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George Follmer

Courtesy of Follmer Specialties

George Follmer is truly one of the living legends of auto racing. He is also one of the most versatile drivers in the world, having competed in virtually every form of auto racing, winning at most. Follmer is the only professional racing driver from the United States who has competed in Indy Cars, NASCAR, Formula 1, the World Endurance Championship, Can-Am, Trans-Am and IMSA. With this flexibility, his skills, and his record, George Follmer is considered by most people associated with motor sports as representing the epitome of his profession.

With a racing career now entering the second year of its fourth decade, George Follmer has competed throughout the "glory years" of auto racing with and against many of the legendary names of the sport. His first racing season, 1960, saw California Sports Car Club "Rookie of the Year" honors, followed by "Driver of the Year" and the SCCA U.S. Road Racing Championship ("USRRC") title in 1965.

George Follmer's impressive career start was followed by milestone after milestone, compris-ing a driving history equaled by few and surpassed by none. Driving racing machines now considered classics of the sport, some of Follmer's professional highlights follow.

  • Follmer won the 1965 USRRC Championship with an amazing performance driving an under-two-liter Lotus 23 powered by a Porsche 904 engine against such big-block performers as Jim Hall and Hap Sharpe in the classic Chaparral.
  • George Follmer
    George Follmer chalks up another win.
    Co-driving with Peter Gregg in a Porsche 904. Follmer took a class victory in the tortuous 1966 Sebring 12 Hour endurance classic.
  • As a teammate to Mark Donohue in 1967 and '68, George was the 1968 SCCA Trans-Am series runner-up to Donohue.

  • Between 1966 and 1971 driving such classics as a Mecom Lola, a Sunoco Lola, a Lola-Ford 67B, an AVS Shadow and a McLaren M8B, Follmer set nine Can-Am track records, failing to finish only once.

  • George drove the only Stock Block powered car ever to win a race in United States Auto Club Indy Car history to victory at Phoenix International Raceway in 1969.

  • 1970 saw a third place in driver's standings as part of the Bud Moore Ford Mustang team in the SCCA Trans-Am series. Though his teammate Parnelli Jones won the driving title, Follmer was instrumental in P.J.'s achievement and their combined efforts won the Trans-Am manufacturer's title for Ford. Follmer also notched two wins in Formula 5000 races that year, and started his second straight Indianapolis 500.

  • 1970 also was the year George Follmer made one of his most profound and lasting contributions to motor sports. Threatened with the loss of his racing license by the United States Auto Club if he drove in the California 500 (sanctioned by a competing organization) Follmer threatened to invoke the California "Right To Work Law". His adamant stance on the issue caused USAC to back down and established the prece-dent which now allows drivers to interchange freely among major sanctioning agencies without penalty.

  • In 1971, George drove for Roy Woods in both Trans-Am and Can-Am, campaigning the factory AMC Javelin while winning Riverside in a Can-Am McLaren, finishing third in the championship for that series.(1)

  • In 1972, George Follmer became the first and only driver ever to win both the Trans-Am and Can-Am championships, winning nine of fourteen races run. His first Can-Am race that year came about when Mark Donohue was injured and Roger Penske called upon Follmer as a temporary replacement. Never having seen the car or practiced in it. George drove the legendary Porsche 917 10K 'Turbo Panzer" to victory. His performance in the car convinced Penske to keep Follmer and ran a two-car team when Donohue recovered. George won five Can-Am races, with three pole positions and five fastest race lap records.

  • Follmer's 1972 Trans-Am championship came about driving the Roy Woods Javelin, with four wins in six starts.

  • Follmer's first Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1973 resulted in a sixth place finish at the South African GP, garnering championship points; a significant accomplishment for any professional driver. His second such race, George finished third at the Spanish Grand Prix behind Emerson Fittipaldi and Francois Cevert. Follmer ran the full season for the American UOP Shadow effort teamed with Jackie Oliver and the late Peter Revson.

  • Janet Guthrie, George Follmer, and Vasek Polak
    Janet Guthrie, George Follmer, and Vasek Polak.
    Also in 1973, in his "spare" time, Follmer placed second in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (the "Can-Am Championship") second in the International Race of Champions series ("IROC") and competed in the World Endurance Championship driving for Porsche.

  • 1974 represented another phenomenal season for George, with eleven top-ten finishes in NASCAR stockers driving the Bud Moore RC Cola Ford Torino along with another second place in the Can-Am Championship and another Formula 1 season teamed with Jackie Oliver.

  • The SCCA Trans-Am Champion in 1976, Follmer drove a Porsche 934 Turbo to victory on five occasions.

  • Driving a Porsche in selected IMSA events only throughout 1977, George finished second in the Watkins Glen 6-Hour endurance race teamed with Jackie Ickx, and second at Mid-Ohio with Al Holbert.

  • Competing again in IMSA, George took first place at Laguna Seca in a Porsche 935 in 1978, and placed third at Riverside teamed with Derek Bell. Also running Can-Am that year, Follmer won he San Jovite race.

Though he won at San Jovite, Laguna Seca proved his undoing, where he almost lost his life that same year. In a spectacular crash on the twisting Laguna Seca road course, Follmer's car suffered a stuck throttle and launched itself at full speed several hundred feet through the air, slamming into a hillside.(2) The Can-Am championship was lost, the car was destroyed and, most thought, Follmer's career along with it. George had broken an ankle and two vertebrae in his back. To the surprise of the racing community, but not to those who know him, George was back on the track less than a year after the crash in 1979. Follmer again pursued the Can-Am title in the Herb Caplan U S. Racing Chevy-powered Prophet.

