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Trans Am - The Early Years of American Sedan Racing

Trans Am - A history of the first years in American Sedan Racing

Photography by The Primedia Archives

1970

With limited support from Chevrolet, Roger Penske and Mark Donohue dominated Trans Am for two years. Imagine how well they'd do with the full support of American Motors and $2 million of AMC money. While the Penske/Donohue move was big news for 1970, it was hardly the only news.

Just about everyone went Trans Am racing in 1970. Though Ford slashed its racing budget by 75 percent, there was still enough for Bud Moore to build new Boss 302s for Parnelli Jones and George Follmer (Carroll Shelby stayed home). Jerry Titus was back with all-new Firebirds, and the all-new Camaro would now be campaigned by Chaparral's legendary Jim Hall. Chrysler Corporation also dove into the fray with a Dodge Challenger T/A for driver/owner Sam Posey and Plymouth AAR 'Cudas for Dan Gurney and Swede Savage.

The Chaparral Chevy and both Mopar efforts were fruitless and the Firebirds still couldn't compete. Pontiac's competitive disappointment was tragically compounded when Jerry Titus died in a wreck at Road Atlanta.

Roger Penske and Bud Moore still dominated Trans Am during 1970 with all but two races going to one or the other.

Destroking AMC's 360 V-8 proved vastly more successful for Roger Penske than the over-bored and over-stressed 290s had been for previous Javelin efforts. Penske/Donohue started strong with a Second at Laguna Seca, and then won mid-season races at Bridgehampton, Road America, and Mt. Trembiant. Penske teammate Peter Revson's best finish was a Second at Bryar.

Sam Posey's #77 Challenger finished Third three times during 1970, but never could do better. But the most shocking lack of success was that of Jim Hall in the Camaro. Hall himself drove the #1 Camaro with Ed Leslie and Vic Elford in #2. Elford drove the #2 car to a win at Watkins Glen, but that was the new Camaro's only win.

The Bud Moore duo of Parnelli Jones (five wins) and George Follmer (one win) combined to earn Ford the 1970 Trans Am championship. Jones' legend was greatly enhanced by his run during the season-ending race at Riverside. A back marker bumped Jones' #15 into the desert while he was leading, and then, despite extensive damage, he worked his way back from Ninth to win. The car was difficult to turn, so Jones would bounce off the track's curbing to get the car up on two wheels through Turn Two. The man was (and still is) one tough hombre.

1971

Ford, Dodge, Plymouth, Chevrolet, and Pontiac all pulled the plug on their Trans Am support before the start of the 1971 season. That left Roger Penske's AMC Javelin team with nothing but older cars and privateers for competition during the year. In fact the only significant rule change for 1971 was legalizing dry-sump lubrication. Donohue won seven of the ten Trans Am races run during 1971 and finished Second once. The three races Donohue didn't win, George Follmer did. Follmer used Bud Moore's '70 Mustangs to win twice and an ex-Penske Javelin run by Roy Woods managed to win the season finale at Riverside.

Donohue dominated so convincingly in the Javelin that at Lime Rock his car was a full five laps ahead of the Second place Mustang driven by Tony DeLorenzo. That sort of dominance wasn't just amazing, it was boring, and interest in the Trans Am was dropping not just among the fans but the racers themselves.

Penske left Trans Am after 1971 selling his equipment to Roy Woods and going off to concentrate on Can Am and Indianapolis. In fact Donohue would win the '72 Indianapolis 500 with Penske.

The Trans Am soldiers on to this day but without the stock suspensions and production-based engines. In its day, Trans Am not only produced some great racing, but spawned exceptional cars like the Z/28, Boss 302, AAR 'Cuda, T/A Challenger, and the Pontiac Trans Am. That alone is enough to guarantee its place in history.

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