Stephen Cox blogs about Shelby American’s legendary Group 2 Mustang racers, Part 3 of 3.

    John McComb ordered a new car for 1967. The choice was easy. Given his success in the 1966 Group 2 Mustang, he ordered a new notchback for 1967 to pick up where he left off with the Shelby program. The ‘67 Mustang was the model’s first major redesign and the car gained both size and weight. McComb didn’t care for either.

    “Even though the ’67 car had a wider track, it was a heavier car, so I don’t really think the wider track helped,” McComb said. “The ’66 car was just a very reliable, quick car. I always thought the ’66 was better than the ’67 anyway.“

    While awaiting delivery of the new car, McComb pulled his old mount out of the garage to start the new season. It still ran strong, competing at the Daytona 300 Trans-Am race on February 3, 1967 and in the 24 Hours of Daytona the following day. In March, McComb returned to familiar grounds and took second in the amateur A/Sedan race at Green Valley, and again participated in the Trans-Am event the following day. The car’s final race under McComb’s ownership was the Trans-Am at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 11th.

    His new racecar became available just days later and McComb sold the #12 Group 2 Mustang to Keith Thomas, a Kansas native who had shown considerable ability winning club races throughout the region. Thomas campaigned the car against stiffening competition in the A/Sedan Midwest Division, ironically finishing second in the championship hunt only to John McComb’s new car.

    This gave the #12 Group 2 Mustang a unique place in road racing history. Not only did it claim a share of John McComb’s A/Sedan championship by scoring points for McComb early in the 1967 title chase, but it also clinched second place in the same series in the hands of Keith Thomas. By virtue of Thomas’ runner-up standing in the series, the car earned a second invitation in the AARC at Daytona where it scored yet another top five finish.

    Keith Thomas continued driving the #12 Group 2 Mustang in 1968 and 1969, finishing third in the series both years. Although the car was now well past its prime, Thomas set a new A/Sedan track record while winning at Wichita’s Lake Afton Raceway. He continued to rack up wins at places like Texas International Speedway, Oklahoma’s War Bonnet Park and the SCCA Nationals at Salina, Kansas throughout the late-1960s.

    Now sporting a new livery, the car ran a limited schedule from 1971-73, after which it was retired from auto racing. The car traded hands later that year and again in 1978, each time distancing itself a bit more from its proud past while being repeatedly repainted and renumbered. Finally, in 1984, the car came into the possession of car collector Gary Spraggins. By this time its true identity had been lost and Spraggins was unsure of its provenance. He bought the car anyway.

    Spraggins recalled that the Mustang had been repainted in “school-bus yellow” with black Le Mans stripes. There were no Shelby markings to be found anywhere on the car, but still Spraggins suspected that the vehicle might be something special. He noticed several items that were unique to Shelby GT350Rs, including the Cobra intake manifold, the Holley 715 carburetor and the A-arms that had been relocated to lower the car by one-inch. Mechanically, everything about the car screamed “Shelby” although no one really knew for sure.

    The moment of truth came when Spraggins took the car home for a closer inspection. “When I raised the trunk lid up, of course, the inside of the trunk area was black, but you could see the Le Mans stripes overspray down in there,” Spraggins remembered.

    “Oh, man, I knew what those colors represented – Shelby cars. And I got some paint remover and lightly put it over the black Le Mans stripe on the trunk and wiped it off, and there was the prettiest blue Le Mans stripe there. It’s like, oh, my gosh!”

    Spraggins immediately wrote to the Shelby American Automobile Club, describing the car and asking if the VIN could be verified as a Shelby product. The response came on November 12th.

    “Looks like you’ve found one of the original Shelby 1966 Trans-Am cars,” the letter began. “Your car was originally sold to Turner Ford in Wichita, KS. I think they may still be in business…”

    SAAC national director, Rick Kopec, signed the letter. And so did Carroll Shelby.

    Spraggins could barely contain his enthusiasm and quickly set to work restoring the car to its original 1966 livery and condition, not realizing that an aging John McComb had also entertained the idea of finding his old mount. He just didn’t know where to look.

    “I was very excited at that time that I had found a needle in a haystack,” Spraggins said. “Nobody knew anything about these cars, so in order to track down the original driver – you know, John McComb – I just started calling information in the Wichita area.”

    On a hot summer afternoon in late-July 1985, the telephone on John McComb’s desk rang again. On the other end was car collector Gary Spraggins calling with the surprising news that his famous #12 Group 2 Mustang had been found. When McComb saw photos of the newly restored Mustang, he said, “My immediate reaction was, ‘That’s my car!’ What a super job you have done on it.”

    When asked to critique the restoration and help them convert the car to its precise 1966 condition, McComb confessed to a pair of secrets that he’d kept for nearly 30 years.

