Originally billed as the Trans American Sedan Championship, the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli held its first race on March 25, 1966 at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Future Formula One World Champion Jochen Rindt took the overall victory and Bob Tullius won the Over 2.0-Liter class. Other first-year notables included A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty, Jerry Titus and Belgium's Jacky Ickx and the others may have been the star attractions during the inaugural season, but the foundation was built with regulars like Horst Kwech and Gaston Andrey in Alfa Romeos, Tullius and Tony Adamowicz in Dodge Darts, and Bob Johnson in a Plymouth Barracuda. In 1967, Mark Donohue entered the Trans Am Series, and a legend was born. Donohue earned three victories in 1967; 10 in 1968; six in 1969; three in 1970; and seven during 1971, his final season in the Series. Donohue scored a record 29 victories while driving for Roger Penske, as well as 43 top-three finishes in 55 Trans Am races, and won the championship three times (1968, 1969 and 1971), with two runner-up positions.
The Donohue played a major role in establishing the Trans Am Series as the ultimate American automobile showdown. Donohue's Penske-prepared Camaro waged a season-long war with Parnelli Jones' Ford Mustang in 1969. Donohue prevailed, but only after winning six of the final seven races. The 1970 season began where 1969 left off, as American manufacturers waged war on the Trans Am battlefield. The Series featured Donohue and Peter Revson in AMC Javelins; Parnelli Jones and George Follmer in Ford Mustangs; Jim Hall, Vic Elford and Milt Minter in Chevrolet Camaros; Sam Posey in a Dodge Challenger; and Swede Savage in a Plymouth Barracuda.
Jones won the closest Drivers' Championship-by a one-point margin ahead of Donohue-guiding Ford to its third Trans Am Series manufacturers' title. The 1971 season was another Donohue steamroller as he won seven races, including six straight, in his AMC Javelin. Donohue easily won the Drivers' Championship, and AMC was the hands-down winner among the manufacturers.
In 1973, the Trans Am Series went through its first major rule change. FIA Group 4 cars became the dominant force as Peter Gregg and Al Holbert finished first and second, respectively, in Porsche Carreras. In 1974, Gregg won two of the three races on the schedule. Holbert won the other race as Porsche swept one through five in the points and took eight of the 30 top spots.
In 1975, the Trans Am Series was restructured based on the SCCA Club Racing's fastest production car classes. Group 4 and 5 cars were added to the mix in 1976, and the Trans Am Series went to a two-class system-Category I and II. In 1978, Greg Pickett won the Category II drivers' title, in a Chevrolet Corvette. Bob Tullius clinched the Category I championship in a Jaguar XJS.
Due to rising costs, the Category II class was eliminated at the end of the 1979 season.
Modern Era Begins
In 1980, the Trans Am Series began to utilize a handicapping system based on engine size-to-car-weight ratio, with tube-framed cars entering the picture. The tube-frame standard has remained since and signaled the start of "modern-era" Trans Am Series racing. After a 14-year absence, the Chevrolet Camaro reclaimed the Trans Am Manufacturers' Championship in 1983 as the DeAtley Racing team won 10 of 12 events, with David Hobbs winning the title ahead of Willy T. Ribbs. In 1984, Tom Gloy and Lincoln-Mercury won three races en route to his first title. Lincoln-Mercury won 11 of the 16 races, including five straight, to win its first championship.
The Roush Dynasty
Entering the Trans Am Series in 1984, the Roush Racing dynasty dominated for the next six seasons, winning 46 of the 83 races, posting 97 top-three finishes, winning 40 poles and recording 40 fastest race laps. The Roush Capris proved unbeatable in 1985, winning 12 of the 15 races as 22-year-old Wally Dallenbach, Jr. won five races and became the youngest Trans Am Series champion in history. Ribbs, also in a Roush Capri, won more races (seven) and more money ($132,933) than Dallenbach, but finished second in the title chase for the second time in his career.
Chevrolet and Lincoln-Mercury waged a fierce battle in 1986, and the title came down to the last race. With victories in five of the first six races, it appeared Chevrolet was headed for the championship, but Lincoln-Mercury staged a comeback, and Roush's drivers won four of the last five races to bring the automaker its third-straight manufacturers' title. Also in 1986, Dallenbach left Lincoln-Mercury to become Chevrolet's lead driver-and he didn't disappoint. Dallenbach won four races en route to his second-straight title, placing him among the elite company of three other back-to-back Trans Am champions up to that point: Tullius (1977 and 1978), Gregg (1973 and 1974), and Donohue (1968 and 1969).
The 1987 season saw a continuation of Lincoln-Mercury's mastery as Roush's Merkurs won 11 of the 12 races to capture a fourth-straight manufacturers' title with Pruett, who won seven races and his first Trans Am title. The Group 44 all-wheel-drive Audi Quattros rolled on to center stage in 1988 as Hurley Haywood, Hans Stuck and Walter Roehrl combined for eight victories and 19 top-five finishes. Lincoln-Mercury driver Scott Pruett won two races that year. Paul Gentilozzi won his first Trans Am Series race, and earned Oldsmobile its first Series victory.