In 1980 he ran only selected IMSA and Can-Am events, capping his "comeback" with one Trans-Am win at Charlotte and another most gratifying victory at Laguna Seca.

Since then, George has competed regularly in the Trans-Am series and, since 1983, has acted as the principal test driver for the International Race of Champions series, sorting and honing the Condition of the cars to keep them race-ready and identically prepared. Along with the wealth of experience he brings to the track, George is an experienced team leader and manager and plans to apply the knowledge he has gained through his involvement with IROC and his long-standing association with Porsche to the Carrera Cup. Whether he personally wins the championship or not, most racing aficionados expect to see more than one Carrera grace the winner's circle wearing the George Follmer Racing team colors.

Email from Gary Lapidus, 10 October 2007:

Your bio on George Follmer says:

  • In 1971, George drove for Roy Woods in both Trans-Am and Can-Am, campaigning the factory AMC Javelin while winning Riverside in a Can-Am McLaren, finishing third in the championship for that series.

I am certain this is incorrect, based on my memory of Trans Am in the early 1970s. I was just a boy, but my memories are vivid. George drove for Bud Moore in 1970, alongside Parnelli Jones, and again in 1971, alongside Peter Gregg. In 1971 the Roy Woods Javelin was driven by Peter Revson, which was a deal that left Donohue in the Penske Javelin and placed Revson w/ Roy Woods. It was 1972 that George drove for Roy Woods/AMC in the Javelin, the lone factory entry in that season. George won the Trans Am and Can Am (Penske Porsche 917-10) titles in 1972, leading to the advertising headline (Champion spark plugs, I recall) "George Am".

Gary Lapidus

Email from Brian Ferrin, 26 April 2009:

At the end of the page, there is a correction submitted by a reader. I offer the following 'updated' correction.

As to where George Follmer raced in 1971, you are both correct. George did drive for Bud Moore in a Boss 302 Mustang for the majority of the '71 season. However, the last 2 races of the year were on the West coast, and Bud was unable to afford the travel costs. Additionallly, the championship had been decided at Michigan. George was released from Bud's team and signed to drive the Roy Woods Javelin in the final race at Riverside, which he won.

Brian Ferrin

Email from Kevin Curtin, 26 October 2010:

I was present at the Laguna Seca Can-Am event, and at the very corner, in which George Follmer crashed when the throttle on his car stuck. In the text which follows, in a different font, you have described an incident that was quite a bit different, and much more spectacular, than the crash I witnessed from approximately 50-75 feet away with an unobstructed view of the before, during and after phases of the crash. I was directly across the track on the inside(apex) side of the track and had a straight on view as the car passed in front of me from my right to straight across from where I was standing.

You wrote:
In a spectacular crash on the twisting Laguna Seca road course, Follmer's car suffered a stuck throttle and launched itself at full speed several hundred feet through the air, slamming into a hillside.

Several items in your account are incorrect.

1) the car was not traveling at "full speed". The crash occurred as Follmer was attempting to negotiate the lefthand turn following the "corkscrew" turn. This turn is taken at medium speed for a Can-Am car, probably in second or third(of 5) gears. It is a very challenging turn due to its off camber nature, but it is not as fast as several other turns at Laguna Seca.

2) the car DID NOT "launch itself several hundred feet through the air". The car actually speared straight off of the course much well before reaching the apex of the turn. As it left the pavement, it ran over a dirt area before scaling a near vertical dirt bank that was perhaps 10-15 feet high. The car did not slam into this bank nor did it slam into any hillside. It merely scaled the bank......in a hurry.

As the car scaled the near vertical dirt bank, it was launched vertically above the flat surface at the top of the bank to a height where the tail of the car reached a height of perhaps 10-15 feet above this flat surface(ground). When the car reached this height, the car was at an attitude nearly perpendicular to the ground(virtually straight up and down) with the tail of the car closest to the ground. When the car's upward momentum was exhausted, the car dropped to earth, tail first, and then the front tires and nose of the car slammed into the ground. The car came to rest on its wheels and at no time did it overturn or land on its side.

The car did not travel far at all beyond where it "landed". As it scaled the bank, it ended up passing over a 4 foot high wire fence used to restrain spectators. As spectators saw the car approaching them, they scattered in both directions along the fence so as to avoid being struck by the car either on its way up or as it was falling back to earth. No spectators were injured as far as I know. I have no doubt that several of them needed to launder their undergarments, though, due to the extreme fright they suffered as a Can-Am car was bearing down on them.

I don't want to minimize this crash nor Follmer's injuries. The shock his body was subjected to when the car crashed to ground very hard was enough to damage his spine. He was fortunate to have not been injured much more seriously. However, the car in NO way resembled a low-flying airplane launching itself "several hundred feet" through the air. Rather, it was launched straight up, to a very short altitude, and it landed in a heap causing injuries. Through it all, although the car was heavily damaged, it did not roll end-over-end. It did not disintegrate or fly apart, shedding wheels and the engine, as is often the case with cars that crash at the Indy 500.

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