Five races, one ticket
by Steve Erlichman
In response to the 1974 energy crisis the folks at Watkins Glen combined their two summer race weekends into one giant road racing extravaganza. The 1974 Watkins Glen 5-Star Weekend featured no less than five professional race series in action. This included the 6-Hour WEC, Can-Am, Trans Am, F5000 and Super Vee races. The Trans-Am ran concurrently with the 6 Hour making for a truly huge field. Daytona and Sebring had already cancelled their endurance races that year. Thus the 6-Hour would be the only World Championship sports car race in the U.S. in 1974.
The greatest road racing weekend ever?
The 6-Hour was the race I was anticipating having attended my first Glen race at the 1969 6-Hour. The 1974 race brought back the screaming V12 Matras to defend their win from he previous year. Fresh from their third consecutive victory at LeMans, Matra entered two of the blue Gitanes sponsored MS670s. Drivers included LeMans winners Gerard Larousse, Henri Pescarolo, plus Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Jean-Pierre Jarier.
Autodelta sent two Alfa 33TT12s for Arturo Merzario and Rolf Stommelen. Mario Andretti was entered in both but only one would start the race. Porsche sent one of their Martini sponsored 911RSR Turbos in the hands of Herbert Muller and Gijs van Lennep.
Backing up the exotics was a strong field of U.S. cars and drivers entered for both the 6-Hour and the Trans-Am. Porsche was represented by Brumos with a 911RSR for Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood as well as Al Holbert’s team with his RSR for himself and Elliot Forbes-Robinson.
Hurtig Team Libra of John Buffum had a pair of BMW 3.0CSLs for himself and Andy Petery in one car and George Follmer and Brett Lunger in the other. Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team brought two Group 4 Ferrari Daytonas.
Side note: There was a spare NART Daytona sitting in the paddock with a Connecticut dealer plate taped to the trunk lid. I’ll bet the crew member that drove it over to the Glen from Greenwich, Conn. had a real blast!
Six Hours of Prototypes and GTs
At High Noon the 6-Hour field headed off behind the two Matras with Larousse leading from pole. They were followed by the Alfa and the Martini Porsche. The Matras and the Alfa immediately pulled away with the snarling field of GT cars following.
As the race settled down we noticed a plume of smoke rising from above the hill at turn 8. We thought it must have been a hell of a crash. But the field was still circulating at speed and no one seemed to be missing. This was the unheralded birth of the legendary Watkins Glen Bog. The Bog consumed a few cars that weekend in a constant haze of flame and smoke. However, the Bog’s most storied day would come later in the same year at the October Formula One Grand Prix.
The race was one of attrition. One Matra dropping out with mechanical issues and the sole Alfa ran into trouble on course with Mario driving. He stopped on course and attempted to fix it but the fuel pump drive belt had broken.
An Autodelta mechanic came out to where the car was and “by mistake” dropped a replacement belt and some tools over the fence. Mario got the car going but the corner workers saw the whole thing and reported it. The car was disqualified for receiving outside assistance.
This left one Matra and the Martini Porsche to fight for the win. In the end it was the Matra that took the win driven by the two Jean-Pierres. The win secured the World Championship for Matra.
The Martini Porsche came second with the Gregg/Haywood 911 third and first in Trans-Am.
That was just the first race!
The Sunday race lineup included F5000, Can-Am and Super Vee. The Can Am had suffered a bit by the withdrawal of Porsche after their dominance in 1972/73. This left the Shadows leading the 1974 field with drivers George Follmer and Jackie Oliver. The rest of the field was made up of various older McLarens and Lolas, etc. though there were some pretty interesting cars and personalities anyway.
Otto Zipper entered an Alfa 33/4 converted to Can-Am spec for Milt Minter. NART brought the big Ferrari 712P for Jean-Pierre Jarier but Brian Redman drove instead. It DNF’d in any case. Herbert Mueller had his own Ferrari 512M Spider in the Can-Am after driving the Martini Porsche Turbo in the 6 Hour. Sadly the car did not start the race due to a mechanical issue.
The Shadows finished first and second as expected, Oliver ahead of Follmer. Scooter Patrick was third in the U.S. Racing McLaren M20.
Single seaters in the mix too!
How about this list of drivers? The F5000 race had drivers Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Brett Lunger. Also Elliott Forbes-Robinson, David Hobbs and Sam Posey. Don’t forget Brian Redman, Graham McRae and Horst Kroll. Just to name the big ones.
Mario won the race in his Viceroy Lola with Brian Redman second in his Haas/Hall Lola. David Hobbs finished third in his Hogan Racing Lola.
Lastly there was the VW Gold Cup Super Vee race. Various chassises were all powered by the ubiquitous air-cooled 1.6 liter VW flat four engine. The drivers read like a who’s who of current and future stars. Howdy Holmes, Reeves Calloway, Tom Bagley, Bob Lazier, EFR and Bill Alsup. Even Hurley Haywood had a ride in this race. For the record, Bob Lazier won the race.
In the end….
We left feeling that we had witnessed something special. And we did!
There would never again be an event that would offer 5 major racing series in one event. The 1974 Watkins Glen 5-Star Weekend was a true bargain. All that racing for a $40 ticket!
Take a look at the photo gallery below from the 1974 Watkins Glen 5-Star Weekend.
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