Stephen Cox blogs about Shelby-American’s legendary Group 2 Mustang racers,
Run entirely in a downpour late on Saturday evening, September 10, 1966, the Pan-American race would become an epic battle that still stands as the #12 Group 2 Mustang’s greatest triumph.
A massive hump on the main straightaway would occasionally send the faster cars airborne. So while cars on the front stretch were lifting all four wheels off the ground, cars along the backstretch would hit blistering speeds of more than 100 mph in the opposite direction just a few feet away.
The attitude of the race fans was equally liberal. Old photos still exist showing a mother and her children sitting on a picnic blanket only yards from the Green Valley track surface with no fence, rail or safety barrier to protect them. On the other side of the course, three inventive race fans set up shop along the fastest part of the main stretch. They parked their station wagon just yards from the track surface, erected a six-foot construction scaffold, leaned a ladder against it and watched the weekend’s activities from atop their new perch.
McComb arrived at Green Valley Raceway to find the course lined with trees that created a haven for spectators but a constant menace for drivers. During a practice session the day before the Pan-American race, Russ Simon’s Alfa Romeo went off course and wrapped itself neatly around one of them. What remained of the Alfa was slowly towed down the backstretch under a red flag, serving notice to other drivers that this track was raw and unforgiving.
Rain was still falling when the race began on Saturday afternoon at 4 pm. There wasn’t a dry spot on the entire circuit and the first accident occurred early in the show. Gary Dundas’ Mustang got caught up in the Turn 1 spin of Ruben Novoa’s Mustang, taking two Fords out of the race at once. Fortunately, the McComb/Brooker Mustang had gotten a good start and was running in third, well ahead of the wreck.
The field strung out even further after a lapped car suffered a punctured fuel tank and dumped a full load of gasoline on the backside of the course. The fuel mixed with rainwater and created a disaster area, sending six more cars off course.
By 7 pm the rain had become a light drizzle and cars were scurrying around the track in near darkness by the dim, yellow light of their headlamps. The track remained wet and most competitors were still using their wipers to clear road spray from their windshields. The crowd had thinned. Those who remained were donning jackets to stay warm.
Attrition eventually began taking its toll even among the fastest cars. The Ford-backed Shelby Mustang of Pike and Timanus was black-flagged while leading after its brake lights failed. The team lost several laps and fell out of contention, moving McComb and Brooker up to second.
Shortly afterward, the Plymouth Barracuda of Charlie Rainville and Bob Johnson made an unexpected pit stop to work on the throttle linkage and brake system, defaulting the lead to McComb, who had by this time distanced himself from the rest of the field.
Ford was impressed despite the fact that a privateer team had beaten their own entry. The win scored enough points to place the company in a dead heat with Plymouth for the Trans-Am Manufacturer title, which Ford would clinch a week later at Riverside.
But the car’s legacy was already secure. The #12 Group 2 Mustang had scored surprising wins at Continental Divide and Green Valley in only its first two races. And more importantly, it had established its place in auto racing history by positioning Ford for its first Trans-Am championship.
(Part 3 of 3 will be featured in the next Stephen Cox Blog)
Stephen Cox is a racer and co-host of TV coverage of Mecum Auctions (NBCSN), sponsored by: http:/www.mcgunegillengines.com/