Region News

By the time you read this, the first biggie of the year, the Rolex 24 at Daytona will be in the books.  This was of course, the first race run by the combined Grand-Am and ALMS series.  I thought that you might be interested in how these groups came to be, because it does go back quite a way in time - even if it doesn’t have a lot to do with NNJR.

Of course it all starts with SCCA.  Early on SCCA was a strictly amateur club with no advertising permitted on the cars and certainly no filthy lucre as a reward for good performance.  However, as sports car racing caught on, the privileged few who could afford the Jaguars and Ferraris wanted to be known as winners, so they hired talented people like John Fitch, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby to drive for them, but paid them sort of “under the table”, since SCCA was still “amateur”.

In the mid-1950s USAC entered the scene promoting professional races.  Jim Bishop, who was then the President of SCCA, argued that the policy of “amateurs only” had to go and cobbled together the United States Road Racing Championship – the USRRC.  Luckily, at this time, Detroit became very interested in selling the new Mustang, and later the Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda and Challenger.  And so was born the Trans-Am sedan series in 1966.

There were still many people at the top of the SCCA who held to the “amateur” status of racing and the infighting and egos forced Bishop to resign in 1969.  When Bill France of NASCAR fame heard this, he called Bishop and suddenly in May 1969, IMSA was created with France holding a majority ownership of the new organization.

IMSA’s first race was for Formula Fords and Formula Vees on the ¾ mile oval (not there anymore) at Pocono in the fall of 1969.  [Here’s the tie-in to NNJR.  I raced my FV on a track which included part of that oval in the late 60’s and early 70’s.]  Of course, SCCA now threatened to boycott Pocono because of the new rivalry.  Anyway, Bishop kept trying but had little success until he decided to concentrate on GT and Touring cars.  The IMSA GT Series began at VIR in 1971 with a 36 car race that was won by Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg in a Porsche 914/6.

Since Bill France still had majority ownership of IMSA and R. J. Reynolds already sponsored the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Bishop did some fast talking and suddenly in 1972, Winston agreed to sponsor the whole Series, which became the IMSA Camel GT Challenge.  There were other series too – the Radial Sedan Series, the BF Goodrich Radial Challenge, the Champion Spark Plug Challenge, IMSA Showroom Stock, the Kelly American Challenge, Renault Cup, Bridgestone Supercar Championship, and a bunch more.

In the early ‘80s Bishop introduced prototype racing into the US.  These were the ground-effect cars like Lola, March, Porsche 962s, Jaguars, and Toyotas.  Europe was also introducing their new Group C cars around this time, and an attempt was made to integrate the two groups with rules based on fuel restrictions and sliding performance and weight scales.

Due to heart surgery in 1987 Bishop sold IMSA.  That organization then went thru a series of sales and name changes, and finally became SportsCar.  In 1996 Dr. Don Panoz (yes, very rich) bought Road Atlanta, and two years later organized the ALMS, which was originally sanctioned by SportsCar.  More sales of the organization continued and finally the name changed back to IMSA.

Remembering that Bill France (read – NASCAR) still had a majority ownership of the organization, his son, Jim, organized the Grand-Am Road Racing Association in 1999.  Their first race was the 2000 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And so we come to the present.  In 2012 Panoz sold the ALMS along with the Sebring and Road Atlanta tracks to NASCAR, thus paving the way for the latest merger of Grand-Am and ALMS into today’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.  A long and convoluted road which all stems from the reluctance of SCCA to shed its “amateur” status.

Now – lest you think that this stuff was all from my memory, I must give kudos to Bill Oursler and Linda Mansfield, both from National Speed Sport News for providing a lot of the background info for the article you’ve just read.  Thanks folks.

--- January 2014 ---

As our Region starts into a new year with (sorta) new officers, that tradition hasn’t changed in the last 50 years.  In fact, our Treasurer of 50 years ago still resides in Montclair, Boris Kwaloff.  Congratulations Boris, on your longevity and continued interest in the Club.

As of 50 years and a few months ago, we were the 7th largest Region in SCCA with 457 members.  We also were 7th in the number of license holders with 149.  [I’m assuming that meant competition licenses, since I don’t think worker licensing was in vogue yet.]  That was almost one-third of the membership and in fact only two of the larger regions had a better ratio!  NNJR was in the largest racing Division with 20 other Regions and 1,535 license holders.  The big difference between then and now is that at that time the Club had about 12,870 members and about 4,000 drivers.  The number of Club members has increased 3-4 fold over time – the drivers, not so much.

The big news from the National office (which was in Westport, CT) was that new National personalities emerged.  James Kaser, from Chicago Region took over as Nat’l Competition Director, and our own Ed Brown stepped down as chairman of the car classification committee. [Old committee names - same jobs - see “CRB” in current lingo.]

Some other names you may have heard of – John Bishop, executive director of the SCCA (and later founder of IMSA) was chairman of the rules committee.  The new planning committee was under the chairmanship of Dick Templeton (still a Steward) and one of his committee members was Larry Reid of NER.  Rallyists may well remember the book of “Larry Reid’s Rally Tables”. – Yeah, it was before computers….

On a scene closer to home, (and more dear to our hearts) – big fall Region dinner meeting was held on a Tuesday, in mid-September at the Rock Spring Corral on Northfield Avenue in West Orange.  Cocktails started at 7:00PM with dinner scheduled for 8:00.  The full course roast beef dinner was (hang on now) $3.75 per person, and that included the gratuity!!

There was another racing specialty at that time and that was “course observers”.  Observers were licensed drivers who volunteered to spend time at flag stations “observing” and critiquing.   They were a welcome addition to the flaggers, both as another pair of eyes, but also a more trained pair of eyes, looking for bad driving techniques and violations.  Their word to the Chief Steward was pretty much like a “first court” and helped to cure many conditions that otherwise may have become worse over time.  Hmmm… food for thought…

To bring you back to summer, racing, and general good times and mayhem….

New England Region ran a Regional race at LRP in August with some very interesting results (well, they were at the time).  You can recognize the similarities however with today’s efforts.

Race 1 – 16 assorted open wheel cars started – 13 actually finished!  Seems that open wheelers were then fairly fragile and in a lot of cases consisted of the “cars of the week”.

Race 2 – for GP and Sedans.  Six Mini’s battled here with six Sprites.  The Sprites ran here in GP because the HP field was full!  Two laps from the end someone oiled the left-hander and spun 5 cars including the Sedan leader.

Race 3 – 24 HP starters – 22 finishers.  Yep, this is where all the Sprites were that got their registrations in on time.

Race 4 – DP – 13 starters – 11 finishers.  Nothing spectacular.

Race 5 – F Prod now – 27 starters, 26 finishers, one of which was Bob Sharp (you know – Scott’s dad.)

Three races to go, but only mild interest.  Several DNF’s in race 6, and five were NNJR drivers. Oh well.

In conclusion I’d like to wish all of you a very Happy New Year! – and also wish you nothing but the best health, success, and happiness for 2014!!

--- December 2013 ---

Seeing that the Region has the Teddy Bear Rally upcoming, I thought I’d let you know about the time when NNJR actually participated in the National Rally scene. 

For several years before and after 1963 NNJR conducted the Jersey 500 Rally.  The ’63 event was run over three days and did account for around 500 miles of rallying.  The first car was flagged off at 2 PM on Friday, July 12.  44 cars started.  The Friday course accounted for about 150 of the 500 mile event and had a total of 10 checkpoints.  Participants included Hank Mann, the National Rally Board Chairman, and Stew Blodgett, the official SCCA observer.  This stellar duo took Friday’s 2nd place behind a couple from Springfield, Va.

The Saturday route of approximately 250 miles jumbled the Friday’s scores with several highly placed Friday teams suffering major checkpoint penalties.  The Virginia couple still led and our erstwhile Nat’l Rally Board runners dropped to the bottom of the top ten.

The Saturday route took the contestants to northwest Jersey for a buffet lunch at the Newtonian Inn in Newton.  Supposedly the meatballs were a hit, as was the lemonade stop in mid afternoon.  The afternoon run took the cars along the country roads of Sussex and Warren counties.  A comment from the time said that “the roads there are fast, lightly traveled and offer unequaled conditions for rallying in the ‘prompt’ manner.”

