Remembering Key Moments In U.S. Road Racing History
Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports
BY JOHN BISHOP
Having held many posts through the years, Bishop is currently the commissioner of the Grand Am Road Racing Championship.
Growing old doesn’t have many benefits, but one of them is the privilege of retelling amusing events without fear of contradiction. Most who could dispute are safely out of the way. The issues covered here were quite important to the entities involved, however, and don’t need any exaggeration to provide amusement today.
• ALEC ULMANN was a visionary who was determined to expedite the development of road racing in the United States. He was one of the early officers of the Sports Car Club of America. The SCCA was born in 1944 primarily to preserve classic and sporting automobiles and the social life that follows naturally. After World War II ended, it didn’t take long for some members to organize rally and racing events. They viewed strict amateurism in the Corinthian style as the proper format for competing under the spoke-wheel banner.
The club was growing quickly. Imagine the outrage of the elected officers when it was learned that Ulmann had placed the 1950 Watkins Glen races on the calendar of the American Automobile Ass’n without consulting them. AAA held the power of the FIA Sporting Commission at the time, had no rules preventing cash purses.
Ulmann’s suspected purpose in violating the well-established SCCA policy was to permit non-members to compete. In particular, it was the entry of Erwin Goldschmidt, who had been turned down for membership, which got everyone’s attention. When Goldschmidt won the event in grand style, SCCA’s infuriated officers promptly terminated Ulmann’s membership.
Ulmann found the neglected Sebring airport and ran a six-hour race in late 1950 (with 12-hour races thereafter), building the event into an important international championship venue. SCCA tried to impede Ulmann’s successes by staging its own endurance event elsewhere in Florida, threatening sanctions against its drivers who took part at Sebring. Harsh and mutual antipathy existed between the SCCA and Ulmann.
• GEORGE RAND was a fine gentleman who was involved in American road racing via the pre-war Automobile Racing Club of America and later the SCCA. When the Automobile Competition Committee for the U.S. was formed to handle the international aspects of U.S. racing, Rand became its manager. The emergence of ACCUS followed the AAA’s sudden abdication of its FIA sporting role after the Le Mans tragedy of 1955.
In 1963, ACCUS had set up a policy that organizers of international U.S. events must have a proper sanction through one of the member clubs of ACCUS (NASCAR, USAC, NHRA and SCCA). This policy provoked some predictable outrage … particularly from Ulmann, who had until now gotten his FIA calendar listing by way of his personal contacts in Europe.
• JOHN BISHOP — I had taken over Rand’s duties at SCCA in 1956 and was appointed executive director in 1962. The club finally matured in its outlook, embracing future professional racing, this at a board meeting in the summer of 1961. I was charged with making the transition as graceful as possible and quickly rewrote the rules for competition. In the years wasted while SCCA was struggling with the amateur/professional question, several pro races had been established on the new dedicated racing circuits, most sanctioned by USAC. My board charged me with coaxing the organizers of these events, as well as the USGP Watkins Glen and the Sebring 12-Hour, to come under SCCA sanction. Reestablishing relations with Ulmann was especially demanding.
Rand kindly offered to host a lunch for Alec and me at the Wings Club in New York City to see if a solution could be achieved.
The Wings Club was sacred ground for anyone who was passionate about airplanes. Large portraits of heroic flyers like Lindbergh, Earhart, Post, Doolittle and Rickenbacker graced the walls.
Throughout lunch I concentrated on the mission as best I could, offering what to me were indisputable arguments as to why it would make good sense for Ulmann to accept the SCCA’s apology and acknowledge that times had changed. He let me wiggle on the hook for what seemed like hours.
Suddenly, the waiter appeared at our table with unsuppressed anxiety on his face. He informed us President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and the outlook was grim.
As we tried to grasp the shocking news, Ulmann rose from his seat, advised he would be applying for SCCA sanction for the next Sebring 12-Hour race, and as a final shot, stated that the only reason he’d so decided was that SCCA had a cheaper insurance plan than USAC.
November 22, 1963 is etched in my memory in more ways than one.
(Original Print Date: August 1, 2007)