Of all the words
associated with auto racing, probably none roll off the tongue more richly than
these two: Grand Prix. They suggest heroic cars ( Bugatti, Mercedes, Ferrari)
and epic drivers (Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss). American fans, provided with other
kinds of racing in amazing variety and quantity, rarely get to see the Grand
Prix circus. Recently, however, they have begun to discover a spectacular
native offshoot, called Formula A. The cars are true racers, and look it.
Competition is sharp, with wheel-to-wheel dicing on every menu. One may even
latch onto a favorite driver with some sense of discovery (no ace biz agt. has
yet packaged this crowd); maybe a man like John Cannon, the driver coexisting
with the winged car opposite. Turn the pages for a sampler of his colorful
Cannon fire in a
bright new arena
John Cannon is a
character in search of an audience. At 33 his face has acquired a soft
ruggedness, his eyes are a piercing blue and his brown hair is always properly
tousled. He is a native of England; when he speaks, the words tumble out
gracefully in a BBC accent flattened only slightly by nearly 13 years'
residence in North America, mostly in Montreal but lately in Pasadena. He looks
and talks exactly like what he is, a professional race driver, and he is
probably the best of those competing in the Sports Car Club of America's
Continental Championship for Formula A cars, the one most likely to win the
series driving title this year.
Fine. But what is
The Formula A
race car, in its present form, was created in a moment of desperation by the
SCCA's professional competition director, Jim Kaser, near the end of the 1967
racing season. That year, in an attempt to bring the joys of open-wheel,
single-seat road racing to an American public more conditioned to oval tracks,
the club sponsored a series called the SCCA Grand Prix Championship. The idea
was to have a road-racing series in North America that would parallel the Grand
Prix Formula I circuit, which produces the world champion driver. The rules
allowed for and encouraged Formula I cars to enter the SCCA series.
reasons no Formula I cars showed up, and the series had to be run with lesser
stuff. It bombed. Jim Kaser came on with some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A
man who had already put together two other successful professional road shows,
the Canadian-American Challenge Cup series for unlimited sports cars and the
Trans-American championship for Detroit's emerging pony cars, he had the lungs
What Kaser did
was invent a special kind of a racer, which he called Formula A, and in less
than three years it has proved to be an exciting mix of Detroit technology and
European road-racing charisma.
Formula A calls
for a five-liter (305 cu. in.) American V-8 production engine (in practice
usually a Chevrolet) to be mated with simplified versions of name-brand Formula
I chassis such as Lotus, Lola and McLaren. It's that simple, and the result is
a delicate, twitchy racer capable of top speeds above 180 mph, which on certain
tight courses can outrun a more powerful but bulkier United States Auto Club
championship car, i.e., an Indy racer.
A Formula A car
can be built cheaply, too. One man's cheap is another's bankruptcy, of course,
but the $15,000 to $25,000 it costs to own a Formula A car is an easier swallow
than the $60,000 minimum for an Indianapolis-type racer, and you don't have to
beat an Andretti or a Foyt to win some prize money.
In 1969 the
series was given its present name—the Continental Championship—and this year
its 14 races will be worth nearly $500,000 in purses (20% going to Formula B
cars, smaller and slower, which run as a preliminary to the Formula A