Friday, November 17, 2023

NASCAR’s Unique and Forgotten Racing Divisions: Grand Touring/Grand American Division

Years of Competition: 1968-1972

Notable Drivers: Tiny Lund, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Childress, Bobby Allison

Through the 75 years of NASCAR, many automotive trends have come and gone (some even return years later). In the mid-1960s, Ford unleashed a cultural phenomenon inside the American motoring world introducing the Mustang. The Ford Mustang spawned the pony car segment  as its inexpensive performance and practicality proved tempting for younger drivers. The SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) was immediately positioned to take advantage of a newly-formed rivalry formed between the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro by hosting the cars on track in the Trans-Am Series. 

Running shorter distance races to the NASCAR Grand National series, the Grand Touring Division was born in 1968 as a support event to the more prestigious tour; eventually reshaping the premier series with its talent and ideas. While the NASCAR Grand Touring served as a battleground between pony cars with the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, AMC Javelin and the before-mentioned Mercury Cougar mainstay models in the 1968 field. Smaller capacity engines of 305 cubic inches or less differentiated the competition from the Grand National cars and allowed for a more assorted variety of race machines. Other vehicles taking part in Grand Touring races included Dodge Darts, Porsche 911s and an Austin Cooper Larry Newton drove in the 1968 Darlington 250 event. A Fiat participated in the 1969 Paul Revere 250 held on the Daytona road course while a pair of Alfa Romeos was part of a possible entry list but didn’t compete.

The opening year of the NASCAR Grand Touring division featured a heavy-hitting charge from legend team owner Bud Moore. In 1967, Bud Moore Engineering had been campaigning Mercury Cougars in the SCCA Trans Am series but was had support cut off as Ford Motor Company at the end of the year fearing the team was cannibalizing the auto manufacturer’s efforts showcasing the Mustang. Moore’s race-ready Cougars quickly found a new home in the early years of the new NASCAR series.

Tiny Lund won the first Grand Touring Division title with Bud Moore’s Mercury and would settle into becoming a series superstar capturing the champion again in 1970 as well as 1971. Buck Baker, acclaimed road racer Peter Gregg, Donnie Allison and country singer Marty Robbins were notable competitors during the first season. For the 1969 season, 22-year-old Kentucky native Darrell Waltrip would make a handful of starts in Grand Touring. Though Waltrip would have limited success in the series, he would go on to become a stock car legend with three NASCAR Cup series championships. Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress compiled some of his earliest NASCAR experience racing in the Grand Touring. Childress’ best result was a 3rd place finish in the 1970 Casey 200 at the 0.5-mile dirt track on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. 

Future NASCAR Cup Series Car Owner Richard Childress Inside Chevrolet Camaro for NASCAR Grand American Competition (ISC Archives/NASCAR) 

The Grand Touring Division would compete at the Daytona International Speedway since its inception, the series races were staged on the road course. The Paul Revere 250 took place on July 4th of 1968 with Lloyd Ruby taking the win. A second Daytona road race for the Grand Touring division would be added the following year during Speed Weeks festivities named the Citrus 250. 

In addition to featuring a handful of foreign vehicles, Grand Touring also welcomed drivers from outside of the United States. Japanese driver Seiichi Suzuki made three starts in the series at the Daytona International Speedway with a best finish of 4th place coming in 1969 in a Bud Moore prepped Mercury.

Although the Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval was off limits to the Grand Touring cars, they would be instrumental in NASCAR’s christening of the all-new 2.66-mile Alabama International Motor Speedway (known today as Talladega Superspeedway). The 151-lap NASCAR Grand Touring race called the ‘Bama 400 held on September 13th 1969 was won by Ken Rush staged one day before the planned inaugural Talladega 500 for the NASCAR Grand National series. However, prior to the running of the Talladega 500, concerns arose from drivers that the high speeds experienced by the more powerful Grand National cars would lead to tire failures and major accidents that made the race too dangerous. The Professional Drivers’ Association (effectively an attempted union by major NASCAR drivers helmed by Richard Petty who served as president) decided to withdraw from the event on the evening before race day. With 32 drivers leaving the Alabama International Motor Speedway, only a handful of Grand National entrants remained. Despite having already run a 400-mile competition on Saturday, NASCAR invited the Grand Touring division cars to participate in Sunday’s Talladega 500. With 36 cars starting the Grand National event won by Richard Brickhouse, 23 were Grand Touring machines. 

1972 Postcard for NASCAR Grand American Mainstay Tiny Lund with Pepsi-sponsored #55 Pontiac Firebird

For 1970, NASCAR changed its name from the Grand Touring to the Grand American series with focus for firmly devoted to American-produced pony cars. Although car counts remained relatively steady in NASCAR’s Grand National Division, competitors in the top tier Grand National series during the early 1970s began to diminish due to the reduction of factory financing from auto companies as well as an economic recession. In an effort to bolster the car count for select races in 1971, Grand American cars were permitted to compete alongside the heavier Grand National vehicles. Six NASCAR short track races would be run with the mixed division format with two races won by Tiny Lund driving a Chevrolet Camaro. A regular Grand National series competitor, Bobby Allison drove a Grand American Ford Mustang at the Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium recognizing a potential performance advantage with the smaller, lighter vehicle. Those victories by Allison and Lund are not recognized as Grand National/Cup Series wins proving controversial among some NASCAR fans when reflecting on Bobby Allison’s career record officially standing at 83 Cup series wins.

The 1972 tour was final season for the NASCAR Grand American series with Wayne Andrews taking the championship title. 

In addition to providing a springboard for Hall of Fame drivers and owners, the Grand Touring/Grand American series would serve as a division where the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro would find NASCAR success decades before the vehicles’ adoption in the modern Cup series.



Legends of stock car racing by John Albert Craft

NASCAR The Complete History (2003 Edition) by Greg Fielden

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