The Storm before the Thunder
The United States Road Racing Championship, thankfully USRRC for short, was an amazing era that put an end to one epoch and played midwife to the next. For six years, from 1963 to 1968, the then-revolutionary professional SCCA series provided excellent racing and wonderful memories (as well as rock and roll songs and some not too bad grade B movies with notable stars).
The new series exploded with a huge noise which announced in no uncertain terms the dominance of the American V8. Ferraris and Maseratis would no longer rule the big bore classes, primarily because they weren’t big enough; nothing would succeed like cubic inches in this brave new world where over two liters meant unlimited displacements.
It was not just the massive influx of cubic inches but the rear engine revolution, a field in which Maserati and Ferrari were not exactly making great strides.
Although there were earlier successful examples of the sports car rear engine syndrome, particular with Porsche, it was perhaps the Zerex Special of Roger Penske that brought home the point emphatically. To watch and listen to Penske at work with his envelope-bodied Cooper-Climax F1 car was a sight and sound to behold. Soon his crowd was doing him one better, stuffing Fords and Chevys into the tight little tails of every Cooper Monaco and Lotus 19 they could find. And like Penske, they wanted to race for dollars. And thus, the seeds of the Can Am era were sown, and racing would never be the same again.
USRRC, A record of the United States Road Racing Championship 1963-1968 is an enthusiastic book which documents that exciting, noisy, time, in a way reflecting the social changes that were taking place in the nation, while proving that American know-how and muscle would finally prevail, at least on the racetrack. The cars, too, were in transition. During the first year, front engine cars like the Chaparral 1 and the Meister Brauser Scarabs were still competitive, and some races featured epic battles between the Ferrari GTO, the lightweight Jags and the Corvettes. But by the end of the series, no competitive sports racer had a front engine. Professional or amateur, rear engine or front, European vs American all these differences played out in a spectacular fashion on the grids of the American racetracks.
The USRRC did not adhere to the earlier multi-class SCCA system. Instead, there was a Manufacturers Race and Championship for cars like the Cobra, Corvette and other GT cars over two liters, and a Drivers Race and Championship with two classes, again over and under two liters which consisted of out and out sports racers. This ideal simplicity was lost due to a rather complex system of points scoring, which eventually allowed George Follmer to win the Drivers Championship in 1965 driving an under two liter Lotus Porsche over a perturbed Jim Hall who won six races overall with his Chevy powered Chaparral. Other champions included Bob Holbert, Charlie Parsons and in the last two years, Mark Donohue, who teamed up with former driver Roger Penske in what would be a long running and successful relationship.
Author Mike Martin attended his first professional race in 1966 at Pacific Raceways and was immediately drawn into the scene as he witnessed coming-man Mark Donohue win his first USRRC. As Martin points out, there are books about the SCCA, the Trans Am and the Can Am, but none so far on this exciting series that bridged the old SCCA amateur series with the fully professional Can Am series of the 1960s and ‘70s. Twenty years ago he found that no one had bothered to do a book on the USRRC and he made it his project. Fifty one years after the first USRRC event Mike’s huge 344 page 12 x 9 inch opus on the subject was finally published.
Fortunately, Martin’s USRRC appears as a fully professional work from the glossy box to the jacketed hardback cover and heavyweight inside paper with excellent layout; it is almost as good as anything produced by top publishers like Dalton Watson. The foreword is by USRRC racer George Follmer, who was the 1965 Champion. Martin’s text consists primarily of covering each of the fifty two events in chronological order and the race reports are clear, well written and just long enough to cover the event without becoming redundant. There are full results with as much information as can be found, as well as color program covers from every event as well, adding a nice and consistent touch. We noted only a couple of caption errors out of the four hundred. Martin also perhaps wisely did not attempt to list serial numbers, as many of the cars were one –off specials and there were few Maseratis and Ferraris in the fray. There is a brief index and a much more complete section dealing with the layout of each one of the tracks used in the series and an appendix of statistics.
The over-400 photos were accumulated from a long list of photographers and resources such as The Henry Ford museum/David Freidman, Revs/Collier and most are excellent. In some cases, even though the shot was not entirely suitable or out of focus, it was included to augment the record. A few lost focus as they were expanded to fit the book’s large format, but these few do not detract from the book. In this age of perfect digital photography, we often forget how really tough getting good racing shots were in the era of heavy long lenses with manual focus and slow speed film.
Along with Terry O’Neil’s work on the U.S. Northeast and Bahamas racing scene and Willem Oosthoek’s Racing in the South, Martin’s USRRC significantly adds to the history of automobile racing in the United States. It’s a great effort and certainly much needed. Martin hopes to continue as a publisher, with several books in the queue about American sports car racing. With this book, he is on his way.
USRRC, A record of the United States Road Racing Championship 1963-1968
Dead Pedal Press, Seattle Washington
Boxed, Hardcover, 348 glossy pages, 400 b&w and color illustrations
$100.00 plus shipping
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