Can Am


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Can Am
Don Packwood Gallery


 
 

John Bishop, Executive Director of the Sports Car Club of America as his Competition Director, Jim Kaser to look into the possibility of forming a professional sports car series, one with a more international flavor than it's US Road Racing Championship (USRRC). Bishop wanted something that would compare with Formula 1 but for sports cars and more of an all out race rather than the endurance racing already taking place at venues such as Le Mans. In order to attract the top drivers they were realistic enough to know that the series needed to compete during the fall after the F1 season had been completed. The decision regarding an open series was typically American and one they hoped would directly challenge F1. In fact much was made of the fact that Can Am cars were faster than the Formula 1 cars on the same circuits such as at Watkins Glen, New York.

Something else that set the series apart was that there would be no appearance money paid out as in other major racing series, at least publicly. Since appearance money had to be kept private, you could not promote it, and get the public's attention.

The unveiling of the series took place at the Time-Life building on the 15h of February, 1966. The plan was for a 5-race series over 9 weeks that included the Player's 200 (Canada), the LA Times Grand Prix and the Monterey Grand Prix plus St Jovite and a still unfinished track in Las vegas. The minimum prize money would be $20,000 at St Jovite and $30,000 everywhere else. Each venue would also contribute to a championship prize fund. One of the drivers who was at the unveiling, Masten Gregory was asked what kid of engine he would run. To which he answered "a really big one!"

The lack of appearance money proved to be a hindrance for some drivers and one team, McLaren stated that without appearance money they would not take part. This proved rather unpopular with the US based motoring press but Mayer had a point. Privately Kaser saw that McLaren, based in England had a point and he concluded that the only solution was to find more prize money! Kaser was able to add one more race at Bridgehampton but something even more incredible was about to fall into his lap. The makers of Johnson Wax were putting all of their automotive care products under one banner, that of J/Wax and were looking at marketing opportunities. Robert T. Henkel of Carl Byoir & Associates, a leading public relations firm with the enthusiastic backing of Johnson Company chairman Sam Johnson Kaser and after a series of meetings, contracts were signed and budgets allocated for Johnson Wax to become Can-Am's title sponsor. This was something that had never been attempted in sports marketing and it turned out to be a masterstroke. Other accessory money came along for the ride and the total prize money approached $350,000, or enough to even grab Teddy Mayer's attention. Enough as well to catch the eye of a certain opportunistic Englishman by the name of John Surtees.

Canadian - American Challenge Cup

The Canadian - American Challenge Cup was a joint effort of two clubs: the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the Canadian Automobile Sports Club (CASC). It continued in its original form through 1974. In 1971, it was officially recognized by the FIA giving it international prestige. The Can-Am series began in 1966 with two races in Canada (CAN) and four races in the United States of America (AM) for what were to become known as Group 7 sports cars. These racing cars were not mass produced, but instead manufactured in small quantities or as single units. The FIA’s Group 7 regulations specified no engine capacity limit, and turbochargers and compressors were allowed. There were no other technical restrictions. In theory, all the cars needed for approval were two seats, bodywork which enclosed the wheels, and a roll hoop. They therefore came very close to creating a dream “anything goes” scenario for many race car designers. The series would foster a number of radical designs and one company that would set an American standard for innovation, Jim Hall's Chaparral Cars, yet the series was dominated by the efficient New Zealanders at Bruce McLaren Racing.

There was still something missing. Since Johnson Wax did not own a car they were without a visual (car) or spokesperson (driver). As another sign of forward thinking J/Wax would sign Stirling Moss as the series Commissioner giving the series instant credibility, and soon the famous Englishman was everywhere, even driving the pace car of occasion!
 
Canadian - American Challenge Cup
       
1966 John Surtees Team Surtees Lola T70 MK2
1967 Bruce McLaren Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M6A
1968 Denny Hulme Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M8A
1969 Bruce McLaren Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M8B
1970 Denny Hulme Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M8D
1971 Peter Revson Bruce McLaren Racing McLaren M8F
1972 George Follmer Roger Penske Racing Porsche 917K/10
1973 Mark Donohue Roger Penske Racing Porsche 917K/30
1974 Jackie Oliver Phoenix Racing Organizations Shadow DN4