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1968-1972 Trans-Am Racing
In 1969 American Motors would finish fourth in the Trans-Am Series. What follows is a race by race review of the 1969 season.
Agile pit work by the Penske team coupled with tire problems and a crash in which three factory Fords were destroyed resulted in the 1969 Trans-American title going to Chevrolet. The hard-fought 12-race series saw the four-car Mustang team get off to a good start, winning four times in the first five races at Michigan International Speedway, Lime Rock Park, Bridgehampton Raceway and Donnybrooke. The Fords - two Bud Moore Mustangs driven by Parnelli Jones and George Follmer and the Shelby American cars with Peter Revson and Horst Kwech - never took another first place.
The outnumbered, two - car Penske team with drivers Mark Donohue and Ronnie Bucknum, got into the win column at the third race of the series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car track when Bucknum held off Parnelli Jones to take nine valuable points.
The points were particularly valuable since Ford did well enough in all the races to score 55 points to Chevrolet's 60 going into the final two races.
Chevrolet cinched the title at the new Sears Point course in northern California in the toughest competition of the season when a lengthy 52-second pit stop by Jones gave the hard charging Mark Donohue the edge he needed to take the victory.
It was not a good season for Ford. Their fastest driver-car combinations, Jones and Follmer, stuck to Firestone tires, which apparently due to a combination of the driving technique and compounds, did not last as long and required more pit stops.
The Bud Moore pit stops looked like Chinese fire drills compared to Penske's.
The other Ford troubles were created by a spectacular accident when Follmer lost an engine in the middle of a turn at the Ste. Jovite Trans-Am and both Revson and Kwech in the Shelby Mustangs piled into him. Jones was not running at the time, saving Ford from a total loss of their factory entries.
The other factory teams, the Jerry Titus - Milt Minter Pontiac effort and the Ronnie Kaplan American Motors team with Ron Grable and John Martin as drivers, did not fare too well.
Titus had to revamp his 1969 Pontiacs back to 1968 specifications since the newer models were not homolagated but the out-classed equipment still held on for 32 points and third place.
Kaplan was deprived of AMC's best engine with four-bolt bearing caps, so the Javelins were never competitive.
Porsche dominated completely the under-2-liter competition; the only non-Porsche to win U2L was the Alfa of Gaston Andrey on the tight course at Byrar Motorsports Park. Briefly, here's a rundown of each Trans-Am:
Michigan, May 10
Rain, scoring problems and a serious accident got the Trans-Am off to a bad start.
Mark Donohue got the trophy first, but it was finally decided that Parnelli Jones was the winner of the rain soaked four-hour contest. Donohue was declared second and Jerry Titus third at the end of the 344.24-mile race.
One spectator was killed and 12 others injured in an eighth lap accident when Horst Kwech's Mustang smashed into a parked car in a spectator area.
Fred Baker was the under-2-liter winner in a Porsche.
Lime Rock, May 30
Sam Posey got his chance in the winners circle when he subbed for Peter Revson, who was driving to fifth place at the Indy 500 the same day.
Ford, with Swede Savage and John Cannon up, also finished second and fourth, while Ohioian Bob Johnson drove the Penske Camaro to third.
Tony Adamowicz showed the winning form he had used to take five victories in 1968 by placing his Porsche 911 ahead of Andrey's Alfa for under-2-liter honors.
Mid-Ohio, June 8
A surprised Ronnie Bucknum, driving the number two Penske Camaro, found himself home first after gambling that his fuel would last. He averaged 83.53mph, a Mid-Ohio Trans-Am record.
Donohue and Jones put on a very spirited dice for 20 laps with Jones outgunning pole sitter Donohue at the flag. Mark got by Parnelli when Jones started to lose it on the Mid-Ohio Carousel. Dohohue stretched his lead on Jones, the later's car running on seven cylinders and without the benefit of second gear.
A lengthy pit stop on lap 46 to replace a wheel bearing cost Donohue the lead, putting Jones in first.
Jones stopped for gas on lap 70 of the 100-lap, 240-mile race to let Bucknum in front for good.
Third was Follmer, while Peter Gregg's Porsche was first in the under 2-liter class.
Bridgehampton, June 22
Teammates George Follmer and Parnelli Jones, in the Bud Moore Fords, got caught up in the heat of competition, engaging in a spirited dice for the lead. Follmer finally took first in the metal-to-metal battle on lap 8 and was never headed.
Jones' troubles were large, first a faulty shift lever, then a cockpit fire, which forced him to retire on lap 81 on the 88-lap, 251.8-mile contest.