The Trans Am Series returned to its roots in 1989, as American carmakers Ford, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet squared off. Ford capped a 25th anniversary celebration for the Mustang by scoring its first Manufacturers' Championship since 1970. Ford lead driver Dorsey Schroeder entered the season as a rookie, but by the end of the year, he was definitely a veteran as he owned six victories and the championship and was named Rookie of the Year. In 1990, the Trans Am Series celebrated its 25th anniversary. Chevrolet won eight races en route to its first title in seven years. Tommy Kendall collected six victories and the drivers' title. Oldsmobile started the season strong, earning victories in four of the first five outings, but finished the year second in the championship while Ford dropped to third.
In 1991, the Camaro contingent continued its dominance as Scott Sharp and Jack Baldwin scored seven victories en route to claiming the top-two places in the championship.
In 1992, Baldwin beat teammate Sharp for the championship, although it came down to the final turn of the final race of the season. Dodge made its return to the Trans Am Series that year, making for a true battle of the big three. Chevrolet and Sharp again dominated the 1993 campaign, but not without a strong fight from Ford and arch rival Ron Fellows. Fellows won three of the first five races, but Sharp then took over, earning Buz McCall's American Equipment Racing team its third-straight title. For Sharp, it was his second crown in three years, earned on the merit of six victories and nine poles.
The 1994 storyline was dominated by five former champions and a host of hungry challengers. The result was 30 track records, including five races decided by less than one second. In the end, Pruett claimed his second title in a Camaro with three victories.
The spectacular performances continued in 1995, a year without a single flag-to-flag winner, thanks in part to the introduction of an inverted "Fast Five" qualifying grid. Kendall's single victory, at the next-to-last race of the season at Road Atlanta, proved to be enough as his consistent performances earned him his second championship. Fellows, switching from a Ford Mustang to a Chevrolet Camaro for 1995, fought his way to a career-high five victories, but came up short of Kendall, earning his third-straight runner-up spot.
Five different drivers won the first five races of 1996, tying the all-time record for "season-opening" races without a repeat winner-a mark that had stood for 23 years. The season's opening rounds also produced some serious competition as eight drivers-Boris Said, Fellows, Kendall, Gentilozzi, Tony Ave, Schroeder, Jamie Galles and Sharp-led the field in the first four races, combining for 18 lead changes-just one less than the 19 total lead changes in 1995. Kendall went on win his third title in a Ford Mustang.
The 1997 season will be remembered as the year Kendall awoke to find all of his dreams had come true. Scoring 11 consecutive victories en route to his then record fourth and third-straight championship. Kendall's remarkable winning streak set records in the Trans Am Series, SCCA Pro Racing and "major series" road racing worldwide.
Building on the exposure and momentum created in 1997, the Trans Am Series entered 1998 with BFGoodrich Tires as the series' spec radial racing tire supplier. Also new to the Trans Am Series in 1998 was the fifth-generation Chevrolet Corvette driven by Paul Gentilozzi. Gentilozzi won seven races and set seven records en route to his first Trans Am Series title-the first Drivers' Championship earned in a Corvette since Eppie Wietzes did it in 1981.
In 1999, Gentilozzi switched alliances to Ford, but it didn’t slow him down, as he captured his second consecutive title in a Mustang, with Brian Simo finishing second.
The year 2000 saw the Trans Am Series usher in new manufacturer eligibility, multi-valve engines, fuel injection and spec rear wings. It marked the return of Jaguar, brought to the party by Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports team. The title was captured by Simo in his Qvale Mangusta on the strength of three wins and seven top-five finishes, with Gentilozzi finishing in second.
The Jaguar Years
Jaguar and Rocketsports dominated three of the next four seasons, taking three manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships.
In 2001, Gentilozzi won his third Trans Am Series championship in four years and led Jaguar to its first manufacturers' title since 1978. Gentilozzi won four races that year, including three straight early in the season.
Boris Said powered his Panoz Esperante to eight wins in 2002 to earn his first Trans Am Series championship, as Jaguar used the season to develop a multi-valve engine program that would prove to be nearly unbeatable the next year.
The Rocketsport Jaguars returned with a vengeance in 2003 as Scott Pruett won eight of 10 races en route to his third title. In 2004, the stage was set for a Rocketsports showdown featuring four-time champ Kendall and three-time titlist Gentilozzi. Both drivers entered the season in hot pursuit of Donohue’s record for most wins (29) with Kendall leading the charge with 26 wins, but followed closely by Gentilozzi at 24 wins.
The year belonged to Gentilozzi, who gained his fourth title on the strength of five wins in eight starts. His final victory of the season came in Denver to tie Donohue at 29 career wins.
The 2005 season was one of the most competitive in years. A scant 19 points separated the top four drivers with just two races to go, as Derhaag/Corvette ace Randy Ruhlman, thanks in large part to a win at Cleveland, led the points chase by a single point. German Klaus Graf, driving a Rocketsports Jaguar, finished out of the top 10 in three of the first four races but turned things around in a big way with the season headed for the home stretch. He won the final three races (Denver, Road America and Montreal) to secure his first drivers’ title and Jaguar’s third straight manufacturers’ title.
