During 1959 no competition was closer than that of U.S. Sports Car Drivers George Constantine and Walt Hansgen. This week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED made its fifth annual U.S. Sports Car Driver of the Year award. It went to both men. Hansgen and Constantine had competed so equally that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED editors could not separate them for the title.
The editors worked with these facts in evaluating the fender-to-fender struggle: Hansgen won the Sports Car Club of America Big Car Championship when Constantine's left rear tire threw a tread at Daytona in December; Constantine countered by winning the Nassau Cup against the best international opposition, including World Champion Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss; Hansgen and Constantine won outright virtually every major U.S. amateur sports car race; in total SCCA points Hansgen had 68, Constantine 64.
For several years Constantine drove his own cars on skill and red ink, trying to prove himself in racing's big time. Last year Investment Banker Elisha Walker gave Constantine his big chance by providing him with a 4.2 Aston Martin and ex-Factory Mechanic Rex Woodgate to keep it running. Thus came about the first real U.S. competition that the smooth, Jaguar-powered team of Briggs Cunningham, Hansgen and Alfred Momo had faced in three years of dominance.
Hansgen now becomes the only repeater among SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Sports Car Drivers of the Year; he won in 1957. Constantine joins the other three winners: Paul O'Shea (1955), Carroll Shelby (1956) and Phil Hill (1958).
No U.S. driver was listed in the world ranking of sports car drivers when SPORTS ILLUSTRATED initiated this award in 1955. This year four Americans are in the select list of the world's top 15—one of several road signs pointing toward a banner motor racing year in 1960. Others are a new high in scheduled championship amateur sports car races—17; in professional races—10; and, of course, the prospect of continued competition between the two Drivers of the Year, whose rivalry is hot (SI, Nov. 16), though not yet overheated.