    “We cheated in two places on the bodywork. One was on the lower front valance where the license plate goes. We took those two little tabs off and opened it up a little. We also opened up the front fenders just a little. We rolled the inner lip around a welding rod to give it more strength for nerfing. We never got caught on either one.”

    Eventually, even Carroll Shelby was reunited with the newly restored #12 Group 2 Mustang at a car show in the mid-1990s. He recognized it instantly. “This was the last year I was really interested in racing,” he lamented to Mustang Monthly.

    “We had won Le Mans in 1966 and then the Trans-Am series came along. A lot of our good guys had moved on to other things because we had been winning for so many years.”

    When it came to North American road racing, the Group 2 Mustangs were Shelby’s last stand. Largely forgotten by car collectors worldwide, these amazing racecars won the first Trans-Am title for Ford and were among the most dominant sportscars their era. They left an indelible imprint on the American road-racing scene of the 1960s. Then they simply disappeared.

    Standing at the car’s freshly repainted rear fender, Shelby crossed his arms, took one last glance at the #12 Group 2 Mustang and gave a long sigh. “After 1966, we were concentrating on building volume. Unfortunately, the racing programs didn’t have much priority after this.”

    NOTE: All photos are courtesy of Mecum Auctions. The driver in the cockpit photo is owner/driver John McComb preparing for a race in the late-1960s.

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  • Ciabatti: Iannone must curb his enthusiasm

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    resized_00051498.mediagallery_output_image_.1920x1080Andrea Iannone must curb his enthusiasm according to Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti after crashing into his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso during the penultimate corner of last weekends Argentine Grand Prix.

    Ducati were on course to celebrate their first double podium of the season at the weekend after both of their riders had dispatched of Valentino Rossi on the final lap of the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, before in the final corner a suicide lunge by Iannone saw both Factory Ducati riders crash out of the podium positions. 

    Despite apologising for the move, it does leave Iannone under pressure from Ducati.

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  • Lowes hoping to replicate 2015 success at COTA

    0065_P02_Lowes.2016 (1)

    Sam Lowes is hoping to replicate his 2015 success at the Circuit of the America’s and claim his second win in the Moto2 World Championship.

    Last season saw Lowes on the Speed Up bike claim his maiden Moto2 victory in Austin after dominating all weekend. Since his 2015 victory Lowes has moved from the Speed Up chassis over to the much preferred Kalex machine with the Gresini team, ahead of his move to MotoGP in 2017.

    On the back of a strong second place last weekend in Argentina and after finding a good set-up with his new Gresini Kalex, the 25-year-old Brit doesn’t see any reason why he can’t achieve the same result this year.

    “It was really important to get a good result in Argentina because at the first Grand Prix in Qatar we have been unlucky,” said Lowes, who’s currently third in the World Championship standings,

  • IndyCar – Three Up, Three Down at the Texas Motor Speedway

    We’re going to try a new regular feature here at FBC as part of our expanding coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series called “Three Up, Three Down.” After each race, we will post our thoughts on three of the positive (three up) and three not-so-positive (three down) aspects of the race weekend. First up is the Firestone 600 last Saturday at the Texas Motor Speedway.

    Three Up

    Great racing with out the packs.
    Eddie Gossage complained prior to the event about the lack of pack racing removing the excitement from the race at his speedway, but the action was anything but boring last Saturday night. There was lots of action throughout the grid, but especially at the front with multiple lead changes made by passes on track, not in the pits.

    Honda becoming more competitive.
    The Chevrolet lump has been superior to Honda’s from the beginning, but the difference in aerodynamic design philosophies has exacerbated the issue this season. While Honda has piled elements on top of more elements, Chevrolet has chosen a more minimalist mindset. This aligns well with one of my guiding principles from designer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Although Honda has been struggling this year, they’re gaining ground. They showed strong during the race in spite of the Chevrolet powerhouses of Team Penske and Chip Gannasi Racing surging at the end to secure the top four positions. Marco Andretti, and teammate Carlos Muñoz were strong all race long.

    Clean racing and no upside down cars.
    Perhaps a disappointment to the NASCAR crowd who are always looking for “The Big One”, but Saturday’s race was clean flag-to-flag. There was a yellow for a debris caution about a third of the way through the race, but there was no car-on-car or car-on-wall violence. This is not especially unusual at Texas. With it’s high-banking, there are several viable racing lines around the Texas Motor Speedway offering sufficient grip to make the cars easier to manage than they were at Indianapolis.

    Three Down

    Where were all the people?
    It used to be that the Texas Motor Speedway attendance would top 100,000 fans, but there were 50,000 fans there on Saturday, I’m a monkey’s uncle! Race attendance is still strong at road and street circuits, but oval attendance has been waning in recent years. The constant refrain from the die-hard IndyCar enthusiasts has been for more oval races on the schedule, but ticket sales at the left-turn-only events continue to underperform. I’m not sure what to make of this. The racing since the introduction of the DW12 has been pretty darn good, but the fans just aren’t opening their wallets to attend the races. I might write an op-ed piece on this topic later.

