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Original Issue

For fun or for money

Waved off the course a month ago, U.S. amateur drivers regain the right to run against the pros

Two weekends ago, fleeing the miasmic heat of midtown Chicago, the Board of Governors of the Sports Car Club of America gathered in a cool, air-conditioned hotel room to debate long and hard on a hot and touchy subject. After 18½ hours of weighing the pros and cons, without generating enough heat to burn out a single bearing, the SCCA governors resolved one of the classic problems of sport: they decided to allow their amateurs to mix freely with professionals in almost any event.

For the SCCA the decision was almost as radical as a self-administered appendectomy. Many of the wealthy men who were in attendance at the birth of U.S. sports car racing after World War II are still vigorous and thoughtful leaders of the sport and, understandably, champions of the amateur cause. As SCCA membership has grown, it has embraced more and more not-so-rich drivers who use their sports cars to get to work Mondays through Fridays and to race on weekends. Not surprisingly, some of the drivers have become so skilled that they want to go beyond weekend racing and test themselves against the best professionals on the international circuit. As pressure from the skilled drivers mounted, the SCCA allowed its members to tangle with the pros in selected races approved by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (the FIA).

Last June this compromise arrangement led to a jurisdictional snarl involving the SCCA and the FIA and the Automobile Competition Committee (the ACC), which oversees American racing for the FIA (SI, July 10). The SCCA banned its drivers from FIA races in Indianapolis and at Mosport near Toronto, and the ACC suspended the FIA licenses of SCCA drivers.

With the gates to such favorite venues as Sebring, Le Mans and Nassau suddenly slammed shut by the ACC's suspensions, the SCCA governors' unanimous vote to let their drivers meet the pros almost anywhere seems, on the surface, to be an embarrassing about-face. Actually, it was no more than a sensible agreement by racing gentlemen to let first things come first. In a long memorandum meticulously reviewing the club's history and purposes, SCCA Governor Hendrix Ten Eyck of Syracuse, N.Y. gently reminded his colleagues that the SCCA driver of 10 years ago was a "virtuous amateur mainly because no one had ever tried to seduce him." Ten Eyck tenderly suggested that the pro-amateur issue was not important enough to stand in the way of the club's original purpose of providing good, sane racing for its members.

A rosy, racy future
In the sweeping changes that the SCCA made for the future—plans that certainly will prompt the ACC to restore all SCCA men to good standing in the FIA this week—every member is given virtually a free hand on the wheel of his own car. Under its new policies, the SCCA will continue to emphasize and sanction national and regional meetings for its own amateurs but, effective January 1, SCCA members holding national competition licenses can enter any FIA-sanctioned road race in North America (and perhaps some of the professional races staged by the United States Automobile Club). Abroad, under the new rules, the SCCA driver can race on any track or road against anyone—against amateurs or pros, against gentlemen or bums or the rats in the sewers of Paris if he cares to. And most important, to put the old pro-amateur bugaboo completely to rest, the new SCCA policy lets each driver decide for himself whether he wants to race for fun or for filthy money.