Gentilozzi, ran a limited schedule in 2005, but remained a factor when he entered. He won in the streets of Toronto to become the all-time leader in career wins with 30. The other feat of note was Greg Pickett winning in Edmonton, to become the first driver to win in four different decades.
Significant news was made off track, as SCCA Pro Racing assumed series’ ownership and management. Just two races were held in 2006, and both were run at Ray Irwin’s Heartland Park Topeka. The field was mostly GT-1 club racers, but it did include several Trans Am “regulars”, including Gentilozzi. Gentilozzi earned his 31st career win and added a second in the other race, which propelled him to his fifth title.
Trans Am Series was shuttered by SCCA Pro Racing following the 2006 season. At the time, it marked the end of the road, despite an impressive run of 41 years of continuous operation. ? ?The Trans Am was brought back to life for the 2009 season, with the technical and sporting regulations based on GT-1 club rules. Veteran Tomy Drissi won the Portland race and took the Drivers’ title while Tony Ave was the series’ runner up while former Champion Graf made the most of his two appearances – winning two of two (VIR and Mosport).
Ave turned in monster performances in 2010 and 2011, taking six wins each season to win back to back titles.
Also in 2011, Amy Ruman became the first woman in series history to win a race, accomplishing the feat in the season finale at Road Atlanta.
Ruman Makes History
That was only an indication of bigger things to come for Ruman, as she finished second in the 2012 standings, winning at Brainerd while trailing Simon Gregg by only 11 points in the final championship tally.
Doug Peterson came into his own in 2013 and 2014, winning 11 races and a pair of titles, with Ruman placing a respective fourth and third.
Ruman then came into her own in 2015. The then 40-year-old Akron, Ohio driver opened the year by winning the opening three races of the season. She went on to win eight events – including the final three – to become the first woman to capture a North American professional sports car championship. Ruman beat out Paul Fix by 34 points after 12 races.
For an encore, Ruman won three races in 2016 – including the Daytona finale – to beat out Fix for the championship by nine points.
Ruman’s streak ended in 2017, beginning – and continuing – a title run for a rising South Floridian.
Francis to the Fore
Ernie Francis Jr. burst upon the scene in 2014. The 16-year-old finished second in his debut TA3 race driving the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro. He scored his first triumph at New Jersey midway through the campaign, beginning a run of six victories and a second to claim the title by 50 points.
After opening 2015 with a pair of sixths, Francis then wheeled the No. 98 Breathless Chevrolet Camaro to nine consecutive triumphs. He won the pole for all 12 races, beating out Todd Napieralski for the title by 69 points. Francis moved to the TA4 category in 2016, opening the year with nine straight victories en route to another championship.
For 2017, Francis moved to the premier TA division. Fifteenth at Sebring, Francis won 10 of the next 12 rounds to claim the title by 98 points. The competition was tougher in 2018, but Francis was up to the task. He won five races, but a cold spell late in the year allowed Lawrence Loshak to close to 27 points in the final tally.
Francis made it three straight TA crowns – and six consecutive for his young career – in 2019. Endurance veteran Chris Dyson enjoyed a breakthrough season, winning three races, including the Daytona finale. Francis, however, won four events. His No. 98 Ford Mustang finished on Dyson’s back bumper at the finale, taking the crown by 15 points. Ruman – enjoying another fine season – placed third in the standings – her seventh top-three finish in nine years, and her tenth-straight top-five showing.
TA2 Goes Big, Goes Global
The other major story in the recent history of Trans Am is the emergence of the CUBE 3 Architecture TA2 Series into a major championship. A typical Trans Am weekend includes a pair of feature races, with 50-plus TA2 Series competitors battling it out in addition to a similar grid for the combined TA, XGT, SGT and GT classes.
The number of TA2 competitors quadrupled in 2012, reinvigorating road racing with exciting competition among Ford Mustangs, Dodge Challengers and Chevrolet Camaros bring back memories of the factory battles of the late Sixties and early Seventies. TA2 began holding its own feature races at Homestead-Miami Speedway in early 2014 – with eventual champion Cameron Lawrence edging out Adam Andretti – and the class has raced on its own ever since.
Gar Robinson won TA2 crowns in 2015 and 2017. Other recent champions are Tony Buffomante (2016), Rafa Matos (2018, 2021), Marc Miller (2019), Thomas Merrill (2022) and Brent Crews, the youngest champion in the history of Trans Am (2023).
Trans Am Continues Resurgence
With the Trans Am paddock growing more crowded, and the timing sheets showing even closer competition, the Trans Am Company management continued to steer the series into a stronger position under the vision and guidance of John Clagett.
After first connecting with SVRA to partner on event weekends, a partnership was developed with Parella Motorsports Holdings that saw the series benefit from a new ownership structure as well as solidified financial position. That allowed the series to invest in its continued expansion utilizing partners to feed significant growth areas including video and live streaming, public relations, media and marketing.