The SCCA Trans Am 2.5 Challenge

The BRE Team 1971

The Pre-Datsun Days

The history of the SCCA Trans Am Series actually goes back to 1966. Back then the Series was divided into an O-2 class for cars over 2 liters engine displacement, and a U-2 for those under 2 liters. The major downside of the original series was that both classes ran together in a single group, quite a dangerous proposition at times.

1966 was the year of Alfa Romeo, with Alfa pretty much ruling the U-2 class. Alfas dominance did not continue into 1967 however, due to the SCCA's classification of the Porsche 911 as both a sedan and a coupe. Porsches cleaned up in both 67 and 68.

By 1969 the Trans Am Series was really starting to pick up steam, with big factory teams on the horizon, and major sponsorship dollars not far off. But it was also the year that John Bishop, then the head of the SCCA, left to go start the IMSA. The major reason for Bishop's departure, the SCCA's lack of professionalism, would become all too apparent in the years to come.

1970 saw the U-2 class come into its own. Over-powered factory sponsored Mustangs, AMC's and Camaros were outpacing the under 2 liter cars so badly that it became a real hazard, so the classes were separated into 2 racing groups. The 911's got the boot that year too, making the U-2 class more competitive and more like the B-sedan class that the SCCA would run until the early 80's.

Cars that crossed the U-2 starting line in 1970 included Fiat's, BMW's, Alfa's, Mini Coopers(the giant killer in rallying), Ford Escorts from England(a hugely successful car in European racing), Volvo's, and the first appearance of the car that would later dominate; the Datsun 510.

A pair of 510's raced in U-2 for the first time at the Kent event near Seattle. The drivers were Jo Letha Rogers(12th) and Jim Rogers(dnf). Walt Maas was there too, driving a BMW 2002ti.

Australian Horst Kwech and his Alfa dominated the 70 series with 3 wins and six-second place finishes.

The 1971 SCCA Trans Am 2.5 Challenge

1971 is the first year of the Trans Am 2.5 Challenge, the new name of the U-2 class. This year will put Datsun on the map in US racing. It is also the year that the O-2 class starts its slow decline, due to a lack of factory support, the looming energy crisis, and SCCA mismanagement.

The two major competitors in '71 are the already well established Wetson Alfa team, owned by Herb Wetson a hamburger "Baron" from the East Coast, and Brock Racing Enterprises(BRE), owned by Pete Brock, and supported by Nissan USA. The Wetson team is actually run by Driver Horst Kwech, while Brock himself is very much running the show at BRE (sometimes much to the chagrin of his employees).

Photos from the 2001 Monterey Historics, property of Nissan USA.

The 1971 BRE team consists of Brock, drivers John Morton and Mike Downs, Chief Engine builders John Caldwell, John Knepp on Gears, Trevor Harris on Suspension, Mac Tilton, Ray Gruss, Kirk Allergo, and George Britting. Morton also does some of the fabricating on his car and other BRE cars. Kwech, Harry "the Greek" Theodoracopoulos, and "Old Guy" Bert Everett have the driving duties for Wetson.

Horst Kwech and his Wetson Alfa take the first race at Lime Rock. John Tremblay takes his 510 to 7th, with Bob Sharp 8th in his number 33 510, both 8 laps behind Kwech at the finish. The BRE 510 team was not ready for this race, but makes its debut instead at the second race at Bryar, New Hampshire.

Gus Andrey wins the Bryar race in an Alfa. John Morton qualifies on the pole, then leads the race for 38 laps before snapping a half shaft with just minutes to go. Morton and the BRE 510 set a new course record at Bryar, a sign of things to come for the season. Lothar Stahlberg comes in 6th in his 510, Sharp comes in 9th.

Morton gets the pole at both Mid Ohio and Edmonton, then leads both races from start to finish. A Ford Pinto is among the competitors at the Mid Ohio race, the Pintos are given some factory encouragement at first, then are set adrift by Ford. John Meskauskas blows a tire in his 510 and Lothar Stahlberg is knocked out with a faulty shift linkage.

