Pic by Jim Culp
In 1966 The Sports Car Club of America launched its first professional series called the Trans-Am. It was made up of two classes for sedans with a displacement of up to 2000 cc and over 2000 cc. The idea was to get the manufacturers involved and there by create lots of spectator interest and hard close racing. My preferred racing car was always a single seater which was the purest form for a racer, but as always, I really enjoyed driving all sorts of racing cars to collect different experiences.
I had a friend in Berkeley who called me one day and asked If I would like to partner him for a Trans-Am race at Bryar Park outside Concord, New Hampshire. This was a particularly interesting proposition because all I had to do was provide a tow vehicle my Ford Ranchero and no money. He had ordered a new Ford Shelby Mustang R, one of the 19 cars built specifically for the Trans-Am. The car was still being built but was promised 15 days before the race which would leave just enough time to drive across the USA to Concord.
I had a good friend in the wine business and through him, I was able to gain “Weibel” Wines in the Napa Valley, as a sponsor for our effort. Weibel also made a Champagne-style wine and they were eager to promote it. In recognition of their help, I had a local artist paint grape clusters on the hood of the Ford Mustang with their name circling the grapes. In addition, I painted “Power by Griswold” as well. I had, in fact, disassembled the engine to check it before we set off for New Hampshire. Before leaving I went to Napa to load up the Ranchero with Weibel products. If all failed, we would at least have some nice wine to drink. I elected to fly and Peter set off on his own.
I hadn’t been to Concord, since I attended boarding school there and it had been a few years since I had been East, so I decided to call my mother and invite her to see me race. She decided to bring my aunt as well so I had a cheering section. The cars I had driven before were much lighter and smaller. The Ford Mustang felt like a truck with a lot of power. I wasn’t particularly fast and was only marginally faster than my friend. It was hard work to drive a car like this on a tight twisty circuit like Bryar.
After the practice we made many new friends by filling many glasses and handing them around to the competitors. We were very popular and Weibel had many new fans.
The race was on Sunday and we drew straws to see who would start the race, I won and strapped myself in the Ford Mustang. It was a scalding August day and I wasn’t looking forward to my drive. The heat took its toll after about 25 laps and the brakes started to boil the fluid.
The temperature gauge was near the red. It was boiling hot. On about the 50th lap at the end of the straight directly in front of my Mother and aunt, the engine blew. In fact, some parts went through the grape cluster I had painted on the hood of the car. Our race was finished. I was actually relieved. It had been such hard work to drive this car and now I had an excuse to stop.
The race was won by an Australian, Allan Moffat in his Lotus Cortina. He really flew and the story was that Ford hired him the day after to drive for them. The most successful part of the story was that my Ranchero was empty and all the wine had been drunk. We loaded up and headed back across the USA to Berkeley with some good memories.