    The Lap 83 phantom debris caution.
    Back in 2010, I remember watching Ryan Briscoe drive his Team Penske machine to a dominant victory at the Texas Motor Speedway. He had lapped up to P5, and I was really hoping he’d be able to lap the entire field before the end of the race. Unfortunately, as happened last Saturday, someone saw a hot dog wrapper and threw a debris caution. The caution last Saturday was the only interruption to the the green-flag racing and it didn’t really disrupt the action, although it did appear unnecessary. Perhaps someone who was there can verify the presence of debris?

    OMG it was hot!
    PaulTracy-IndyCar-Texas-ShortsTexas in June, even early June, is always hot. I’ve been to this race a few times, and during the afternoon is it nearly unbearable! By the time the race begins, however, the temperatures moderate to a tolerable level. This year, a good friend of mine who was present texted that it was still in the 90s during the race. That’s just brutal. Even Paul Tracy, who was working as a commentator for NBCSN, gave up on the lower-half of his professional garb in favour of some cool and stylish shorts.

    So what was your take on the second oval race of the season? What did YOU like and dislike about the event?

  • IndyCar Firestone 600 Race Report

    Much too often, Will Power seems to be his own worst enemy, even if he is beginning to take the form of the enemy in the eyes of some of his competitors. At the halfway point of Saturday night’s Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, Power appeared to be all but running away with the race. But on the last round of pit stops, the Australian bit himself once again by receiving a drive through penalty for speeding in pit lane, his fourth offense in the last five races.

    Carpenter Indycar texas

    Ed Carpenter had slowly made progress throughout the race, one in which many drivers found their handling growing worse as the night progressed. The Indianapolis native was able to catch and pass Power with sixty laps to go, eventually opening up a gap of seventeen seconds over the Penske car in the waning laps.
    Following the last set of stops and Power’s drive through penalty, the running order was Carpenter, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Power. However, a blown engine and oil fire on the A.J. Foyt Racing car of Takuma Sato led to a yellow flag with just a handful of laps remaining.

    With only six cars on the lead lap, Pagenaud and Power were both able to pit for new tires without losing position on track. This decision proved vastly beneficial to both. With what essentially ended as a green-white-checkered finish, Pagenaud was able to get around both of the Ganassi cars to finish fourth with his fresher rubber. Power was able to do much better, passing all three of those drivers and getting past Montoya for second as the two came out of the final corner on the last lap.

    In a race which is often filled with yellow flags, Saturday night’s was slowed by just three. Marco Andretti and Sato bookended the race with blown engines which each resulted in fires, Andretti’s being the more spectacular of the two. Justin Wilson and Sebastien Bourdais made contact between Turns 3 and 4, sending both hard into the outside wall. Wilson laid blame on Bourdais, claiming that the Frenchman had forced him low in the corner, thus sending him into a spin which sent him back up the track and into Bourdais.

    Indycar Texas 2014

    The Andretti team had a night to forget, with Carlos Munoz, who spun on entry to the pits under the Wilson/Bourdais yellow period, being the team’s highest place finisher in 13th.

    Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay had his second straight weekend of problems, with mechanical issues putting him out near the midpoint of the race.
    For Ed Carpenter’s small, single car self-owned team, 2014 has been a good year so far. Mike Conway, who drives for the squad on road and street courses, won earlier in the year at Long Beach. Combined with the team owner’s pole at Indy and now the win in Texas, Ed Carpenter Racing is proving to be the little team that could.

    2014 IndyCar Firestone 600 Results
    1. Ed Carpenter Carpenter/Chevy 2h01m25.5758s
    2. Will Power Penske/Chevy +0.5247s
    3. Juan Pablo Montoya Penske/Chevy +0.5771s
    4. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda +1.1514s
    5. Scott Dixon Ganassi/Chevy +2.1510s
    6. Tony Kanaan Ganassi/Chevy +2.4464s
    7. Mikhail
    Aleshin Schmidt/Honda -1 lap
    8. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy -1 lap
    9. Ryan Briscoe
    Ganassi/Chevy -1 lap
    10. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Chevy -1 lap
    11. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda -1 lap
    12. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda -2 laps
    13. Carlos Munoz Andretti/Honda -3 laps
    14. James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Honda -4 laps
    15. Jack Hawksworth Herta/Honda -4 laps
    16. Carlos Huertas Coyne/Honda -4 laps
    17. Sebastian Saavedra KV/Chevy -4 laps

    18. Takuma Sato
    Foyt/Honda 238 laps
    19. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Honda 136 laps
    20. Sebastien Bourdais KV/Chevy
    118 laps
    21. Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda 118 laps
    22. Marco Andretti Andretti/Honda 3 laps