Group 44 Dart – The Beginning of an American Road Racing Epic

By the middle 1960s, road racing in America had enjoyed steady growth; spreading from Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake in the late ’40s, to tracks all across the American landscape. Some tracks, like Florida’s Sebring circuit, was nothing more than a converted Army Air Corps training field for America’s aviators during the Second World War. Other tracks, like California’s Riverside Raceway, were purpose built to embrace America’s new found affection for a form of motor sport that was inherently European.

American auto manufacturers were a bit less willing to embrace this new found love. The middle 1950s was a tragic time in road racing, particularly at Europe’s biggest event held every June at Le Mans in France. These tragic occurrences led to the American motor car industry to form a racing ban in 1957, which officially meant that there could be no factory-backed racing efforts for America’s auto manufacturers. The manufacturers knew that racing, especially road racing, was needed to develop and test new products and technologies that the companies were developing for their line of street cars. Many companies worked “under the table” in a government style “black ops” kind of way to get their products into the hands of racers in order to get the knowledge they were after to develop their products further.

The one thing that couldn’t keep the racing ban in place was America’s youth. The early 1960s saw a population of young Americans that were captivated by the pop culture and technological advancements of their time. In 1964, Ford Motor Company fired one of the biggest shots the automotive industry has ever seen, by unveiling the all new Mustang. The Mustang was small by American standards of the day, and could be powered by Ford’s venerable new small block V-8. Would-be racers quickly gravitated towards the new car, which had its own indirect performance parts development program all ready going for it thanks to Carroll Shelby and his Ferrari-eating Cobras that had been stalking the world’s road race circuits since 1962. With the help of the SCCA and the growing number of tracks in North America to race at, Mustangs quickly experienced rapid success on the track. This left the other American manufacturers scrambling to come up with a remedy for Ford’s dominance in road racing, and the SCCA was all too willing to provide the perfect setting for such a shoot out to occur.

For the 1966 season, the SCCA announced that they would sanction a new series entitled “Trans Am”. This series would involve showroom-stock production-type machines that were readily available to the North American public. The rules allowed for two classes of competition within one event. The first class was that of production cars over two liters of engine displacement, or O2L. The second class was for production cars with an engine displacement of fewer than two liters, or U2L. While the European makes were to dominate the U2L class; American manufacturers and road racers alike had their targets fixed on the O2L class, where they could run large V-8s in their lines of compact coupes. While Mustang had an upper hand in numbers of teams and cars, they had more than a handful of competition from very enthusiastic teams choosing to go a different route than Ford’s pony car. One of these teams that split from the path laid out by Ford’s Total Performance Program was Group 44 Racing.

Group 44 Racing was fathered by Bob Tullius, a young racer that started his career in the early 1960s running in the Mid-Atlantic Region and working his way onto the American road racing scene. For the 1966 season, Tullius and Group 44 partner Dick Gilmartin arranged to run a new Dodge Dart in the inaugural Trans Am season. Bob has always had a reputation for exceptionally high standards, much of which has shown in the success of Group 44 over the years, but nonetheless his high standards can make him a bit tough to get on with from time to time. Dick Gilmartin had secured Group 44 the sponsorship of Quaker State Motor Oil, only to become a casualty of the ever increasing standards within Group 44. The Quaker State money stayed with Group 44 Racing though, and the American Racing White Dodge Dart took to the track for the first time on March 25, 1966 at Sebring, Florida. With Gilmartin having left the team, young Tony Adamowicz was asked by Bob to stand in as co-driver for the four hour Sebring Trans Am event.

Tony Adamowicz was gaining fame as he racked up event wins in the Sports Car Club of America’s North East Region driving a Volvo PV-544. Bob came to recognize Tony’s achievements piloting Sweden’s heavy metal sled, and requested Tony to co-drive with him at the 1966 Sebring event. The result was spectacular, with Tony and Bob finishing second overall behind a U2L Alfa Romeo driven by future F1 World Champion Jochen Rindt. The Group 44 Dart won the O2L class and set the stage for several dynasties to unfold in the years to come.

The little white Dart, with a blueprinted 273 cubic inch engine yielding upwards of 350 horsepower, continued to amaze both the team and race fans throughout the 1966 Trans Am season. The driving duo of Tullius and Adamowicz continued to dominate the Trans Am endurance events; finishing first at the 12 Hours of Marlboro, sixth at Green Valley, and second at Riverside. These results gave the Group 44 Dart a top 5 finish in the Championship for the 1966 season.

Things looked to be off to a great start for 1967, with Bob driving the Dart to a win at the first race of the season in Daytona, Florida. Success was limited for the little white Mopar after that event as teams with heavy manufacturer support moved in on the series. Bud Moore Racing came onto the scene with Mercury’s new Cougar XR7 and a soon to be very well known team manager from Pennsylvania appeared for 1967 with the all new Camaro by Chevrolet. These two teams debut marked the beginning of a factory-backed muscle car shoot out that would last until 1972 and eventually see AMC, a brand known for making the most austere of cars, enter and win two titles.

As for the cast of characters behind the Group 44 Dart’s amazing 1966 season; Bob Tullius would continue on with his Group 44 Racing project for nearly two more decades, winning some of North America’s most prestigious titles at some of the continents most famous circuits. Most notably, Tullius would become involved with British Leyland and deliver outstanding results for marques like Triumph and Jaguar.

Tony Adamowicz would leave Group 44 in late 1967, eventually to join Marv Davidson in 1968 and win the U2L crown in a Porsche 911. Tony would then move on to win the 1969 F5000 championship in Milestone Racing’s AAR Eagle Chevy. This then opened the door to drive for Ferrari’s NART (North American Racing Team) in 1970, one of the most accomplished endurance race teams ever to take to the track. Tony continued to drive at the professional level of sports car racing until the late 1980s. Even today, Tony is still racing, having been reunited with his 1969 Eagle F5000 car by Doug Magnon and driving the Eagle/Chevy to a 2009 F5000 Class Championship in vintage racing 40 years after the same car and driver combination won the F5000 title in 1969. Tony also operates a2zracergear, an online store for vintage racing apparel.

Over the years; Group 44 Racing, and those involved with the team, have accomplished some amazing things in road racing. One thing is for certain; without the effort put forth by Bob Tullius, Tony Adamowicz, the crew, and the Dodge Dart that made up the 1966 Trans Am campaign; the landscape of road racing in North America would most definitely not be as bright as it is today.



Source by Will Silk