“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Legendary ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay spoke those words every Saturday afternoon for 37 years, from 1961-1998, when ESPN became the premier sports broadcasting channel. Those words of Jim McKay were heard in millions of American homes.
ABC Sports was particularly fond of showing motorsports. Every Saturday afternoon, millions of American children (and adults!) were treated to 90 minutes of non-mainstream motorsports like NASCAR, NHRA, demolition derbies, surfing, and even the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. While I’ve never seen the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, it must have been good enough to be shown on one of the very few TV channels on the air at the time. This is when IROC racing entered the motorsports scene in the early 1970’s. It ran for a good 15 years or so, reaching it’s peak around 1980. There was no other place where you could watch NASCAR legends like Richard Petty and Bobby Allison duke it out with F1 legends like Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme. Throw in Mario Andretti, and you were bound to sit back and watch one hell of a ride.
The late Chris Economaki was always commentating on some form of motorsports, and his talent showed during the pre-race commentary of IROC V. IROC V was the 5th IROC season, and the year was 1978.
While most younger Camaro enthusiasts will think that IROC was simply an option package developed for the Camaro starting in 1985, there’s more to the story. The story behind IROC goes all the way back to 1973 with Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Mike Phelps (no relation to the swimmer of the same name!) all had the amazing idea to put 12 of the world’s greatest race car drivers in identical cars to compete on road courses and NASCAR superspeedways alike in a four-race series. Richter was cautious enough to say that the IROC series might not determine who the best driver was, “but we sure go a long way towards that goal.”
The first IROC season was the 1974 season, and it kicked off on October 27, 1973. It consisted of 4 events with all racing done in identically-prepared Porsche 911 RSR’s. For the 1975 season, Chevrolet came on board, and the Chevrolet Camaro was the car of choice.
Here are some pictures that have only recently been released to the public. Enjoy.