How Trans Am’s early driver champions lost their asterisks

Image courtesy of Ford Motor Company

How Trans Am’s early driver champions lost their asterisks

Trans Am

How Trans Am’s early driver champions lost their asterisks

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Back in 1961, Roger Maris walloped 61 home runs for the New York Yankees, breaking Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark of 60. But, since Maris needed seven more games to set his mark, Major League Baseball attached an asterisk to his home-run record, one that stood for many years.

Similarly, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli also has asterisks, attached to its driver champions, 1966 through 1971.

Here’s how that happened:

When the Sports Car Club of America launched what was then labeled the Trans American Sedan Championship in 1966, the series was unique in that its focus was on the manufacturers, not the drivers.

For its first seven years, the Trans Am attracted many of the biggest names in motorsports, giving America’s top sports car drivers the opportunity to mix it up with legends of Formula 1, Indy cars and NASCAR.

However, the point standings were reserved for the manufacturers. Ford won titles in 1966, ’67 and ’70 (pictured above: Parnelli Jones in a Bud Moore Mustang in 1970). Chevrolet was the 1968 champion, while American Motors came out ahead of Detroit’s “Big Three” in 1971.

For 1972, though, the SCCA added a drivers’ championship, claimed that first year by George Follmer in an AMC Javelin.

As the Trans Am grew in popularity, there were a lot of ‘what if’ questions surrounding who would have won drivers championships in the great early battles featuring stars like Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, Parnelli Jones, Peter Revson, Follmer, Swede Savage and the others.

In “Ford: The Dust and the Glory, Volume 2,” author Leo Levine relates that following the 1980 season, the SCCA public relations department went back and assigned points for the 1966-71 seasons, coming up with driver championships for each year – with an asterisk attached.

Alfa GTA co-drivers Horst Kwech and Gaston Andrey shared the inaugural championship in 1966, edging Plymouth Barracuda driver Bob Johnson by one point, with Dodge Dart driver Bob Tullius another eight points back.

Roger Penske rolled out the new Chevrolet Camaro in 1967, challenging Carroll Shelby’s Ford Mustangs and Bud Moore’s Mercury Cougars, but Jerry Titus topped the unofficial points in a Mustang, tallying 122 points to Mark Donohue’s 115.

Donohue prevailed in a Camaro in ’68 and ’69, helping Chevrolet clinch the manufacturer title both years. Donohue won 10 races in ’68 – including eight in a row – to tally 222 points, with runner-up George Follmer notching just 97.

Donohue followed up by winning six races in ’69, beating Ford Mustang driver Parnelli Jones by 26 points, 156-130.

The 1970 season was one of the greatest in Trans Am history. Parnelli Jones, driving a Bud Moore Ford Mustang, edged Donohue by only one point, 142-141. Jones won five races, including the final two to unseat Roger Penske’s star, the team having switched to AMC Javelins.

Splitting time for Penske between Trans Am and Indy cars, Donohue added a third unofficial Trans Am crown in 1971, winning seven races and finishing second once in eight starts in a Javelin. His exploits included the July 4 weekend sweep of the Brainerd Trans Am and Pocono Schaefer 500 Indy car race. Donohue tallied 19 points more than Follmer, who raced in both Mustangs and Javelins.

In 1972, Follmer became the first official Trans Am driver champion, winning four races for Roy Woods, driving the Javelin formerly fielded by Penske. Milt Minter took second in a Pontiac Firebird, 35 points back.

Major League Baseball officially dropped the Roger Maris asterisk in 1991. Eventually, the asterisk also disappeared from the Trans Am records, extending “official” status to the early titlists.

“As far as I’m concerned, they should be considered champions,” said Trans Am President John Clagett.

Learn more about Trans Am history here.

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