Mechanical problems get the better of Morton at the next race at Donnybrooke. After an all out battle with Horst Kwech and his Alfa, both Morton and Kwech are knocked out of the race, leaving Bert Everett to win in his Alfa. Morton did set a lap record of 1:54 5" at 94.24 mph. Mike Downs in the other BRE car finishes in 5th.

Morton takes the next two races at Road America and Olathe, Kansas. Olathe is one of very few street courses and a 2.5 Challenge race only, no big cars. Strahlberg comes in 5th, but Mike Downs blows a head gasket in the second BRE team car.

Morton blows an engine Watkins Glen with five laps to go, only to have Horst Kwech win by taking his Alfa in for a quick splash of gas. Pete Brock tells the press that Morton ran out of gas to save face for Datsun. Pete Schuster is second in an Alfa, Mike Downs comes in 3rd just 50 seconds back from Kwech, this after being knocked out earlier by Lee Midgleys' Alfa. Bert Everett bounces a front wheel loose on the 16th lap and totals his Alfa, Harry Theodoracopoulos loses the back wheel on his Alfa. John Meskauskas comes in 19th and Strahlberg comes in 14th in their 510's.

Morton comes back and takes the next race at Riverside. Mike Downs is 3rd. 510 pilots Dave Madison finishes 7th, with Jerry Blodgett 14th, and PJ Bailey a DNF.

The next race is Laguna Seca, a legendary event in the history of the 510.

1971 Laguna Seca

"We are having a love affair with the Automobile. We do not want to build for you a chair to ride in on your freeways. American cars are built to be sofas. The Americans take their houses with them. We race to build a better car... and we race to win races." Yutaka Katayama to the press prior to the Laguna Seca race.

More Monterey historics photos taken in 2001 at Laguna Seca. Property of Nissan USA

Laguna Seca is a replacement race for the Kent/Seattle race that was cancelled. Datsun is behind Alfa in points and needs another race to have a chance at winning. A Can Am race was already scheduled for Laguna Seca, so Pete Brock apparently approached race track management and offered them some financial support if they would put a 2.5 Challenge race on their weekend schedule.

Mike Downs manages to qualify a new 1800 BRE 510 on the pole for the race, but fails to finish. It wouldn't matter anyway, there was enough drama without him.

The race story is all about Horst Kwech and John Morton. Kwech knows that Morton and the BRE 46 car have a serious chance of winning the race, and as a result, could win the manufacturers title for Datsun. He is determined not to let that happen.

Mr.K watches from the roof of the BRE car hauler as Wetson Alfa red and BRE white paint trade cars almost right from the start of the race. Kwech and Morton trade the lead almost as often as paint and rubber. Then just past the middle of the race as Morton starts down Laguna Seca's famous corkscrew, Kwech taps the BRE car sending it into a spin. Onlookers think the race is over for Morton, but in what Pete Brock later calls "some of the finest driving I have ever witnessed" Morton recovers from the spin, then proceeds to catch back up to Kwech within a few laps. John Morton,"I guess Horst hitting me was the difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter. I like to think it was manslaughter".

The race is almost over. Knowing that fuel must be low in both cars, Pete Brock makes a very difficult decision and orders Morton to pit. He is convinced Morton can overtake Kwech, but wants him to take that lead through a pit stop, rather than risk another collision that could knock the car out for good. If Morton is knocked out of the race Alfa would win the series, even if an Alfa did not finish. It is in the Wetson teams interest to take Morton out, even if Kwech or Everett has to sacrifice their car in the process.

Morton pits, gets his splash of fuel, and begins running down Kwech again. He doesn't make it; Kwech takes the checkered flag and the controversy begins.

Kwech never pitted for gas. Kwech's Alfa appeared to stall as he crossed the finish line. Pete Brock contends that Kwech just turned his ignition on and off in an attempt to make it look like he was out of fuel. Nobody, including race officials, is buying Kwechs' act.

Kwech's fuel tank is a very clever expanding design that appears to be the right dimensions to hold the maximum 15 gallons allowed by the rules, but on testing SCCA officials manage to get just over 18 gallons into it. Kwech protests, saying that his team bought the tank from a Pinto team in good faith, but the officials have none of it. Kwech is disqualified, Morton is awarded the win, and BRE and Datsun are given the manufacturers title.

