TRANS AM:TRANSITION OR TRAGEDY
by Larry Roberts
August 29, 1997
At the recent historical races at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif., one entire row in the paddock area was set aside for several dozen SCCA Trans Am racers of the '60s and '70s. There was even a street sign that boldly stated "TRANS AM ALLEY" and it was easily the most popular attraction at the event.
How times have changed.
The current Sports Car Club of America Pro Racing Trans Am series is in such dire straits that it doesn't have a series sponsor (a financial prerequisite in this age of high-budget racing), its TV scheduling is spotty (sponsors need to see their names on the screen or they hold back the money), and one driver, Tom Kendall of the Roush Mustang team, has won 10 in a row as of this moment.
For the benefit of those readers who aren't track-savvy, when one car dominates a series in NASCAR racing, the contest board figures a way to level the field mechanically or by requiring the car to pack extra ballast. NASCAR understands that spectators, both in the stands and in front of the TV screen, want to see close racing wherein many drivers have the chance to win. If this doesn't happen, those spectators go somewhere else to see close racing - and corporate sponsors follow.
There's more than a little political intrigue involved in the troubles that plague the professional arm of the Sports Car Club of America, too. The SCCA is the largest motorsports organization in the world, with some 60,000 members, but the vast majority of its membership is involved in amateur events that range from social functions to wheel-to-wheel serious road racing. SCCA Pro Racing, on the other hand, is a strictly-for-money organization that's wholly-owned by the non-profit SCCA general membership. Recently, SCCA Pro Racing was into talks with Professional SportsCar Racing (PSR, a multi-faceted organization that sanctions high-profile sports car races) with the idea of melding the two into a super-club that would benefit both with more races and more sponsoring money. While talks were underway, the SCCA executive board sued PSR for trademark infringement and that ended the negotiations. Since the breakdown, the PRS has formed a new division, the American StockCar Championship, which not surprisingly is structured for cars fitting current SCCA Trans Am rules.
Obviously, those who will suffer the most from the turmoil the Trans Am series is going through are the professional drivers and teams who depend on the races for income or as a steppingstone to bigger things. In desperation, the major drivers have banded together to insist that the hierarchy of the SCCA make changes and bring the program together.
Their demands were backed by the threat that most of them would collectively withdraw and race with the yet-to-be-formed American StockCar Championship of the PSR.
Some of the drivers have already begun to switch to other venues: Ron Fellows, a regular in the SCCA Trans Am series driving a Camaro, won Rounds One and Two of the recent NASCAR Craftsman Truck event on the Watkins Glen (NY) road circuit. Dorsey Schroeder, another Trans Am star, was second driving a Ford F-150 entered by Tom Gloy Racing. Gloy has fielded a strong team in the Trans Am for many years, but he has already publicly announced that his team (and his accompanying corporate sponsorship) plan to withdraw from the SCCA Pro Racing program entirely, regardless of the outcome of the driver's ultimatum. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck series is well-organized, pays good prize money and involves lots of racing during the year.
Unless something happens to change this grim picture, the Trans Am series seems destined to follow the now-defunct SCCA Can Am championship that flowered briefly three decades ago, then faded into oblivion.
Hopefully some of the current crop of Trans Am race cars will be preserved intact so they can be displayed at historic auto races at Laguna Seca Raceway 30 years from now.