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'Dear Parnelli: Well, about time. Henry Ford II'
Kim Chapin
September 28, 1970
Auto racing's best-known Jones boy won a big race—and a championship—for a gentleman who does not like to get beat
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September 28, 1970

'dear Parnelli: Well, About Time. Henry Ford Ii'

Auto racing's best-known Jones boy won a big race—and a championship—for a gentleman who does not like to get beat

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There is a saying in the state of Washington that goes: "If you can see Mt. Rainier, that means it's going to rain; if you can't see Mt. Rainier, that means it is raining." An old but reasonably funny line. No doubt the mountain is there, poised in snow-capped majesty to the heavens and all that, but last weekend, during preparations for the Kent 200, the next to last event of the year's increasingly prestigious and frantic Trans-American championship, it was not to be seen (and it did rain a lot). The mountain was an illusion, wrapped in a continuous swirling mist that hid its reality from all who sought it.

Likewise, much of what goes on during a race weekend is illusory. Realities are hidden in a fog of false rumors, grandiose pronouncements, backslaps and radiant smiles. This year's Trans-American events, and especially Sunday's race at Seattle International Raceway, located just east of Kent and about 35 miles from downtown Seattle, have been no exception. Since its start in 1966 the Trans-Am has gained the reputation of being a neat little series providing Detroit with an opportunity to show off its muscle cars—Javelins, Camaros, Mustangs and the like—giving a new lease on competitive driving to semiretired drivers such as Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney, and permitting young upstarts such as Swede Savage and Sam Posey to show off before their elders. And all the while a good time is supposed to be had by all. Early in the week on a television talk show, Ronnie Bucknum, a Dodge Challenger driver, allowed as how he was happy to be in the Seattle area and looked forward to having a swell time. That summed up the surface Trans-Am spirit; underneath it was something else.

Thanks to the heaviest factory-supported participation so far—five teams and up to 10 drivers—this year's series has turned into a gut competition in which the reputations of drivers, team managers, racing organizations and the factories themselves can be made or broken at the whim of a missed shift or burned-out bearing. The competition has been so close that going into the Kent race five different drivers and three different makes of cars had won at least one of the previous nine events, and even the two factories that had not won, Dodge and Plymouth, had more than justified their presence by either winning the pole or leading.

Factory support, however, is not as dependable as Washington rain. As Mark Donohue, who has won 19 Trans-Am races in the past three seasons, said, "A lot of jobs are riding on the outcome of this race." His was hardly among them, but a brief rundown of each factory's efforts to date gives an indication of just how tenuous some of those jobs might be for, say, next year:

Ford. It is difficult to feel sorry for any Ford Motor Company racing program. In a pinch Henry II has seemingly always been willing to appropriate the money and hire the drivers necessary to mount a winning effort. After the first four races this year, Ford had a perfect score of four firsts, three by Parnelli Jones and one by George Follmer, and 36 points.

But after the race at Mid- Ohio on June 7, Ford went winless and at Kent its lead suddenly seemed very vulnerable. The cheeky Javelins of Roger Penske had won three of five races and had crept to within 11 points. Suddenly Ford found itself in a very tight position. Trans-Am Manager Fran Hernandez even brought a third car and early rumors had first A. J. Foyt, then Cale Yarborough, driving it to insure that somebody got some points. The rumors proved false, and by race time it was obvious that Jones and Follmer had regained a measure of control. Using special Firestone qualifying tires, they drew first blood when they won the pole and the third spot on the starting grid.

American Motors. In 1968 and 1969 Penske and Donohue swept the Trans-Am series with Chevrolet Camaros, Penske doing the thinking, Donohue the driving. This year Penske jumped ship and signed a three-year racing contract with American Motors for approximately $2 million. He brashly announced he would win seven races, and the series, for his new employers. "This is the greatest challenge I've ever had in racing," he said. It has certainly been that. In the first four events oil-pickup problems cost him a whole bunch of engines, and Donohue and co-driver Peter Revson managed just 16 points to Ford's 36. Then at Bridgehampton on June 21 the tide turned. Donohue went on his streak of three victories, added a second at Watkins Glen in mid-August, and Javelin was within striking range of Ford, 60 points to 49. Suddenly, Ford was getting the sympathy vote. Win or lose at Kent (and in the season's finale at Riverside on Oct. 4), Penske and Donohue could be well satisfied with their year's efforts, but if Ford should somehow lose the championship to Chevrolet, Dearborn would be draped in mourning, along with Hernandez and Team Manager Bud Moore.

Chevrolet. When Penske and Donohue went to Javelin, Texan Jim Hall took over the Camaro operation. He now probably wishes he had stuck with the Chaparral. General Motors, as everybody knows, isn't actively involved in racing, but has somehow attained a performance image through the success of its Can-Am engines, the Corvette sports car and, up to this year, its Trans-Am Camaros. However, until British import Vic Elford, better known for his endurance sports car driving, brought home a Camaro first at the Glen in the season's ninth race, Chevrolet had had only one other first-place finish. It has been a disappointing year, and the chances are good Chevrolet will not return to the Trans-Am next year with factory encouragement of any kind.

Chrysler. By far the most intriguing situation exists within the Chrysler camp. It has fielded two teams all season—Plymouth Barracudas prepared by Dan Gurney's All American Racers and Dodge Challengers prepared by Ray Caldwell's Autodynamics—but between them the highest finish was a second by Swede Savage at Elkhart Lake two months ago. Chrysler started late. It did not firmly commit itself to a Trans-Am program until November 1969, and there was barely enough time to put the cars together, let alone race them, before the season opened in April. Originally each team was to run two cars, but during the first week in May Chrysler cut each operation in half.

Autodynamics already had one driver, 26-year-old Sam Posey, and had reached a tentative agreement with Elford to drive the second car. Goodby, Vic. At AAR, the drivers were Gurney and Savage. Gurney gave the one available car to his 24-year-old prot�g�, and Savage put it on the pole three times.

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