On this Day in Trans Am History: Sept. 18, 1966
September 18, 2020
Sept. 18, 1966
Jerry Titus took a legendary victory in the inaugural 1966 season finale at Riverside International Raceway – his first start in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli.
Taking a brand-new Ford Mustang built by Carroll Shelby, the editor of Sports Car Graphic was a late entry in the 34-car field. Titus ran three laps in practice and then qualified – shattering the old sedan record by a full second with a lap of 91.854 mph.
For the Le Mans start on the back straight, Titus flooded the car and stalled, joining the back of the field when he finally managed to get started. Ron Dykes was the early leader in a Mustang, followed by Bob Johnson in a Team Starfish Plymouth Barracuda and Bob Tullius in a Dodge Dart.
By lap five, Titus moved from, 31st to fifth. Then, near-disaster struck. Titus struck a half-buried, concrete-filled tire while passing two backmarkers in the esses that broke an oil line and tore off the oil filter. He managed to get the badly smoking Mustang back to the pits, where he lit up a cigarette, thinking the day was over. Shelby had different ideas. The crew told Titus to get back into the car – they replaced the oil filter and added oil.
Once again, Titus worked his way back through the field. He finally took the lead on lap 95, and led the rest of the way – 40 more laps – to win with an average speed of 92.58 mph. His best lap was 92.58 mph – considerable faster than his qualifying record.
Joined by Tony Adamowicz, Tullius finished second, 48-seconds back in his Dart. Ron Dykes and Steve Froines were third in a Mustang, 82-seconds in arrears.
Ford and Chrysler-Plymouth entered the finale tied in the points. Helped by the nine points by Titus for the victory, Ford took the inaugural Trans Am manufacturers’ title by seven points, 46-39.
That race helped end one career and start another for Titus. Leaving the magazine, he took on a full-time role with Shelby as racer and lead test driver. After placing fourth in the 1967 season opener at Daytona, Titus won the pole at Sebring in record time, led all but two of the 73 laps, and nearly lapped the second-place Penske Racing Chevrolet Camaro of Mark Donohue. Titus went on to won four races and led Ford to its second-consecutive TA title – in addition to being crowned the “unofficial” champion. He placed third in the standings in both 1968 and 1969.
Titus – “Mr. Trans Am” – lost his life in an accident in practice for a 1970 event. The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association driver of the year award is named in his honor.
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