• Nascar Grand Touring

    The 1966-72 period of the Sports Car Club of America's Trans-Am series is much celebrated, and understandably so. The original cars that competed in this series are these days extremely desirable, and fetch top dollar on the rare occasion they come on the market. The Historic Trans-Am group takes in a series of racing events each year where only original cars are accepted.

    The rise and fall of the ponycar era was short, and by 1971, had largely fizzled out, but for a few short years, the Trans-Am series packed a strong punch, with factory teams from Ford, Chevrolet, Mercury, American Motors, Pontiac, Dodge, and Plymouth all taking part, and driven by high profile superstars, on massive budgets.

    In an effort to ride the pony car wave of success, and having seen the rapid growth in the Trans-Am series, in 1967, Nascar decided to form its own version of the Trans-Am. Run alongside its Grand National (now Sprint Cup) series for full and medium size stock cars, Nascar named its new pony car series Grand Touring, and organized 19 events for the 1968 season, run on both paved and dirt ovals of varying lengths.

    The rules bore many similarities with those of the Trans-Am, including a 305ci engine size limit, and maximum wheelbase of 112 inches, and indeed, several teams ran the same cars in both. Outwardly, the full-time Grand Touring cars were notable for their stock car steel wheels, and large racing numbers, as opposed to the popular American Racing wheels and roundals that were predominant in the '68 Trans-Am. Like the Trans-Am, the series was split into over and under 2.0L cars. There would be Driver, Team Owner, and Manufacturer points to play for.

    Stock car legend, and '63 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund won the '68 Grand Touring Championship, driving a Bud Moore prepared Mercury Cougar, ahead of Buck Baker in a Camaro, and Jack Ryan, in a Porsche 911. Baker won the Team Owners Championship, and Mercury the Manufacturers.

    After its successful debut season, the 1969 Grand Touring championship was extended to 35 races. Don Yenko opened his account at the Daytona Citrus 250 (using the combination Daytona banked speedway/infield road course layout) with victory in a 1967/68 Camaro, in a race which included a Trans-Am Bud Moore '69 Mustang for Parnelli Jones, and a pair of Ron Kaplan factory Trans-Am '69 Javelins. Ken Rush, driving a Cougar, went on to win the '69 Drivers Championship, after a consistent season, comprising just three race wins to an impressive twelve wins by Pete Hamilton in a Camaro, and the six of Lund.

    For the 1970 season, Nascar changed the name of the series from Grand Touring to Grand American, and Lund, driving a Pepsi sponsored '69 Camaro during the early rounds, and a '70 model by mid-season, notched up an impressive eighteen victories (from 35 races), to take the title for the second time.

    By 1971, public and manufacturer interest in pony cars was waning, and Nascar heavily reduced the Grand American series to 11 rounds, and as their Grand National series was also struggling, they allowed Grand American teams to compete in some short track Grand National races to help bump up the numbers, two of which were won by GA drivers Lund, and Bobby Allison (Mustang), although, curiously, neither victory was counted by Nascar as a Grand National win. Lund became Grand American champion for the third time in 1971.

    The 1972 Grand American series consisted of just four races, and was won by Wayne Andrews in a Mustang, although fittingly Lund won the final race of what would be the final year for Grand American. Nascar overhauled its rules for the 1972 season, dropping all tracks of less than mile in length from its Grand National division, and all races less than 250 miles in distance. For the tracks cut from its GN series, Nascar established Grand National East, which combined cars from both GN and Grand American. Given the harsh conditions of speedway racing, and in particular, tight bull-ring dirt ovals, the survival rate of Grand American pony cars is extremely low, and many met their demise on these tracks.

    Grand American never quite enjoyed the following of Trans-Am, and today, receives little recognition by comparison. However, it did boast the quality of many a Trans-Am event, and some big name drivers and future heavyweights graced its grids, including Donnie and Bobby Allison, Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Swede Savage, Lloyd Ruby, David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Charlie Glotzbach, Paul Goldsmith (in Smokey Yunnicks Camaro), Bob Tullius, Richard Childress, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Buddy Baker, Bobby Isaac, Gene Felton, Vic Elford, Pete Hamilton, Herb Adams, and Don Yenko. It boasted healthy manufacturer support, and American Motors took their first Grand American victory in 1969, when Jim Paschal won at Baton Rouge in his factory Javelin, a full year earlier than the Penske/Donohue breakthrough Trans-Am win at Bridgehampton in June 1970.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Nascar Grand Touring started by Steve Holmes View original post