Donohue, driving the number two car after blowing an engine in his car and starting at the back of the grid, finished second 86 seconds back. Jerry Titus' Firebird was the only other car on the same lap for third.
Gregg was again first among the under-2-liter cars.
Donnybrooke, July 6
When Parnelli Jones saw arch foe Donohue watching the race with the corner workers, he knew he had won his second race of the 1969 series.
The Indy veteran had fought and defeated Kwech for second place and was running about 30 seconds behind Donohue when the Mark's Camaro's crankshaft let go with just five laps to go.
Jones won the 252-mile race at 98.84mph. Ed Leslie, subbing for Ronnie Bucknum (who was hurt in a street accident on his way to the race), was second, with Pete Revson third.
Bert Everett led the under-2-liter racers.
Bryar, July 20
The team of Donohue and Leslie finished the Penske Camaros 1-2, while Revson placed the Shelby Mustang third in the Herald Traveler Challenge Cup event.
Jones led for the first half hour until both he and Donohue spun and Donohue got away first. Parnelli later retired with overheating and brake problems.
Gaston Andrey finally got his revenge on the Porsche, coming in a lap and a half over Bert Everett's Porsche for under-2-liter honors.
Ste. Jovite, Aug. 3
Ford went out of contention here in a big way when Follmer's car blew an engine in Ste. Jovite's blind turn 7 and was crashed into by, among others, fellow Ford factory drivers Revson and Kwech.
Jones had already retired with a jammed transmission linkage, leaving Donohue free to sail home when the race was restarted, with teammate Ed Leslie and Pontiac's Titus fighting it out for second place. Titus took second for good during Leslie's 19.5 second stop to replace a tire.
Gregg was first in under-2-liter.
Watkins Glen, Aug. 10
Rusty Jowett's Camaro became the first independent Trans-Am entry to break into the top finishers in 1969 as he took third behind Donohue and Jones.
Both Donohue and Jones were called into start-finish for a confab with Chief Steward Dave Tallaksen after allegedly passing on the yellow flag.
Donohue averaged 107.33mph for the victory in the 269.1-mile race.
Gregg was again first in U2L.
Laguna Seca, Aug. 24
Despite a last minute deal with Dan Gurney, Ford didn't come up with the right answers and the Donohue-Leslie steamroller continued at this hilly Monterey, Calif., circuit. Gurney finished third on the same lap as Leslie - one down from Donohue.
Gurney commented later that the Shelby Mustangs he worked over were suffering from lack of the "good" parts that Bud Moore had for his two Mustangs.
The Moore cars, however, didn't fare so well at Laguna even though they were on the front row of the grid. Both had led the race, but Jones went out when a cracked bell housing leaked grease and it caught fire when it reached the hot differential.
Follmer retired when a right front wheel broke.
Seattle, Sept. 7
Ronnie Bucknum, who cinched the Trans-Am title for Ford here in 1967, proved to be the Dearborn company's undoing as he won this race to give Chevrolet a 10-point lead with two races to go.
Donohue had blown an engine while chasing Jones and Bucknum passed Jones' Mustang on lap 73 of the 135-lap, 303.75-mile event to take the lead for good.
Donohue's course record for Trans-Am cars (1:27.8) fell seven times during qualifying.
Sears Point, Sept. 21
Donohue and Jones, with an assist from Follmer, staged a real crowd pleaser at the next-to-last Trans-Am.
Donohue came out on top because of efficient pit stops, though Jones was gaining at the end. Jones' Mustang had led for 69 laps from the pole position with Follmer helping to fend off Donohue. Follmer finished third.
Jones, who was gaining about two seconds a lap, finished some 2.7 seconds back. Follmer was 29 seconds behind Donohue.
The 81.4mph win gave Chevrolet the Trans-Am title.
Elliott Forbes-Robinson Jr. won the under-2-liter race in a Porsche.
Riverside, Oct. 5
With the championship decided, Donohue and Jones did their ultimate combat at the final race. The result looked like a destruction derby. The first incident occurred on lap 28 when Mark says Jones ran into the back of him. Later, Jones blocked him, Donohue said, and forced him to spin into the infield. Later, Jones and Donohue collided as Jones reentered the course. Follmer looked like a sure bet to win the race when a front wheel broke as he was leaving the pits and he crashed into the wall. Donohue finished first, teammate Bucknum second and Titus third. Alan Johnson was first in U2L in a 1968 Porsche.
The Trans-Am races, which range in length from 200 to 344 miles, have a relatively poor finish record with only 60 percent of the starters finishing the exciting 1969 races.
American Motors: 14
The Trans-Am series would take a dramatic turn for AMC in 1970, 1971 and 1972.