Motorsports

MORE TRANS AM DOLDRUMS

by Larry Roberts

March 06, 1998

Just when most of us thought that the future of the once-glorious SCCA Trans Am series couldn't get any more confused or muddled, things got more confused and muddled.

The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) is the largest (60,000 strong) auto racing organization in the world and since 1966, its professional arm has sanctioned road races for what are ostensibly production-based cars. As originally conceived, the series was comprised of two equal events, the first for large displacement American sports sedans like the Mustang, Camaro, Javelin and Cougar and an under 2-liter class for imports like Alfa Romeo and Porsche. This concept was abandoned in '69 when the Trans Am became a showcase for the American "pony car" makers. Superstars like A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones and Mark Donohue made the Trans Am a stellar attraction at tracks around the country.

Since that time, the series has suffered from major changes to its eligibility rules almost annually. Some years it allowed small displacement but high-tech imports - only to change the rules again when these cars began to win at the expense of their American competition.

As the Trans Am began to show its age, so did the administrative thinking of the Pro Racing section of the mostly amateur SCCA. The series lost spectators and even worse, it lost corporate sponsors. For several years in the current decade it had no title sponsor at all and when that happened, purses for the events took a nose dive. The days of inexpensive racing having long since disappeared and without sponsorship funding or big prize money, a professional series like the Trans Am could simply wither away.

This very thing happened last year to the Super Touring series for 2-liter sedans and that series ran under the aegis of the coldly efficient Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). After two years of struggle, Super Touring folded its tent and stepped into oblivion.

To further complicate the Trans Am problems and to muddy its already turbulent waters, the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), a rival race sanctioning body, was sold to Andy Evans, an entrepreneur who was determined to take over professional sports car racing in this country. As if out of spite, Evans even changed the name of his organization to Professional SportsCar Racing which involved him in a copyright battle with the SCCA who owned the name SportsCar. To counter Evans' ambitions, the SCCA reinstated its long-defunct United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) and proceeded to line up high-powered names like NASCAR's Bill France to help the club reestablish itself as the premiere sports car racing entity in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this left little time to minister to the needs of the Trans Am series and its professional racing teams. The sponsorship of both Ford and Chevrolet in the form of factory teams exited the field of battle which left the grids to the weaker "privateer" teams. Late last year Toyota made guarded references to fielding a factory team in the Trans Am through Ron Millen Racing but that seems to have fizzled out.

Hopes rose for the '98 Trans Am season when it acquired National Tire and Battery (a Sears subsidize) and BFGoodrich as series co-sponsors which would result in a major infusion of capital. Unfortunately the few name drivers and teams that had remained abandoned the Trans Am ship more reliable employment in venues like the NASCAR Craftsman truck series or the American Speed Association races for stock cars.

One bright spot in the cloudy Trans Am sky is the recent announcement that Bruce Qvale and Joe Huffaker, both of San Francisco, have formed a team to field a Riley & Scott-prepared Ford Mustang in the Trans Am. Qvale and Huffaker are both second-generation racers with enough capital to make a serious effort and to infuse new blood into the ailing program.

And at this point, the Trans Am can use all the help it can get.

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