WHEN THE SKY SHOOK and THE EARTH TREMBLED
Can-Am Racing 1966-1973

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Story and Illustrations by Hector Cademartori

The Canadian-American Challenge was established in 1966, sanctioned by the SCCA and classified as Group 7 by the FIA.

The best part of the Can-Am rule book was that there was (almost) no rule book and the result of this technological freedom became the most powerful, innovative, tarmac-pounding, cardiac arrest-producing racing machines on the face of earth.

… Full-bodied race cars that were faster, meaner, and more exciting than the Formula One cars of the day.

The series attracted the best of the fastest drivers from around the world. The first championship in 1966 went to 1964 F1 World Champion John Surtees (who just recently left us on March 10 at the age of 83) in Eric Broadley’s Lola T-70 Chevrolet. After that, the “Boys from Down Under” (New Zealand) took over and kept a stranglehold on the series for five long (and very fast) years, from 1967 to 1971.

With Bruce McLaren at the wheel one of his eponymously-named McLarens, figuratively and literally, and with lead-foots such as Denny Hulme and Peter Revson (who joined the team after Bruce’s untimely death testing at Goodwood one of his M8Ds in June of 1970), the Kiwi monsters powered by huge Chevy motors dominated the Can-Am until Roger Penske, Mark Donohue and Porsche unleashed a Can-Am version of the vaunted 917.

In 1972 Team Penske’s George Follmer won the title in an L&M-sponsored 917-10 and at the end of that season Team McLaren retired from the Can-Am stage. In 1973 Penske and Porsche went a step beyond and came up with a true beast, the 917-30.

Sponsored by Sunoco, and with Mark Donohue at the steering wheel, nobody could get anywhere near the blue and yellow car on the track. Its twin turbo, 5.4 liter, flat-12 produced north of 1,100 horsepower @ 7,800 rpm with the normal 1.3-bar boost setting. This brute of a racecar, fully laden, weighed-in a mere 2,700 pounds! (I leave it to you do the power-to-weight ratio math, kind reader).

At the end of the season, with virtually no competition, and a very evident lack of promotional value and media appeal, Porsche decided that they had had enough.

The Can-Am series went on for another year only to be cancelled in 1974. But before we lay it to rest, let it be noted that the best teams and race car manufacturers, including Ferrari, showed up in the starting grids of what was one of the most exciting racing series of all time.

And who could forget Jim Hall’s high-tech Chaparrals … but that’s another story altogether. In the short course of less than ten years, Unlimited, untamed, unbelievable sports car racing had scorched road courses across North America like Prometheus and the candle that seemed at times to be burning oh so brightly at both ends just burned out…

Besides the drivers we’ve already mentioned: Jackie Stewart, Jackie Oliver, Chris Amon, Jim Hall, Mario Andretti, David Hobbs, A.J. Foyt, Jody Scheckter, Brian Redman, Dan Gurney, Pedro Rodriguez, Howden Ganley, Al Holbert, Keke Rosberg, Elliot Forbes-Robinson, Paul Hawkins, Swede Savage, Brett Lunger, Sam Posey, Peter Gregg, Milt Minter, Hurley Haywood, Peter Gethin, Al Unser Jr., Lothar Motschenbacher, Vic Elford, Jo Siffert, Geoff Brabham and many other members of the world’s driving royalty.

But, if you want to know everything about the Can-Am in this period, check any of our friend Pete Lyons’ books. He was there, took thousands of photos, millions of notes it his tiny notebooks, and wrote eloquently about his first-hand experiences. www.petelyons.com

(The above two illustrations are Hector’s personal vision of those mighty days of Can-Am Thunder… if you look long enough and listen well, you can almost hear the sounds of those sleek behemoths as they came at you and were gone, all in what seemed like the same second of time.)

- Mark Donohue in Penske’s incredible Sunoco-Porsche 917-30KL at Riverside in 1973 blasting into Turn 7 being followed by Brian Redman’s 917-10K, Jackie Oliver’s UOP Shadow DN-2 and Charlie Kemp in another 917-10K.

- The same corner but in 1971. Peter Revson (McLaren M8F) won the championship. He’s followed by Jackie Stewart (F1 Champion that year) on the L&M Lola T260 (nicknamed “The Cowcatcher”) and Jackie Oliver on a UOP Shadow Mk2.

Either Hector is a motorsport artist, who can write, or he’s a motorsports writer who can paint … either way his work is always authentic and inspiring and LACar.com is ever proud to present both his words and pictures. -Ed.

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