HomeCar CultureMighty Can-Am racers on track for Sonoma historics

Mighty Can-Am racers on track for Sonoma historics


Shadow Can-Am cars will be featured during the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival | Stephen Scharf
Shadow Can-Am cars will be featured during the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival | Stephen Scharf

One the most exciting and sometimes outrageous forms of racing in the history of motorsports, the SCCA Can-Am Series, will be celebrated May 17-18 when the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival returns to Sonoma Raceway in northern California.

Can-Am racing, which ran from 1966-74, was conducted under FIA rules that allowed cars with unlimited engine capacity, virtually unrestricted aerodynamics and few other technical restrictions. The result was a group of spectacular two-seat, closed-wheel cars, including those from such celebrated competition marques as Lola, McLaren, Porsche, Chaparral and Shadow.

The 28th annual historic-car event organized by General Racing Ltd. in Sonoma will focus on the early years of the Can-Am Series, and the unique Shadow racers that competed from 1970-74.

A McLaren Can-Am racing at Sonoma | Sonoma Raceway
A McLaren Can-Am racing at Sonoma | Sonoma Raceway

“The early days of the Can-Am Series was an exciting time in North American motorsports,” said Steve Earle, president of General Racing Ltd. “It was a dynamic era when designers and engineers were given a free hand, a clean sheet of paper, to create the fastest sports racing cars they could imagine: the unlimited racing car.”

Can-Am was the birthplace and proving ground for the latest experiments in racecar technology. The cars were among the first with aerodynamic wings and ground effects, effective turbocharging and such aerospace materials as titanium. The high cost of this technological arms race is blamed for the eventual downfall of the Can-Am Series.

“They could create whatever they thought would get their driver around a track the fastest. Period,” Earle said. “The first Shadow was certainly one of those cars.”

Drivers of the Can-Am era included such familiar names as Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Jim Hall, Phil Hill, Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Oliver, Peter Revson and John Surtees.

Follmer won the 1972 Can-Am Championship driving Roger Penske’s Porsche “Panzer,” and partnered with 1974 champion Jackie Oliver on Don Nichols’ Shadow team. He and Nichols, founder of Nichols Advanced Vehicle Systems, are honored guests at this year’s Festival and will anchor a discussion group, “Can-Am through the eyes of Shadow,” at the third annual racing seminar, a free event held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 17, at  Sonoma Raceway.

A wide selection of racers will be on the track | Sonoma Raceway
A wide selection of racers will be on the track | Sonoma Raceway

Also being honored on the panel is chassis designer Trevor Harris, innovative creator of the very first AVS Shadow Mark 1, the ultra-radical “Tiny Tire” car that “Fearless” George Follmer debuted in 1970. Pete Lyons, photographer and prolific author of books covering the Can-Am Series, will round out the panel discussion with his informed perspective.

The seminar will be followed by an autograph session with the panel members.

Shadow Can-Am cars currently owned by Fred Cziska of Petaluma, Calif., and Dennis Losher of Twain Harte, Calif., are expected to be on display and competing at Sonoma, along with other Can-Am cars, including a group of 1968 McLaren M6Bs, a 1972 McLaren M8F driven by pro sports-car racer Rick Knoop, and a cadre of 1960s Lola T-70s and T-163s.

The Can-Am cars are just part of the show as around 350 vintage and historic race cars in 14 race groups are scheduled to run on the 12-turn, 2.52-mile Sonoma road course in northern California’s wine country. They range from a 1911 National 40 and a 1917 Chevrolet 490 Speedster to more “modern-day” racers, such as a 1964 Bobsy-Porsche SR-3, 1965 Cobra and Corvette, 1970 Porsche 917 and 908, a 1988 Protofab Corvette and a 1991 Roush Mustang.

For more information about the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, including associated events, see www.racesonoma.com.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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