In a bit of a twist, Pete Brock later admitted that although his cars had legal fuel tanks, they also had extra large fuel lines. However there was no rule against fuel line size, even though it added a little to the cars fuel capacity. This kind of "modification" was probably pretty common in the series.

Early in the next season, Horst Kwech would comment to John that it didn't matter that Datsun had won the series because everyone had seen his Wetson Alfa take the checkered a sense Alfa had won anyway. Most people, including Mr. K and some of the press, left the racetrack with the impression that Datsun had lost. Pete Brock knew they had won, but by the time all the testing was done and Kwechs' car was ruled illegal the focus was off the race. Later, after the result was announced, race fans actually heckled Morton as he walked through the crowd during the Can Am race, insinuating that he couldn't win the race fair and square and had to take out his opponent on a technicality.

The ultimate irony of the disqualification comes with a math lesson. When the SCCA officials drained the gas out of Kwechs car the first time, there was about 4 gallons left in the tank. SCCA rules allow you to have a 15 gallon tank, Kwech's illegal tank took 18. 18 minus 4 equals 14. Kwech only used 14 gallons of gas in the race, one gallon short of what he was legally allowed. Horst could've finished the race without cheating.

The 1972 series

The Weston Alfa team wants to teach the upstart BRE team a lesson, and to do it they spend 5 months prior to the start of the 72 season meticulously improving their Alfas. Horst Kwech to John,"we're ready for you this time". The Weston team drivers are Kwech and Harry Theodoracopoulos, Harry stepping up into the second spot replacing Bert Everett who is racing for another team in the series. Kwech is not sorry to see Everett go. Everett is apparently a little too dependant on astrology as a career advisor.

BRE also has a few tricks up its sleeve, with a new 1800cc engine, and a third team guest car. Morton will get the task of breaking in the new engine, a task that will prove costly. Mike Downs is on thin ice with Brock, due to his less than inspired performance in the 71 season. And then there's the guest car. Brock knows that John Morton is probably going to move on after the 72 season, so he wants to try out a few other drivers in the Datsuns in the hopes of finding "the Next John Morton".

The 72 season opens at Lime Rock. Bob Sharp wins the race in the BRE guest car, with Mike Downs coming second, and Lothar Strahlberg bringing up third for an all 510 podium. Morton breaks down and does not finish, but is disqualified for receiving a push start anyway. George Alderman(IMSA 2 time RS Champ) of Alderman Datsun takes 7th, John Meskauskas comes in 9th, and Gary Witzenberg brings his Different Drummer Racing 510 in 12th. Charlie Rainville, with his Knights Datsun 510, DNF's. Mike Downs is consistently two seconds slower than both Sharp and Morton with his lap times. Kwech does not finish due to a blown gearbox, the new Achilles heel of the Alfa.

At the next race at Bryar Horst Kwech takes the pole for the first time since Morton started racing the 510. Bryar gets Morton up and winning again, with Bob Sharp taking second in the guest car, and Mike Downs taking 6th on laps, even though he did not finish. Strahlberg finished 13th, John Meskauskas 14th, and Alderman 18th. Kwech's Alfa blows a gearbox for the second time in as many races. Tension is building between the BRE team and Downs over his lack of performance.

Peter Gregg, more famous for driving Porsches, takes two checkered flags in a row in the BRE guest car, first at Mid Ohio with Downs taking second, Everett 3rd, Kwech 4th, and Stahlberg 5th. Gary Witzenberg, Bob Shafer in his Shabro Datsun and Ed Long all placed in the top ten in their 510s. Morton blows the 1800 engine again, just like Lime Rock. Kwech has yet another transmission failure;The Weston team has nothing left.

Watkins Glen is a two race event, with Trans Am and Continental Formula A cars. The BRE team has a faster Formula A car for John to drive, but Brock vetoes the plan. Weather conditions are horrible, with fog, rain and washouts. Gregg wins at The Glen with Morton in second ,Kwech 3rd, and Downs 4th , with 5 other 510's participating. Sam Posey trys out the guest car in anticipation of the next race at Donnybrooke.

