Racing legends Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant headlined the latest class for the Sports Car Club of America’s Hall of Fame, which was officially inducted on Saturday night in Charlotte.
Kathy Barnes, Dr. Bob Hubbard, Jim Downing, and Pete Hylton were also inducted alongside Gurney, a past winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Bondurant, who transitioned from a solid sports car driving career to running the highly-regarded performance driving school that bears his name.
Gurney was not in attendance for the ceremony but passed along a letter in which he thanked the SCCA for the honor.
In the message, he recalled a critical letter he himself sent the group in 1958, which chastised the SCCA for not allowing professionals to race in their ranks.
“The SCCA did not stay shortsighted for long,” Gurney wrote according to a release. “Times and attitudes changed and professionals were soon allowed to race. The SCCA became a powerhouse in motorsports.
“Back then, I wanted to race more than I wanted to breathe. I wanted to make all of you proud of this American. I hope that once in a while, I succeeded.”
Hubbard and Downing were inducted thanks to their development of the life-saving HANS Device in the 1980s, as well as their push to make the HANS a standard piece of equipment in the sport.
“It was the dawning of a real innovative time in racing history, because there was never a device like that,” Hubbard recalled. “I got some money together through a state of Michigan grant for small businesses, and the studies showed that it worked (to prevent the basilar skull fractures common in motorsports at the time).
“At that point, we became morally obligated to pursue this.”
As for the other inductees, Barnes won multiple championships as a driver and has also served as a director and club racing steward within the SCCA. Hylton was recognized for his work as an author and archivist to preserve the history of the organization.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”