Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, we’ve got another series coming your way! The series will include the bitter Ford vs. Ferrari competition that helped elevate the two Florida races to international prestige in the Sixties; the debut of the IMSA GT Series in the Seventies; the exotic IMSA GTP Prototypes of the Eighties; the World Sports Car of the Nineties; and the split between GRAND-AM and the ALMS of the 2000s that led up to the historic unification.
So, grab a bag of popcorn, your favorite chair, and let’s look back at key moments in SportsCar racing over the past five decades, starting with the sixties!
The Sizzling Sixties
The Sixties, a time where two of the most well-known manufacturers rivaled for the top spot, helped elevate the two races to international prestige. In the early 1960s, the Ford Motor Company attempted to buy out Ferrari in hopes of defeating them on the race track. While Ford's main focus was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two Florida race tracks would play a key role in this new rivalry.
According to imsa.com, “Modern American sports car racing actually dates back to 1948, when World War II veteran Cameron Argetsinger decided to host a European-style grand prix on public roads around his adopted home of Watkins Glen, N.Y. The event was very successful, and other venues soon followed suit.”
Alec Ulmann, a spectator for SportsCar racing, decided to build a track using Hendricks Field, an abandoned WWII B-17 training base outside Sebring, Fla. He started with a three-hour race in 1950, and extended it to 12 hours in 1952. The next year it was part of the FIA World Manufactures Championship.
Meanwhile, according to imsa.com, “William H.G. France founded NASCAR in 1948 to sanction American stock car racing, including the events he held annually on a beach-and-road circuit in Daytona Beach, Florida.” After holding club races at the Daytona International Speedway he built,France held his first international event, the Daytona Continental, in 1962, as a prelude to the Daytona 500 while running one month ahead of the Sebring event.
With Ford and Ferrari ready to go to war, the battleground was extended to the two Florida venues. Ferrari won in the first battle by scoring podium sweeps at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans in 1964; a massive dagger in Ford’s side.
After falling flat, Ford went all out in 1965 with their new GT40, where they came away with a top-four sweep at Daytona while Ferrari finished in seventh. However, later that year at the Le Mans showdown, Ferrari dominated with a podium sweep while Ford’s new GT40s failed to even finish.
The climax of the Ford vs. Ferrari was at Le Mans in 1967, where a pair of American drivers teamed to win in a Shelby-prepared Mk IV. Formula One veteran, and 1962 Daytona Continental winner, Dan Gurney teamed with Foyt, then a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time USAC Indy car champ.
The decade closed with a rule change by FIA that limited “engine displacement” rendering the Fords and Ferraris obsolete, ending the intense rivalry. However, both races and teams continued to grow through the 1970s, despite major rule changes that threatened American motorsports. Find out in Part II of our series next week about exactly how the rules influenced USCC racing.
For more information on the all new, inaugural Lone Star Le Mans series coming to Circuit of The Americas™ this September, see below!