The final 100 miles were run on Sunday morning.  The rallymaster designed a regularity run with loops.  The three days runs were appropriately titled “Straights, Curves, and Circles”.  Apparently that was enough to trip up enough folks that the results were scrambled again!

Part of the enjoyment of the event was the FREE gas and oil provided by Gulf!  Two of their representatives were on hand to lend whatever assistance they could and had more fun than some of the contestants.  One even rode in the sweep car.  AND, they also provided lighter fluid, household oil (sewing machine oil) and sewing kits for distribution. [I hope that didn’t affect their local gas prices.]

Representing the NNJR were the novice class winners, Dave and Mary Latto. First novice and seventh overall.

For being the closest of all predicting the final score, the winner, Jo Murray, was presented with a Heuer watch, compliments of that company. 

It should be noted that the Course Marshall for the event was Roger Bohl, a name that became familiar in National rallying circles for years to come, as were the second place overall winners, Dennis and Sally Anne Koelmel.  It should be noted that the Koelmels drove for the Renault factory rally team in 1962, and in ‘63 are part of the Chrysler rally team.

As an aside, in approximately this same time period the Jersey Sport Car Club also ran rallies and started the Jersey Monte Carlo Rally.  I was part of the team of four that put on this rally for nine years.  It was simply a one-speed (thirty mph) drive of about 10 hours driving duration with two hours of rest stops built in.  All you had to do was follow the orange line marked on an Esso (before it became Exxon) map of NJ.  Of course it was conducted on the most moonless Saturday night we could find in February.  At its peak it attracted 189 cars – believe it or not. 

I only mention this because many years later when I was working as a Steward at our Mother’s Day double Regional race at Pocono, there was a knock on the trailer door that we were using for race Control, and someone asked for me.  Turns out it was Dennis Koelmel saying “hi” after all those years and commenting on what a wonderful rally the Monte was. 

Connections, connections…..

--- November 2013 ---

I thought it’d be interesting to bring out some news from the Region’s past and show how much we’ve changed (or not) over the past 50 years.

The following is a “Report from the Trustees” of NNJR, written by the then RE, Tom McNeill.  It appeared in the August 1963 “Tonneau” – the predecessor to the “Pole Position” .

“My objective here is to refresh your memory on the purpose of your membership in our club.  I don’t know how many times someone’s said or written: ‘I want to join SCCA because I’m interested in sports cars, their various activities (rallying, racing, etc.).  I also want to get closer to the scene of these activities by working on them, participating in them, and by generally being with people who share my interest.’  Sound familiar?

Well, you were accepted by the membership committee, [yes, there actually was a membership committee who voted whether to accept you in the club, or not] you became a member, you attended an event or two and then--- wha’ happen’?  The answers received when you are called to help out, frequently sound like this:  “I don’t want to work with that guy.” Or “I’ve got other things to do.” or “I need more notice.” Or “”I’ve got to put up the screens.”  This goes on and on and on.  We’ve heard them all.

Some members have taken the suggestion about becoming active members of the club --- others have not.  The others would rather stay away, mumble, grumble and destructively criticize.  This is certainly not an adult approach and they know it.  But it seems to make them happy.

You are, however, a dues-paying member in the largest and best club in the world.  So, for gosh sakes, get your money’s worth.  The welcomed interest of many of our new embers has been particularly pleasing.  They have gone ahead and made that one phone call to our flag marshal or event chairman, saying, “I’ll be there and will be glad to help out”.”

You certainly can be proud to be a member of the Northern New Jersey Region, which in three years has won recognition as SCCA’s most improved racing region.  We have placed four of our members on national committees – two of them as chairmen.  We have a splendid group of national rallyists, national competition drivers, as well as some of those rare birds who do well at both phases of the sport.  We could go on, but you know all this.  Soooo…..

Come on out.  This is your club. Don’t wait until election time or the annual dinner to make your ANNUAL APPEARANCE!   DO IT NOW!