Can Am Series



70's Racing

Who won the last real Can-Am?

The answer, if you're a purist (and I am), is "Scooter Patrick." He won Elkhart Lake in a McLaren M20 after one of Don Nichols'. volcanic Shadow DN4s popped a motor.


So I explained about the race that was, to me (a long-time fan of the no-holds-barred Group 7 Racing for Dollars Concept), a vivid component of the 1974 United States Grand Prix program.

That weekend had all the makings of a Grand Prix classic. The World Championship title would be decided here: Fittipaldi and Regazzoni were tied for the lead in points. Jody Scheckter had an academic shot at the title.

It was also the first USGP weekend since 1965 without Jackie Stewart. And it was obvious that Fl 'racing was entering a new and very commercial age.

Few of us understood at the time that Formula l's new-found success was, in part, built on the corpse and the fiscal lessons of the Can-Am. But it should have been. Obvious, that is.

After winning over a quarter million dollars in two. stunningly successful seasons, Roger Penske all but ignored the five-race 1974 mini-season. Instead, he had Geoff Ferris draw a fairly conventional Formula I "kit car;" a DFV mated to a Hewland FGA400 and bolted to an aluminum monocoque. The clue here was that Penske created Penske Cars after he bought the old Graham McRae works in Dorset, England the previous December. December, 1973.

The result was the PC 1, the first pure and true Penske. Donohue put it on the seventh row of the '74 Watkins Glen GP gridvery much in the shadow of another new American-financed Fl car, Mario Andretti's Parnelli VPJ4.

It was clear that Formula 1 had finally gotten the attention of people who naturally gravitate to the
big-money series. Just as Roger. Penske and Bruce McLaren did in the 1960s when the Can-Am paid the big money. But that series. sadly atrophied after reaching its~ financial peak in 1970.
By 1974, people with successful Fl programs no longer paid serious attention to the Can-Am.
McLaren was focused on a third" W odd Constructor's title for itself/it) and a second World Driving
Championship for Fittipaldi. This,'. after winning five consecu ti ve: Can-Am championships and"" amassing gross prize winnings of $2,220,953. Approximately.

Even without the social poison of Watergate, 1973 had been an absolute slum of a year. Two weeks after the end of the '73 Can-Am season, America was hit with an oil embargo following' another Arab/Israeli war. The price of regular gasoline ballooned 37 percent by the time of the Shadow Challenge.

In 1974, the average top-10 payout in each Can-Am had fallen almost seven percent, in raw dollars, in only a year. And it was down 14 percent from the financial high-water mark of 1970 - the year following Bruce McLaren's stunning pronouncement that
McLaren would rather miss a Grand Prix than a Can-Am. That had changed by October 5, 1974.
By then there wasn't much profit in the Can-Am unless you had a juicy sponsor. The real money had gone to Formula 1.

Since 1972, and the explosion of commercial interest in Formula 1, American road racing began to contract. The Can-Am was the most profoundly affected.

Which is probably what prompted arch-promoter Don Nichols and his alert PR man to construct a highly-focused showcase for his all-conquering DN4s. Especially after the painfully short '74 Can-Am season.

During the 1970s, USGP crowds were massive; nearly as large as today's Watkins Glen NASCAR mobs. Far bigger than the gate for the mid-summer Glen Can-Am and Six':'Hour PIA enduro where Oliver and Follmer had finished 1-2 for the third straight time that season.
This must certainly have been the backbone of the story Nichols told Universal Oil Products chairman John Logan. UOP was simultaneously underwriting Shadow efforts in Formula 1 and Can-Am in an attempt to sell the concept of lead-free gasoline for the mass market. Especially to those high performance sporty-car types who bought race tickets and were convinced that lead was necessary for high-performance engines.

Apparently after you've gone down for a six-car Can-Am team and a fleet of Fl cars, another $10,000 for a winner-take-all, 15lap match race in front of 100,000plus potential leaa-free gas buyers at Watkins Glen must have seemed like a good value. The format was simple: three DN4s - one each for George Follmer, Jackie Oliver and JeanPierre Jarier (who was at Watkins anyway that weekend with the two-car Shadow effort).

They called it the "DOP Shadow Challenge." For a few thousand bucks, UOP and Nichols effectively lengthened the CanAm season by 20 percent in front of what would be the biggest crowd of spectators to see a Group 7 race in 1974.

It took just 25 minutes and 15 seconds. The leaves fell from the trees; the earth shook. It was a pure race, winner take all. And, just like every real gunfight, there was no second-place winner. To make that perfectly clear, Follmer led every lap.

For Big George, this was no match race.

It was a grudge match. And he proved his point when, on lap four, he set a Watkins Glen Group 7 lap record that still stands.

Our Pete Lyons was there when Follmer climbed out of DN4 # 1. The race was too short to bum off much adrenaline. Follmer was pulsing with testosterone and the natural juices that fuel serious racers. Pete told me, "Follmer got out and said, 'Nobody can drive a Group 7 car like I can!'"

And George was absolutely right. His 122.34-mph lap was the fastest race lap of the weekend. Faster than Carlos Pace's Formula 1 lap record in a Brabham BT44.

Take that.

The Shadow Challenge was a good race, even though there wasn't one lead change. Actually, there wasn't even a position change of any kind. No matter; it might have been the best race of the 1974 Can-Am season: maybe a spectacle of sufficient primal grandeur to make you temporarily forget Watergate, oil embargoes, impeachment hearings and the death of the most spectacular road racing series of all time.

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Can-Am 73

Can-Am 74

Can-Am cars 67

Can-Am 67

Can-Am 68

Author: ArchitectPage