"George the Giant Killer"
Photos and story by Harry Kennison
In the early 60's sports-car racing in the US really began to come into its own with the creation of the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) pro series. The cars included everything from Chaparrals and Lolas powered by Chevy and Ford V-8s to Cobras, Corvettes, and, of course, Porsches. Because of the disparity in speed between the all-out sports racers and the lesser-powered production sports cars, the USRRC decided to divide the series into two classes based on engine size. There would be an over 2 liter class for the Chaparrals, Lolas, and other home-grown V-8 specials, and an under 2 liter class for the Porsches, Lotus's, and the like. Drivers would be awarded points on how they finished in the nine-race series within their class, and the driver with the most points at the end of the season would be the champion.
For 1965 the team to beat in the USRRC was the Chaparral 2A's fielded by Texas engineer-oil man Jim Hall and his business partner Hap Sharp. Although GM had pulled out of racing, it was well known that Hall received an ample amount of support from Chevrolet.
As a warm-up to the USRRC, Hall and Sharp drove their Chaparral to an outright win in the 12-hour endurance race in Sebring, Florida, beating the factory Ferraris, Ford GT's, and Cobras. Then the team from Texas went on to dominate virtually every round of the USRRC series, with Hall taking 5 wins and Sharp taking 2 wins, plus a combined win in the final 500-mile race of the year. A championship performance, right? Wrong.
Out in California, George Follmer, a young former insurance broker turned auto racer, had a better idea. George thought that he just might be able to win the USRRC with the right car and the right engine. He knew he wouldn't stand a chance in a straight shoot-out with the Chaparrals, so he bought a somewhat fragile-looking Lotus 23 sports racer and replaced the underpowered four-cylinder engine with a Porsche 904 engine (I know some of you were beginning to wonder how this tied in with our beloved Porsches). While the Chaparrals were garnering the headlines, Follmer proceeded to take his Porsche-powered sports racer to 6 wins, 2 second places, and just one DNF (Did Not Finish), and beat Jim Hall in the mighty Chaparral for the championship by 2 points!
The following year, the USRRC evolved into the fabled CanAm series, and George Follmer would drive a turbocharged Porsche 917-10 to the 1972 Championship, erasing any doubts that his USRRC championship was a fluke.