By the mid-1960s, road racing in America had enjoyed steady growth; stretching from Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake in the late 1940s, to tracks throughout the American landscape. Some tracks, like Florida’s Sebring Circuit, were nothing more than a converted Army Air Corps training ground for American airmen during World War II. Other tracks, like California’s Riverside Raceway, were built expressly to embrace the newfound affection America has found for a form of motorsport that is inherently European.
American automakers were slightly less willing to embrace this new love affair. The mid-1950s were a tragic time in road racing, particularly at Europe’s largest event held every June at Le Mans in France. These tragic events led the American auto industry to ban racing in 1957, which officially meant that there could be no factory-backed racing efforts for American automakers. Manufacturers knew that racing, especially road racing, was necessary to develop and test new products and technologies that companies were developing for their tram line. Many companies worked “under the table” in a kind of government-style “black ops” to put their products in the hands of brokers to gain the knowledge they were looking for to further develop their products.
The only thing that couldn’t uphold the racing ban was America’s youth. In the early 1960s, a population of young Americans was captivated by the pop culture and technological advances of their time. In 1964, Ford Motor Company fired one of the biggest shots the auto industry has ever seen, introducing the new Mustang. The Mustang was small by American standards of the time and could be powered by Ford’s venerable new small-block V-8. Aspiring racers were quick to lean towards the new car, which had its own indirect performance parts development program ready to go thanks to Carroll Shelby and his Ferrari-devouring Cobras that had been stalking the world’s road racing circuits since. 1962. With the help of the SCCA and the growing number of tracks in North America to race on, Mustangs quickly experienced rapid track success. This left the other American manufacturers scrambling to find a remedy for Ford’s dominance in road racing, and the SCCA was eager to provide the perfect setting for such a shooting to occur.
For the 1966 season, the SCCA announced that it would sanction a new series titled “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 kinds of competition within an event. The first class was that of production cars of more than two liters of displacement, or O2L. The second class was for production cars with an engine displacement of less than two liters, or U2L. While European brands were to dominate the U2L class; Both American manufacturers and road racers had their sights set on the O2L class, where they could run big V-8s in their compact coupe lines. While Mustang had an advantage in the number of teams and cars, they had more than a handful of competition from very enthusiastic teams that chose to go a different route than Ford’s pony car. One of these teams that broke away from the path laid out by Ford’s Total Performance Program was Group 44 Racing.
Group 44 Racing was spawned by Bob Tullius, a young racer who began his career in the early 1960s racing in the Mid-Atlantic region and making his way onto the American road racing scene. For the 1966 season, Tullius and his Group 44 partner, Dick Gilmartin, put together a new Dodge Dart in Trans Am’s inaugural season. Bob has always had a reputation for exceptionally high standards, much of which has been proven in Group 44’s success over the years, but nonetheless, its high standards can make it a bit difficult to deal with from time to time. Dick Gilmartin had secured Group 44 the sponsorship of Quaker State Motor Oil, only to become a victim of ever-increasing standards within Group 44. However, the Quaker State money stayed with Group 44 Racing, and the American Racing White Dodge Dart took to the track for the first time on March 25, 1966 in Sebring, Florida. With Gilmartin having left the team, Bob asked young Tony Adamowicz to report as co-driver for the four-hour Sebring Trans Am event.
Tony Adamowicz was gaining fame by racking up event victories at the Sports Car Club of America’s North East Region driving a Volvo PV-544. Bob came to recognize Tony’s accomplishments in piloting Sweden’s heavy metal sled and asked Tony to join him at the 1966 Sebring event. The result was spectacular, with Tony and Bob finishing second overall behind a Alfa Romeo U2L 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 273-cubic-inch engineered engine producing over 350 horsepower, continued to amaze the team and racing fans alike throughout the 1966 Trans Am season. The Tullius driver duo and Adamowicz continued to dominate the Trans Am endurance events; finishing first at the Marlboro 12 Hours, sixth at Green Valley and second at Riverside. These results gave the Group 44 Dart a top 5 in the 1966 Championship season.
Things seemed to have gotten off to a great start in 1967, with Bob driving the Dart to a victory in the first race of the season at Daytona, Florida. Success was limited for the little white Mopar after that event, as teams with strong manufacturer support advanced through the series. Bud Moore Racing entered the scene with Mercury’s new Cougar XR7 and in 1967 a well-known Pennsylvania team principal appeared with Chevrolet’s new Camaro. The debut of these two teams marked the beginning of a factory-backed muscle car shootout that would last until 1972 and would eventually see AMC, a brand known for making the most austere cars, enter and win two titles.
As for the cast of characters behind the incredible 1966 season of Group 44 Dart; Bob Tullius would continue his Group 44 Racing project for almost two more decades, winning some of the most prestigious titles in North America at some of the most famous circuits on the continent. In particular, Tullius would engage with British Leyland and deliver outstanding results for brands like Triumph and Jaguar.
Tony Adamowicz would leave Group 44 in late 1967, finally joining Marv Davidson in 1968 and winning the U2L crown in a Porsche 911. Tony would then go on to win the 1969 F5000 championship in Milestone Racing’s AAR Eagle Chevy. This then opened the door to driving for Ferrari’s NART (North American Racing Team) in 1970, one of the most successful endurance racing teams to ever hit 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 at a 2009 F5000 Class Championship in classic 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 clothing.
Through the years; Group 44 Racing, and those involved with the team, have accomplished incredible things in road racing. One thing is for sure; without the efforts of Bob Tullius, Tony Adamowicz, the crew, and the Dodge Dart that made up the 1966 Trans Am campaign; The road racing landscape in North America would definitely not be as bright as it is today.