Kwech wins Donnybrooke with a bit of help from Bert Everett. Everett knocks Morton out while trying to block him for Kwech. Everett then finishes second and Jerry Thompson and his Latimer Racing 510 finishs 3rd, a lap back from the leaders. Corky Bell (of "Maximum Boost" fame) shows up 10th in his 510, Gregg and Witzenberg DNF. Downs is not racing due the lack of an engine for his car.

The next race is Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Morton gets the pole, followed by Posey, Downs, Kwech and Everett. Another Formula A race will be part of the weekend, this time Morton will get to race the Lola Ford as well. In the Trans Am race, Morton and Downs finish 1-2, with Rich Hull and his Toyota Corolla coming in 3rd. Posey is 18th with a broken rocker arm, Witzenberg 8th, Bell 9th, and Meskauskas 16th, all in 510's. Downs ran fast and claims he could've won the race, Morton gives him an earful for not trying to.

The 2.5 Challenge takes a trip to Sanair, Quebec, without most of the major teams. Bert Everett wins in his Alfa. Canadian Ron Shants takes his Auto Racing Development 510 to 4th place in a field of mostly Canadian drivers. This is the last race for the O-2 cars.

Road Atlanta is another 1-2-3 finish for Datsun. Morton, Posey and Dave Madison(in his Miller Datsun) take the top spots. Corky Bell comes in 5th, Ed Long 7th, and Jim Fitzgerald 10th in the BRE guest car. Datsun clinches the Manufacturers Championship at this race. Sam Posey is driving Mike Downs car.

Downs was part of a Datsun Dealers driving school that ran prior to the race. Downs took dealers and salespeople out in street Datsun 1200's to show them what they can do. Downs, Morton, Miles Grupton, and Madison did a few laps to show the cars at their peak, with passengers on board. Downs traded a little paint, then took the Datsun out for another round of abuse. Brock drops Downs from the team. That same weekend John races and crashes the Formula A car in a horrific accident during a torrential downpour. This is the last appearance ever by the BRE Formula A Continental Series car (John Mortons 'Stainless Steel Carrot').

The Trans Am Series is about to slide into oblivion due to Datsuns dominance. Morton wins again at Portland, with Hershel McGriff coming in second in the guest car, followed by Walt Maas in his Far Performance 510, another sweep of the podium for 510's. Doug Sande of Bellingham took his 510 to 7th, Bob Stevens of Richmond BC came in 15th. Kwech doesn't even show up for the race.

The 72 Laguna Seca race saw Morton win for the 3 time in a row, with Kwech 2nd and Bobby Allison in the BRE guest car 3rd. Walt Maas comes in 5th with 4 more 510's in the field.

The season finale at Riverside turned out to be the final race of the Trans Am 2.5 Challenge. Before the race, Bobby Allison pays John Morton the ultimate drivers compliment, he asks to see how Morton "does it". Allison follows in the BRE guest car as Morton takes a couple fast laps around the course. Kwech comments to John that the two of them are the masters of their domain, that regardless of the stature of driver they put in the seat of an equally matched Datsun or Alfa, He and John are still faster.

Morton wins Riverside, with Peter Gregg 2nd, and Everett in an Alfa 3rd. Allison threw a rod in the BRE guest car and did not finish. Bell, Maas, Madison, Ron Harris and Bob Stevens all drove 510's in this final race.

For winning a Riverside, John Morton was awarded an old fishing hat by SCCA Race Steward Joe Henderson. It seems that the SCCA, with their fantastic organizational skills, forgot to have trophies made for the race.

The 2.5 challenge was finished. Datsuns dominance of the series killed interest after they locked up the 72 championship at Road Atlanta. IMSA became the place for racing as John Bishop's vision was realized in that league. Although Pete Brock dissolved the BRE team after the 72 season, he, Morton, and Datsun/Nissan would go on to other triumphs separately in the years to come, but the Trans Am 2.5 series would grow to become one of the biggest legends in their collective histories.

John Meskuakas 510 as it is now, driven in the SCCA by Steve Link, son of BRE engine builder Floyd Link Phot C. Ted Hedman

Modern History! Check out Mike Rodriguez's Article on the BRE cars triumphant return at the 2001 Monterey Historics

For a less datsun oriented look at the 2.5- check out this page on B

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