Racing is in America’s blood. We started off racing horses, which is still one of the most profitable forms of betting to this day. We also love boat racing, whether it be sailboats or motor boats. We also love racing planes. It should only seem logical that we decided to race cars when they came out.
Our country has created some of the boldest, most successful and boldest racecars in history. These cars are some of my personal favorites, and they only scratch the surface of America’s storied racing heritage.
- Chaparral 2E: Chaparral’s 2D was a very successful racing chassis, the 2J earned immortality thanks to it’s snowmobile-engine-driven suction fans. The 2D was better than both combined. It ushered in the aerodynamics era thanks to it’s driver-adjustable rear wing (which was adjusted via a pedal in the cockpit) and it’s side-pod mounted water cooling system. It was pure Texan ingenuity. Every modern race car owes at least something to the Chaparral 2E.
- 1967 Gurney Eagle-Weslake Mk. 1: Dan Gurney was a true American racing pioneer. This is what I view to be his masterpiece. He also won a Formula 1 race in this car. That’s about as good as it gets, but I still love this car to pieces. The tiny 11,000 RPM V12 and styling that looks like a shark and torpedo are just icing on the cake.
- Lotus 56: It’s not just another turbine-powered IndyCar. It was a car that solidified the basic shape of most high-level race cars from 1967 on out. It sent the cigar shape packing. It also had a one-speed automatic and AWD. While turbines and AWD would be banned from future IndyCar seasons, the shape remained and evolved. Even though it’s got a Lotus name and Peter Chapman modifications, it’s still basically an all-American STP-Paxon car.
- 2016 Ford GT GTE: There was no doubt in any car or race fan’s mind when this car rained on every other car’s parade at the Detroit Auto Show this year. It’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 has been proven in the TUDOR Championship series, Chip Ganassi Racing has had lots of success racing Fords and is ready for a new challenge, and what might be most important to those automotive fans who like to cook (like me) is the fact that the rear diffuser is big enough to chiffonade an acre of potatoes without trying. The fact that it is dressed up in a very patriotic livery makes it just that much more amazing.
- Dodge Viper GTS-R Mk. 1: The original Dodge Viper GTS-R immediately proved that a big V10 is an essential asset in endurance racing. On it’s third outing at Le Mans, the SRT Motorsports team took a class win in 1998. Again in 1999 and 2000. You can’t forget the overall wins at the Nurburgring, Daytona, Spa, and the five (yes, five) FIA GT and two ALMS championships. Plus, the fact that it was incredibly intimidating helped.
- Corvette Racing’s C5.R, C6.R, and C7.R: For 17 years, The Corvette Racing team has put three generations of increasingly amazing Corvette race cars on the track. All have had an “.R” designation, except the first, which was a “-R.” They have proved themselves multiple times. 1999 marked the first year of the C5-R, which snatched three class wins at Le Mans (among many other wins). The C6.R took seven thundering liters of American muscle around the world, and won many races. The C7.R just grabbed the GTE Pro class win at Le Mans, and that was one of it’s first races!
- Panoz LMP-1 and LMP07: Many, many years before Nissan’s GT-R LM caused folks to scratch their heads as to why a front-engine endurance race car is a good idea, Panoz’s LMP-1 Roadster S and it’s less successful sibling LMP07 proved to the world that an endurance racing prototype does not need to carry their engine behind the driver. Neither car was wildly successful, but the LMP-1 certainly got into a few good battles with the BMW V12 LMRs and Ferrari 333 SPs to snag the 1999 ALMS team championship.
- Ford 999: Henry Ford should go down in the history books as a stark raving lunatic (for several reasons) because he took the crude, incredibly dangerous 18.9-liter Ford 999 racecar to 92 mph (the equivalent of somebody taking a car to 300 mph today) – a world record – on a frozen lake. The frozen lake was the only place large enough to get the car up to that speed. It made a whopping 80 horsepower, a lot of noise, and had killed a man a year before. It was a brutish, outrageous car that put Ford on the map, even if he became known for utilitarian and economical Model T’s and the now-legendary 1932 Ford.
- DeltaWing: No other American creation has so upset the normality of what race cars should look like as the Ben Bowlby-designed, Panoz-managed, Gurney’s All-American Racers-built DeltaWing. The car drastically reduced frontal area to reduce drag and fuel consumption. It worked, and even sparked a copycat (the Nissan ZEOD RC), even though it didn’t achieve any incredible success.
- Cadillac ATS-V.R: Cadillac attained massive success for ten years with the CTS-V.R in the Pirelli World Championship Series. Now it’s the turn for the ATS-V.R to take the reins. It’s got some big shoes to fill. It’s got a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V6 making somewhere around 600 horsepower that sits somewhere between the massive fender flares and the huge extractor hood. Between this car and the Ford GT GTE, it looks like most, if not all, future American race cars will have forced induction engines.
- Swift 007.i: The year 1997 was a lucky year. The team owned by Paul Newman and Carl Haas stopped running a Lola chassis, and switched to a chassis made by the American company Swift. The car had a Ford Cosworth engine, Goodyear tires, and an all-American driver in Michael Andretti. I should probably mention that it won it’s first-ever race outing. Talk about coming in with style. Oh, and I was born that year.
- Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe: This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful cars ever made, as well as one of the most successful. Carroll Shelby needed to make the already-successful Cobra 427 faster, but that meant he needed a more aerodynamic body. He brought on legendary designer Peter Brock, who helped design the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Brock designed a flowing, muscular body that still looks like nothing else on the track. The result was a smashing success. The car won the 24 Hours of Daytona, Le Mans, Spa, and countless other races.
- Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Superbird: Mopar’s “Winged Warriors” made aero cars illegal in NASCAR. That should be telling as to how good those cars were. They packed quite the punch with their 426 HEMI engines and special aerodynamics packages. NASCAR outlawed aero cars after 1970. Buddy Baker campaigned a Daytona through 1970, and Richard Petty had one of his most dominant years in 1970 with his Superbird. It’s also one of the most iconic race cars ever.
- 1966 Chevrolet Corvette: The 1966 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the best race cars Chevrolet ever had. It had a walloping punch with it’s 427 cubic-inch big block V8, with the code-name L-88. This engine made any car it was in a true monster. It’s still fast enough to show a modern NASCAR stock car how it’s done on a road course. It’s like carving a statue with a hydraulic shovel.