On this Day in Trans Am History: August 16, 1970
August 16, 2020
August 16, 1970
The classic 1970 Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli season came to a head in the ninth round at Watkins Glen, a memorable event that had a record entry of 46 cars vying to qualify for the 35-car field.
Parnelli Jones won the pole with a lap of 1:33.7-seconds in a Bud Moore Ford Mustang. Next to him on the front row was Mark Donohue in Roger Penske’s AMC Javelin, 1:14.0-seconds, with Vic Elford and Sam Posey in a Dodge Challenger on the second row.
Elford was making only his second Trans Am start. He placed 26th in the previous race at Circuit Mont-Tremblant, taking over for car owner Jim Hall in the No. 1 Chaparral Chevrolet Camaro.
The Glen’s colorful starter, Tex Hopkins – wearing his trademark lavender suit – did his short walk and leap in the air to wave the green flag for the start. Jones was first over the hill with Donohue in close pursuit, followed by Swede Savage in a Plymouth Barracuda, Elford, Posey, Peter Revson in a Javelin, Ed Leslie in a Camaro, George Follmer in a Mustang and the rest of the field.
By the end of the first 30 laps, which took 45 minutes to complete, Jones was running 10 seconds ahead of Donohue and Savage. Revson and Elford were 30 seconds back, having a struggle, with Follmer just in sight of Elford.
It started to rain just as the first round of pit stops were approaching on lap 32. Both Jones and Donohue pitted for fuel and rain tires, giving the lead to Savage. On the next lap, both Savage and Revson pitted, and Donohue was in the lead for the first time.
A man with considerable experience driving in the rain in Formula One races, Elford rejoined the race in fifth place after his pit stop for rain tires. He began to move through the field until he was in second place behind Donohue. The rain had stopped, but confusion as to changing all tires to dry caused Donohue to have a longer than normal stop. That put Elford in the lead, followed by Follmer, Jones and Donohue. Then Revson came past the pits thinking next time was his turn, but when he did pit on the next lap, he was waved out to take yet another lap before he was serviced.
When the rain returned, the Elford Camaro got rain tires on all four corners – a move he credited with bringing him the victory. The Mustangs got them on the left side only. When it stopped raining, Elford’s car had only the outside tires replaced with dry rubber, with Hall electing to keep the rain tires on the right side. Elford retained the lead and when on it win.
“Just as we were due to come in for our second stop, it stopped raining and it was beginning to dry out a little bit,” Elford recalled in a 1998 interview. “We were in the pit next to Bud Moore’s team with driver Parnelli Jones. Parnelli pitted one lap before me, and as the tire changer took the right-rear tire off he just rolled it out of the way. Jim caught it, felt around it, and figured it didn’t feel too hot, so he pulled a fast one on everybody – including me. When I came in, I only got dry tires on the left side, and they left the rain tires on the right. So I left with the lead I had taken in the wet session, and held it until the end. I had absolutely no idea what they did until later – it might have slowed me down!”
An epic battle for second and third place between Donohue and Follmer took place during the last 30 minutes of the race. Follmer’s last pit stop, to replace a flat tire, allowed Donohue to get past. From that point on – except for one lap – Follmer led Donohue. As the pair started their final lap, Follmer’s Mustang was getting low on fuel, causing the engine to falter. Follmer waved Donohue ahead. When the pair rounded the last turn before the start/finish line (the current turn one), the fuel that was left in Follmer’s car sloshed toward the pickup and his car got new life. Now it was a drag race to the finish, with Donohue barely beating Follmer to the line.
Elfiord’s average speed in the 91-lap, 209.3-mile race, was 103.8 mph. Rounding out the top five were Jones and Revson.
To watch history be made, download the Trans Am by Pirelli Racing App https://nagrasports.app.link/