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Big Bad AMX
03-25-2005, 04:44 PM
AM racing program on the move
By Ken Moore

American Motors has dipped its toe into the swirling waters of performance competition, and has found the red-hot sensation to its liking.

Having gotten the feel of what it takes to be involved in a variety of racing programs, AM will become more fully immersed in such activities for 1970.

During the last two years, AM Javelins and AMX cars have become full-fledged competitors in the realm of racing. Whether on road race courses, oval tracks or drag strips - amateur or professional - the colorful red, white and blue AM entries have established for themselves a growing familiarity with racing enthusiasts.

In its first full season of racing in the exciting Grand Touring series sponsored by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), an American Motors team of Warren Prout, manager, and Jim Paschal, driver, won five races and captured the GT's special Northern Tour championship. Only two other drivers were able to win more races in the GT series than Paschal.

Getting a full measure of enthusiasm and hard work from drag racers, the sporty AMX earned a place for itself in the blistering quarter-mile world of roaring engines.

Led by two experienced, dealer sponsored drivers, AM catapulted from a first-year finish of sixth place (in 1968) to a third-place finish for 1969 in the manufacturers' point standings of the National Hot Rod Association.

Driving 1969 AMX Super Stock (http://www.amx-perience.com/1969SSAMX.htm)/ E cars, Lou Downing and Shirley Shahan "dragged" their way to the World Finals of the NHRA at the Dallas International Motor Speedway in Dallas, Texas-to mark the first time an American Motors' car ever has reached the prestigious event.

Mrs. Shahan, a pert mother of three children who is sponsored by AM's Southern California Dealers Association (http://www.amx-perience.com/1969500Special.htm), finished a strong fourth in her division of the NHRA to qualify for the world finals. Downing, one of the young up-and-coming stars in the field of drag racing, won his divisional title while being sponsored by Peterson Motor Co., an AM dealership in Kearney, Neb.

Along the way, both Shirley and Lou set national NHRA records.

Somewhere in this vast land of ours, an automotive writer for one of the buff car magazines is probably trying to decide whether to eat his words, with or without sugar and cream. And all because of another AMX.

In an article for his magazine, the writer did describe the AMX as a car that "is easy to sell, for American Motors can market all it can build and more."

He was dubious, however, about how the AMX would perform in racing competition, speculating that the sport car would not do well if subjected to Sports Car Club of America amateur competition.

As a production class racer, he wrote, the AMX "wouldn't make it," and "it would have spoiled the car's image if spectators were to see it finish ninth or tenth all the time."

Even while those words were being written, a group of dedicated enthusiasts were devoting spare-time efforts in proving that the AMX has what it takes in performance.

A David among many Goliaths (as is the case at most performance events in which only one or several AM cars are pitted against literally dozens of competitive makes), an AMX powered by a 343-cubic-inch AM engine was prepared by TEAM Racing, an off-duty employee club comprised of 20 members of AM's engineering and styling departments.

With Ike Knupp, supervisor of the electrical laboratory at AM headquarters in Detroit, as driver, the AMX won five of 11 races and recorded two seconds and a third in the B Production class of the SCCA's central division (please pass the sugar) and clinched the division championship with its fifth victory September 21 at the Michigan International Speedway at Irish Hills (and the cream).

Thus qualifying for the SCCA's All American Road Race of Champions at Daytona Beach, the AMX failed by four seconds to cap an amazing Cinderella year with a national championship.

With so many performances to cheer about, AM received a rude awakening in its Javelin efforts in the prestigious Trans-American road race series. Having done amazingly well in its first year of Trans-Am competition in 1968 (http://www.amx-perience.com/TransAmRacing1968.htm), AM learned in 1969 (http://www.amx-perience.com/TransAmRacing1969.htm) that you cannot stand pat in this highly competitive series.

Having surprised racing experts with a near second-place finish in the 1968 Trans-Am series, AM's Javelin team finished a more distant third last year.

The announcement that Roger Penske and Mark Donohue, whose team won both the 1968 and 1969 Trans-Am titles, would prepare and drive Javelins in the 1970 series (http://www.amx-perience.com/TransAmRacing1970.htm), showed the racing world that American Motors means business and intends to offer serious challenge to the efforts of automakers whose cars have ruled racing without a young "upstart" to worry about.

Penske and Donohue, who also are sponsored by Sun Oil Co., will use the 24-hour race at Daytona Beach, Florida, in February and the 12-hour marathon at Sebring, Florida, in March as tune-up tests for their Sunoco Javelin efforts in the 13-race, Trans-Am series.

Obviously, 1970 appears to be a dramatic year for AM performance activities. Donohue and Penske, with veteran Trans-Am driver Peter Revson as second driver, are set to go; Paschal and Prout have formed their own racing organization and built their own workshop in High Point, North Carolina, to boost their campaign with Javelins in the 1970 NASCAR series; Lou Downing and Shirley Shahan head a group of drag racers intent on outperforming their 1969 successes, and TEAM Racing is looking for other myths to shatter.

American Motors respects the once murky waters of performance, waters which are becoming much clearer as it learns and applies the knowledge of the track.

In 1970, AM will try to replace toe-dipping with a mighty splash, in hopes of impressing performance enthusiasts that the company is in the swim for keeps.