Tuesday, June 13, 2017

RETRO: The Oft, Overlooked George Am'

One of George Follmer's Nasty, Bad Arse Ford Boss 302 T/A Mustang's. (Image source: www.photobucket.com)

As guessin' Y'all gotz' to be a seriously hard core motor racing Aficionado to know who that moniker belongs to, eh?

Earlier this year, it was pointed out how we should celebrate our Legends in Motorsports, be it Drivers, Team Owners or Personalities, since many of the legendous' figures of what's known commonly as the Golden Age of Motor racing, the 1960's sees these personalities entering their Twilight years.

The story was about El Capitano', nee Roger Penske celebrating his 80th birthday this past February 20th, whilst other such luminaries as "Uncle bobby's" a spry 83, while his younger brother B-I-G AL" (Unser) celebrated his 78th birthday on Memorial Day.

Legendary Jack of Trades Driver, Constructor and Team Owner Daniel Sexton Gurney just celebrated his 86th birthday this April. Rufus Parnelli Jones turns 84 in August with 'Ol SuperTex', nee A.J. Foyt, Jr's being 82.

'Ol Hobbo or HobbsCap', aka David Hobbs Sheepishly celebrated his 78th birthday this past weekend during the Canadian GP on June 9th when fellow announcer Leigh Diffey gave him a B-Day shout-out during Friday's FP2 broadcast. And SuperMario, aka Mario Andretti, thee youngster of this veritable Rat Pack, having just turned 77 this February spends his weekends chauffeuring the IndyCar two seater.

As Y'all get the idea, with that just being a sampling of some of the countless names on offer, with no disrespect towards others in this category...

This got me thinking about one such driver presumably overlooked by many of us, including myself, before his name popped up on Thy radar when teasing Y'all 'bout "Real Drivers" to have contested Formula 1, the Indy 500 and the Rock-crusher 12 Hours of Sebring.

With the driver in Questione being none other than George Follmer who was born on January 27, 1934 in Phoenix, Arizona, before his family migrated to Southern California.

Follmer cut his motor racing teeth at age 25 in a Porsche 550 Spyder, the model made eternally famous by James Dean...

Yet I know of Follmer's name since he was 'Ol Rufus's team-mate in those Nasty School Bus yellow Bad Arse Bud Moore Trans Am Mustang's! As George was Parnelli's team-mate between 1969-70, and drove the Bud Moore Engineering Stangs' from 1969-71 overall.

Even funnier yet, I've got a Trans Am poster autographed by George from one of my countless SOVREN Historics' outings at Pacific Raceways tucked away in a poster tube somewheres' in Tomaso Manor.

thus it's easy to forget that Follmer's Trans Am career started as a substitute for El Capitano's main Gunslinger Mark Donohue in 1967, who was busy chauffeuring one of Ford's GT 40's at Le Mans. With George finishing third aboard one of those mythical Penske Racing Sunoco blue Camaro Zed-28's.

As this "Cheater" Camaro's just one example of the legendary "Unfair Advantage" Donohue & Roger Penske employed to beat the competition! With Roger chirlously telling an SCCA Official he just really liked the look of vinyl...

As this would start a seven year association as Donohue's Back-up Driver for Penske Racing, leading to what I always associate Follmer first 'N foremost with whenever I conjure up his name. That Bad Arse, Nasty Porsche 917/10 Can Am Spyder in L&M livery, which he captured the '72 Can Am title aboard as Donohue's substitute, after a testing accident.

Yet Follmer, who first drove for the factory AMC Javelin Trans Am team in 1968, would also win the Trans Am title for Roy Woods Racing, who'd taken over Penske's Javelin's in '72, becoming the only driver to ever win both Can Am & Trans Am championships simultaneously, hence earning him the moniker "George Am!" While I wasn't aware that he notched a second Trans Am title in '76 driving one of the Uber Bad Arse Porsche 934's for legendary car owner and Porsche Specialist Vasek Polak.

As Follmer was honoured by the excellent Peterson Automotive museum in 2012, as I especially enjoyed John Morton's quip 'bout never being able to beat George, much to his Mama's disgust...

Yet George would drive anything with wheels on it, including a vast array of Open Wheel Racing machinery, from Formula 5000, to Indy Cars and the pinnacle 'O motorsports, aka Formula 1. As George reportedly still holds the record today for oldest F1 debut driver at the age of 39-plus years upon making his Formula 1 debut for Shadow Racing at the '73 South African Grand Prix.

George finished in the points his first time out with a sixth place finish, with his high water mark being standing on the podium's final step much to Francois Cevert's astonishment over his third place! As Follmer would cap thirteen starts in his single F1 season for Don Nichols racing team.

Follmer made three starts in the Indianapolis 500 between 1969-71, with his best finish of 15th coming during his final race for Grant King Racers aboard a Kingfish/Offy, (Offenhauser) with the dominant four cylinder lumps seeing a resurgence with turbocharging.

Ironically Follmer's lone USAC Championship Car victory, the forerunner to today's IndyCar, came at Phoenix International Raceway during the 1969 Jimmy Bryan 150. As Bryan, the 1958 Indy 500 winner and three times USAC National Champion also hailed from Phoenix. As George won that day's race by three laps in a Cheetah Chevrolet, the only stock block victory ever scored in Indy Cars.

After a nasty accident in 1978 at Laguna Seca Raceway, where he flew off the famous Corkscrew! After a stuck throttle saw him flying thru the air some hundred feet before auguring in nose first! Suffering many injuries, including mangling his "Loud Pedal's" foot's ankle, broken leg, etc. George fought thru constant pain over a dwindling racing career, noting how he came back too soon but there were some young lions named Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan after his seat...

Yet Follmer finished an excellent third overall at the 1986 24 Heurs du Mans co-driving a Joest Racing Porsche 956 with John Morton and Kemper Miller, bested only by two of Porsche's newer 962C's, with Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and Al Holbert winning.

Follmer also participated in the made for television racing series Fast Masters, Y'all recall when legendary racers over the age of 50 squared off in identically prepared TWR Jaguar XJ220's at Indianapolis Raceway Park underneath the lights for ESPN, with "Uncle Bobby," aka Robert William Unser winning the series and it's $100,000 prize in 1993.

Or Y'all can simply jump to the more colourful rendition of George Follmer's biography, where it's noted he's got the eyes that could have been used for Clint Eastwood's legendous High Plains Drifter!

Hmm? Wonder who'd come out on top between Uncle Bobby, who once punched a police officer, or George Am' who didn't take kindly to BS'ers! And all that coming from a mild mannered insurance salesman...