Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"RFM" (Run For, Or From, Money) Back In The Day

Augie Pabst (on the pole in a Scarab) leans in to talk to Gaston Andrey (Birdcage Maserati) before the start of the "big bore"
race at the Road America June Sprints in 1960.  Roger Penske's Porsche RS-60 is in the background (#6).  Pabst won,
followed home by Dr. Dick Thompson's Sting Ray, Andrey's Birdcage, and Penske's Porsche.  While the first 15 years
of the SCCA's existence weren't professional in the European or Champ Car sense, they weren't always as relaxed as
this picture might suggest.

This blog sometimes waxes nostalgic for the early 1960's days of the SCCA, when talented amateurs could win National Championships.  Well... in truth, the best of them had enough money, or leverage, to get the latest ex-factory cars (reconditioned or allegedly so), to make a title run.  And the best of them had engineering degrees or access to well-equipped shops, or both.  Roger Penske and Augie Pabst, for example.  So the level of competition was at least semi-pro, even if these drivers were not making their livings from racing.  Certainly it was several cuts above SCCA Regionals.

And some drivers had already been chafing under the SCCA's Strictly Amateur policy.  Cal Club (the California Sports Car Club) paid prize money, although SCCA license-holders who entered Cal Club events couldn't accept it.  (Cal Club, centered in Los Angeles, had a running feud with the San Francisco Region of the SCCA, and vice-versa, throughout the 1950's.)  Carroll Shelby and other notables had hats and t-shirts printed with "RFM"--Run For Money--to wear in SCCA paddocks in protest.  The best Americans went to Europe to try to make a living from road racing: Phil Hill, Masten Gregory, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther.

The SCCA finally relented and set up its own pro series; first Can Am and then Trans Am.  As a spectator, I missed the sturm und drang of the "transition wars" in the SCCA.  Before I went away to college, I enjoyed Regionals and Nationals.  After graduation, I paid more money to watch the pros.  The pros and their cars were faster, and more glamorous, and more shiny.

Was one better than the other?  For me, CART (IndyCar) at Road America in the 1980's and 1990's was the top of the mountain.  Blistering pace from top-ranked drivers in superbly prepared cars.  I still enjoy a fast pro race.  And club racing too.  Road racing has changed a lot in 50 years.  But in some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment