John Morton with his replica Z-car. (All photos by Richard S. James)
For the 50th Anniversary of the SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America – the first was held at Riverside International Raceway in 1963 – the Club offered something special to past champions: an opportunity to enter, whether the champion was an active Club Racer or not. There are a few who took that opportunity to return to their roots: Randy Pobst, Tony Kester and Dave Weitzenhof among them. Others, though, saw opportunity not necessarily for themselves, but for others.
Brothers Steve and Chris Bonk, involved in the vintage racing scene, were approached by a couple of SCCA guys with the question of what if? What if we built a replica of the BRE Datsun 240Z the John Morton drove to two championships, and asked Morton to drive it?
When approached, Morton, knowing quite well that they wouldn't be able to pull this off, said, “Yes.” They pulled it off. As a result, John Morton returned to the Runoffs for the first time since 1971.
“I don't know if they intended to have all these old guys coming out of the woodwork,” says Morton. “But Steve Bonk called me. He and his brother had put together a deal to build a car, and I agreed to it right away because I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen. Turns out, they made it happen. They put something on the Internet and got Datsun fans to donate, which I appreciate, but it embarrassed me a little because they had their hands out.”
It wasn't like the Bonks were begging. No, they simply put together a campaign on crowdfunding site indiegogo to return Morton to the Runoffs in a replica of the BRE C Production car in which he won the 1970 and '71 National Championship Runoffs at Road Atlanta. The word spread thanks to social media and automotive blogs and Datsun racing fans, some from as far away as The Netherlands and Australia, were all too happy to have the opportunity to help put Morton back in the car with the iconic paint job, in a brand in which Morton competed with for much of his career.
Between the 1971 Runoffs and his retirement, Morton had a pretty stellar career. But it all started with trip to Road America when he was 15 years old. He was hooked, and knew what he wanted to do with his life. A move to California and a trip to Carroll Shelby's driving school introduced him to Pete Brock, who was his instructor. Both later worked for Shelby – Morton doing menial jobs while Brock was designing the Cobra Daytona Coupe – but Morton eventually got a test in a car and raced Cobras paired with the great Ken Miles in 1964. Years later, almost by chance, says Morton, he and Brock reconnected.
“I went to work for him as a fabricator, with an understanding that I'd get a tryout when the next car was built. One thing led to another, and I became his main driver,” says Morton, explaining how he eventually got the ride that led to two National Championships and a whole bunch of Trans-Am U2 wins and the first Trans-Am 2.5 driver's championship.
In the years since, he won an impressive number of sports car races, ran with outfits such as Bob Tullius's Group 44 in a Jaguar prototype, and returned to Datsun, now known as Nissan, as a factory driver in their IMSA GTP and GTO programs. Finishing third overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with George Follmer in a Group 44 Jaguar is one of the highlights of Morton's career, along with several class wins at Circuit de la Sarthe.
Jaguar prototypes and IMSA GTO cars are a long way from the C Production 240Z in which Morton claimed two SCCA National Championships. While the C Production class no longer exists, a 240Z prepared to current SCCA E Production rules fits the bill. Add an appropriate paint job, and it's a fitting tribute to a pair of legendary drives.