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Can-Am racing returns to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Spring Classic

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The track from the air. Image courtesy Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The Sports Car Club of America’s Canadian-American Challenge Cup, generally shortened to Can-Am, began as a way of bringing the FIA’s Group 7 sports racers to tracks and audiences in the United States and Canada. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, then just Laguna Seca, hosted a round of the Can-Am Series from its debut in 1966 through 1973, the series’ penultimate year. Consider by many to be the pinnacle of motorsport thanks to its high-horsepower cars and (almost) anything goes rules, Can-Am returns to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 19-21, part of a full weekend of Spring Classic vintage racing events.

The debut Can-Am race at Laguna Seca read like a “Who’s Who” of period racing greats, thanks in part to the generous purse paid courtesy of sponsorship from Johnson Wax. American Formula 1 champion Phil Hill was in the grid, as were Bruce McLaren, Mark Donohue, Masten Gregory, John Surtees, Charlie Parsons, George Follmer, Pedro Rodriguez, Denny Hulme, Parnelli Jones, Chris Amon, Dan Gurney and Sam Posey, to name but a few of the 38 entrants. Jim Hall, driving a Chevy-powered Chaparral 2E started on pole, alongside Hill, his teammate, also piloting a 2E.

Chaparral 2E Can Am

Phil Hill driving the Chaparral 2E during the 1966 Can-Am season. Photo courtesy GM Media.

When the checkered flag fell 106 laps later, Hill had taken the win in the Chaparral 2E, the innovative car’s sole Can-Am victory. Equipped with a clutchless, semi-automatic transmission, the Chaparral found another use for the third pedal; when depressed by the driver, it changed the rear wing’s angle of attack and blocked vents in the front of the car, reducing drag (and downforce) for greater straight-line speed. Releasing the pedal added downforce to both the front and rear of the car, thus increasing corning speeds.

Bruce McLaren finished third in the 1966 season standings, but things would change in 1967. The McLaren team (consisting of Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme) dominated the Can-Am series in 1967, winning five of the series’ six races, including the event at Laguna Seca. It may well have been a clean sweep, but both McLaren and Hulme suffered engine failures at the Las Vegas season-ender.

The following season, 1968, was also a good one for the McLaren team, which took wins in four of the six events. Laguna Seca, however, was won by Canadian John Cannon, driving a near-obsolete McLaren M1B. In 1969, the series expanded from six events to 11, with the McLaren team capturing victory at each race. The series became known as the “Bruce and Denny show,” and even Bruce McLaren’s untimely death in June 1970 had no impact on the team’s dominance in Can-Am. That year, Hulme captured another championship for McLaren, while Dan Gurney and Peter Gethin piloted the team’s second car.

McLaren M8B

Stirling Moss, Bruce McLaren (cockpit, L) and Denny Hulme with a McLaren M8B during the 1969 Can-Am season. Photo courtesy McLaren.

Change was on the horizon, though the 1971 season would see McLaren (and driver Peter Revson) capture one final Can-Am championship. In 1972, Porsche’s 917/10 debuted, leading to a championship for George Follmer (substituting for the injured Mark Donohue) and Penske Racing, including a victory for Follmer at Laguna Seca.  The following year, 1973, saw the introduction of the more-powerful Porsche 917/30, and aside from a pair of early season losses (to Porsche 917/10s), the series, and the championship, belonged to Mark Donohue and Roger Penske Enterprises.

Porsche 917 30

Mark Donohue behind the wheel of the Porsche 917/30 during the 1973 season. Photo courtesy Porsche AG.

Then, it was over. With concern growing about the series’ rising cost and the message that such conspicuous consumption sent in the face of a looming fuel shortage, the Can-Am series was cancelled just five races in the 1974 season. Its loss created a vacuum in motorsports that has never been filled, and it isn’t likely that the future will give rise to a series whose only rules are, “add a passenger seat and don’t mount the rear wing on the suspension.”

The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Spring Classic will feature events beyond Can-Am as well, and other vintage classes scheduled to run include 1967-’72 Formula B, 1973-’84 SCCA production GT cars, 1966-’72 Trans Am over 2.5-liter, 1973-’79 Formula Atlantic, 1966-’72 Trans Am 2.5-liter, 1983-2007 World Sports Car Le Mans Prototype, 1979-2006 Historic Stock Cars, and 1967-‘84 Formula 1.

For additional details, or to purchase tickets, visit