Watkins Glen, a village on the south shore of Seneca Lake in upstate New York, is a special symbol of sports car racing in the U.S. Through its streets and over the lush green neighboring hills rolled the first postwar wave of sports racers just 10 years ago. Missionaries spread the tidings with zeal, the sport flourished and, indeed, a dozen private road courses have been built because of this zeal in the last few years.
When the Glen had its national Sports Car Club of America race meeting the other day, the crowd, program and setting were typical of the U.S. sport: spectators equipped for a long day's outing, 175 cars of all sizes competing in seven races, a 2.3-mile blacktop course twisting through the rural landscape. Outwardly everything was serene, but this event, like the 13 nationals before it elsewhere this year, had an undercurrent of tension.
What was bothering the SCCA people was that old headache of amateur sports organizations: What degree of purity is best? Growing pains have preoccupied the SCCA until recently. Now it must cope full time with the amateur question, and with that some challenges to its own preeminence among U.S. sports car groups.
Like all the 1,800 SCCA competition drivers (part of a total membership of 11,600), the entrants at the Glen were bound to a rigid code. They could not accept travel or lodging expenses beyond a level of casual hospitality, compete with professionals except under severe restrictions or permit their cars to be entered in professional events. The cars have to be as clean as the drivers.
Until this year these conditions had been honored in the breach by some drivers or had not been clearly defined or aggressively upheld. While many members have been outspoken in their dislike for the current get-tough policy, the majority seems to favor holding the amateur line.
With the beginning of a new, out-and-out-professional sports car circuit last month and a relaxing of amateur regulations by a few existing sports car clubs, however, the SCCA faces a period of crisis.
Right now, most of the SCCA drivers who want a "more realistic" policy than the SCCA offers are playing a waiting game. A few eastern drivers have already turned professional, but the latest and biggest news came last week from California.
SCCA members on the West Coast have never had as much power locally as their eastern and mid western colleagues. The rival California Sports Car Club, with 2,000 members, is the second-largest amateur group; it has always gone after big-name drivers. Now the CSCC has relaxed its rules invitingly. It will have a race on the same program with the big international professional race at Riverside, Calif. on October 12, and it will permit pros to race in some of its amateur events without jeopardy to the amateurs. More than that, it has "stolen" sanction of the races at Laguna Seca, Calif., November 8-9 from the SCCA.
REBELLION ON THE COAST
Thoroughly aroused, the San Francisco region of the SCCA last Saturday adopted a policy of coexistence which may mean a complete break with the national SCCA. Criticizing the national code as "in direct opposition to the best interests of members of the San Francisco region...and not in keeping with the present and future status of...racing in this country," the region decided to invite pros to its races.
Another bombshell came from southern California. Lance Reventlow said he would turn pro for the Riverside race and would take his significant new cars, the Scarabs, with him out of the SCCA. Reventlow's late start in the SCCA season had saved the club's feature races from continuing as a dreary series of walkovers for Briggs Cunningham's fine Lister-Jaguars and his drivers, Walt Hansgen and Ed Crawford.
If the Riverside race is successful, gifted amateurs will have even more incentive to turn pro. This will be the fourth in the new series backed by the U.S. Auto Club, sanctioning body for the Indianapolis "500." Britain's great Stirling Moss and the top Americans, Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby, are expected to compete.
"The SCCA," says Bill Pollack, president of the CSCC, "will end up with virtual nonentities racing production cars." That remains to be seen. Nobody knows which way the new SCCA board of governors will lean when it assumes control this fall or how deeply the pros will cut in.
Meanwhile, it would be foolish to write off the SCCA, unfair not to recognize its premier role in the amazing growth of the sport and unwise to underestimate the zest with which its drivers, like those at the Glen, compete for their cups. Theirs is a spirit which makes a place on the championship list below (with three events remaining) no mean accomplishment.
THE LEADING DRIVERS
CLASS B MODIFIED (5,000-8,000 cc.): Harold Ullrich, Evanston, Ill.; Excalibur; 2,000 points.
B PRODUCTION (3,500-5,000 cc.): James Jeffords, Milwaukee; Corvette; 6,000.
C MODIFIED (3,000-5,000 cc.): Walter Hansgen, Westfield, N.J.; Lister-Jaguar; 10,600.
C PRODUCTION (2,700-3,500 cc.): George Reed, Midlothian, Ill.; Ferrari; 6,800.
D MODIFIED (2,000-3,000 cc.): James Johnston, Cincinnati; Ferrari; 3,000.
D PRODUCTION (2,000-2,700 cc.): Dr. Richard Thompson, Washington, D.C.; Austin-Healey; 6,800.
E MODIFIED (1,500-2,000 cc.): Gaston Andrey, Framingham, Mass.; Ferrari; 5,400.
E PRODUCTION (1,600-2,000 cc.): Harry Carter, South Sudbury, Mass.; AC Bristol; 5,600.
F MODIFIED (1,100-1,500 cc.): Robert Holbert, Warrington, Pa.; Porsche Spyder; 7,800.
F PRODUCTION (1,300-1,600 cc.): Emmanuel Pupulidy, Freeport, N.Y.; Porsche Carrera; 7,000.
G MODIFIED (750-1,100 cc.): Frank Baptista, Hyattsville, Md.; Elva; 7,200.
G PRODUCTION (1,000-1,300 cc.): Robert Grossman, West Nyack, N.Y.; Alfa Romeo Giulietta; 4,600.
H MODIFIED (500-750 cc.): Martin Tanner, Saginaw, Mich.; Martin T Spl.; 3,600.
H PRODUCTION (750-1,000 cc.): Howard Hanna, Broomall, Pa.; DB; 3,600.