75 years ago this week, the Sports Car Club of America came to be. Since then, the SCCA has made a lot of history – and done a lot of racing. Truth be known, the SCCA has made more motorsports history than most automotive clubs combined. And to celebrate this milestone accomplishment, RACER.com will take you through a historical journey this week. In our journey so far this week, we’ve seen how SCCA began and played witness to its early motorsports events. And while those early days were fun, SCCA’s determination to be the best in motorsports meant things got serious very fast.
In 1953, the shape of road racing in America changed. The 1952 Watkins Glen main event had been cut short at two laps when SCCA President Fred Wacker sideswiped the crowd on the main straight, killing a small boy and sending several other people to the hospital. It had become obvious that street racing was no longer acceptable, and permanent road racing facilities were needed.
While the design of circuits such as Road America and the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit was underway in the mid-1950s, in the interim it was America’s airports that supplied the racing circuits that kept SCCA alive and thriving into the 1960s.
By 1954, there were enough SCCA races and racers that national championships began to be awarded in each class. However, competing for one of these titles still required a driver to travel around the country to events. That same year, the SCCA President’s Cup was inaugurated and was presented to SCCA’s top competitor, with the inaugural award presented to Bill Spear by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
The criss-cross-the-country format for determining national champions lasted until 1964 when SCCA divided the country into geographic divisions and allowed drivers to compete for points only within them. The top competitors from all the divisions came together for an event in the fall that became known as the SCCA National Championship Runoffs.
During this time, the SCCA continued to adhere to a strictly amateur policy, even suspending the licenses of drivers who ran events for money. Meanwhile, other organizations around the U.S. were hosting professional races, and this led to an extremely divisive year, 1961. Many on the SCCA Board of Governors held to the traditional position supporting amateurism, while a more liberal wing felt that SCCA should embrace professionalism.
In the end, the Board of Governors voted to not only allow SCCA drivers to compete for money, but also to begin sanctioning professional SCCA events in 1962. This led to creation of the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) series in 1963; the Trans-American Championship (Trans-Am) series in 1966; the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am) series in 1966; and the SCCA Continental Championship series in 1967.
Basically, the moment the SCCA decided to embrace professional racing, the landscape of racing on American soil changed. SCCA had the best drivers in the country, and suddenly the gates were opened and those drivers were welcome to flood the professional ranks.
While it can’t be said that all SCCA drivers rocked the early ’60s world of motorsports, many did, including the likes of Phil Hill, Roger Penske, George Follmer, Dan Gurney (who in the ’50s ran afoul of the amateur status requirement), Mark Donohue and many, many more.
None of that is to say the SCCA pivoted to become solely a professional racing organization. The fact is, most of the SCCA embraced its amateur roots – and tomorrow in our look back at SCCA’s 75 year history, we’ll discover more.