure that I will be including more items on this website.

  2. Don Holmes says:

    Steve instead of PINKS and ARCA and ADAM SALLEY SHOWS, and MECUM AUCTIONS every week on speedTV. FOX needs to hire some real racing creatives, who lived these days and can articulate about the candid moments of the CAN-AM, F5000, TRANS AM, IMSA, USAC series from the mid 1960’s up until the late 1970’s! Even some AMERICAN F1 efforts with documentaries from Parnelli Jones & Rodger Penske, to Don Nichols and the all AMERICAN SHADOW F1 teams. People would be very impressed and they would LEARN about how professional racing around the world wasn’t just sparked from other countries, but from here in the U.S.! How much control does Dave DeSpain have over ideas like I’ve mentioned? Or is there a stamped order to constantly flood what is currently on the schedule to dominate. At least offer something like this once or twice a week, I would know how to market it for sure, because there is an audience who would flip the switch on instead of off if you showed it! THE BABYBOOMERS ARE THE ONES AT HOME ALL DAY NOW WITH THE TV’s ON! Not the 18-34 year old group!

  3. George Gallo says:

    Don Holmes is right that the spokespeople of the golden years of racing are fast passing on and the programming has not recognized them or their era adequately. I will go even further afield. The brands who fund the programming are into promoting their current kind of hardware that so called “tuners” do their donuts with. The Cunningham and Triumph, OSCA and Gordini, Healey and AC, MG and Talbot simply don’t count anymore. Even the annual two hour coverage of Monterey gives a minute to those sessions and allots the entire eight laps to the Trans Am car sprint.

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