By: Ken Breslauer
February 22, 2013
The GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series makes its Road Atlanta debut April 19-20. Formed in 1999, it is recognized as the most competitive road racing series in North America, if not the world, due to its close competition and wild finishes.
But the GRAND-AM name is not really new to Road Atlanta.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, NASCAR sanctioned a series known as "Grand-American" (often called the "Baby Grand Series"). It consisted primarily of American muscle "pony cars" like Mustangs and Camaros. The Grand-American series raced primarily on short ovals in the south. However, in 1971 Grand-American visited Road Atlanta, which had opened just a year earlier.
On May 23, 1971 a field of 35 Grand-American NASCAR racers took the green flag in an unusual format – two 50-lap heats – with the results "combined" to determine the overall winner of the 100-lap total. In other words, the race had a "halftime" like a football game!
As with most Grand-American races, "Tiny" Lund dominated both heats in his 1969 Camaro (Tiny wasn't so "Tiny" at 6-foot 5-inches and 300 pounds). Veteran road racer Gene Felton took second place in his Camaro, followed by Buck Baker in a Firebird and Bobby Allison in a Cougar. Finishing fifth was celebrity Dick Smothers, host of the Smother Brothers television show! Ironically, the first car out of the race was the defending Daytona 500 champion Pete Hamilton. There were only two foreign cars in the field, a Fiat and a BMW, and neither were competitive against the thundering heard of American muscle cars.
The Grand-American series ended the following year, and has faded into history. Few remember this NASCAR series, which is a shame because it was similar to Trans-Am but oriented toward ovals.
In the four years Grand-American existed, it attracted NASCAR regulars such as Donnie Allison, Buck Baker, James Hylton, Dick Brooks and Tiny Lund, who all became better than average road racers. But it was Lund (a former Daytona 500 winner) who emerged as king of the series, winning an incredible 41 times in just the four years the series existed. Road racers Don Yenko and Vince Gimondo also won races, and even Indy 500 ace Lloyd Ruby won once, but it was Tiny Lund who dominated. Sadly, he was killed at Talladega a few years later in a NASCAR Winston Cup race.
GRAND-AM is coming April 19-20 - it should be a fantastic race! But remember that 42 years ago Grand-American came to Road Atlanta, and a BIG man named Tiny was the winner!