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SPECIAL: How professional racing changed the SCCA – and the world

Jeff Zurschmeide, with extensive reference to previous works by Pete Hylton
Date:
Monday, 10 February 2014
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The Trans American Sedan Championship

At the same time that the Can-Am series was being established, SCCA Executive Director (what we would now call President) John Bishop established the Trans American Sedan Championship as a two-class series for Grand Touring cars in Club Racing's A and B Sedan groups. The USRRC had abandoned its production car classes at the end of the 1965 season, and Trans Am was the replacement series for those drivers.

Originally envisioned as a manufacturer's series, Trans Am did not award a Drivers' Championship until 1972, but the series was always hard fought between the pony cars of Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, AMC, and the Pontiac Trans Am that took its name from the series (paying SCCA handsomely for the privilege). There was also a class for small-displacement cars, and this saw some epic battles between Alfa Romeo, BMW, Porsche, Lotus, and Datsun.

Trans Am, in its various forms, became the longest-running professional road racing series in American history – competing every year until 2005 and holding an abbreviated series in 2006. The series returned in 2009 under new management, but with SCCA Pro Racing remaining as the sanctioning body.

Like Can-Am, the list of Trans Am champions and team owners is a who's who of great racing drivers – from Paul Newman to Mark Donohue, John Morton, Bob Tullius, Parnelli Jones, Greg Pickett, and Tommy Kendall, to name a few.

The Tail That Wags the Dog

Beyond an impressive list of drivers, both Trans Am and Can-Am effected huge changes throughout SCCA, from the opportunity for SCCA Club drivers and officials to make the jump to professional racing, to the way that SCCA Regions and the National program ran racing events, and in the relative focus of Club management. It was impossible to ignore the amount of money that Pro Racing brought to the Club – including royalty payments from Pontiac for the use of the Trans Am name. Yet as so often happens, success brought a whole new basket of problems to the SCCA table.

In 1969, matters came to a head when a plan to merge SCCA with USAC was revealed. Larry Dent, the Regional Executive of Fort Wayne Region, stated that the “professional tail is now wagging the Club dog.” Member outcry was vast and the results were almost as tumultuous as the previous fight over professional versus amateur status. The proposed merger was scuttled, but before this round was over, Dent had his membership temporarily suspended and several national employees departed, including Executive Director John Bishop.

Bishop's departure was perhaps the most profound event in the history of professional sports car racing in America, because Bishop had previously become friends with NASCAR's owner, Bill France Sr., and with his departure from SCCA he partnered with France to form the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).
While Bishop always insisted that IMSA was not designed to compete with SCCA, the two entities maintained a strong rivalry with a host of similar series over the years as IMSA grew into an internationally significant sanctioning body.

To read the rest of the story, head to www.scca.com and join the SCCA. Once a member, login at https://ams.scca.com to view a digital version of the February issue of SportsCar magazine.

 


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