The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) will host some of the biggest driving stars of Trans-Am history at their March 3-6 race weekend at the iconic Sebring airport course. Current Trans-Am series champion Amy Ruman will join with legends of previous eras including George Follmer, Lyn St. James, Willy T. Ribbs and David Hobbs to help celebrate SVRA’s salute to the 50th anniversary of the first Trans-Am race and season. As announced earlier, Bob Tullius, a winner at that first Trans-Am race at Sebring in 1966, will be on hand as the weekend’s grand marshal.
Along with Tullius, Follmer was a star performer during the series’ early days. Follmer, one of the most versatile drivers ever to strap on a helmet, was Trans-Am champion in 1972, driving an AMC Javelin to four victories. He picked up a second Trans-Am championship in 1976 with Porsche. The three-time Indianapolis 500 starter also won the Can-Am championship in 1972 driving Roger Penske’s Porsche 917/10. Prior to that he was, in 1965, the SCCA United States Road Racing Champion and in 1970 the SCCA Formula 5000 Continental Champion. Follmer is also known in Trans-Am lore as Parnelli Jones’s teammate in Bud Moore-prepared Mustangs during the 1969 and ’70 seasons. He raced in the series for Penske in 1966.
Beyond SCCA and Trans-Am, Follmer drove in Formula One for the American-owned UOP Shadow team to score a podium finish in the 1973 Spanish Grand Prix. In 1974 he won an International Race of Champions (IROC) race at Riverside and in 1969 won the Indy car race at Phoenix International Raceway. He also competed at the highest level of NASCAR in 1974 to score three top-five finishes and a pole position at Riverside. After retiring he returned to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1986 and his team earned a podium finish for Porsche.
St. James, a seven-time starter in the Indianapolis 500, raced in 15 Indy car races in her career. While many fans know Lyn best for her Indianapolis 500 achievements, she is an accomplished road racer and has earned numerous laurels at the wheel of a variety of racecars. She is a two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1989 and ’91). She raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring nine times, winning the GTO class in 1990, and was a two-time winner in the GTO Class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Lyn raced in 53 Trans-Am races with seven top-five finishes. She was even more successful in 62 IMSA GT events, amassing a stout record of six wins, 17 top-five and 37 top-ten finishes. Her 1985 GT victory at Watkins Glen remains the only time a woman has scored a win in that series driving solo. Through it all she has held 31 international and national closed-circuit speed records and is a member of the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Willy T. Ribbs was Trans-Am’s most prolific winner across three seasons, 1983 through 1985, when he scored 18 victories, including 13 for Jack Roush-prepared Mercury-Ford Capris. He was series rookie-of-the year in 1983, winning five times and more than any other driver. After conquering Trans-Am and becoming the series all-time money winner up to that point he moved to Dan Gurney’s IMSA Toyota team for two years and picked off 10 overall victories.
Ribbs is best known as the first black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, starting the race in 1991 and again in 1993. He was also the first black driver to test for a Formula One team, getting that opportunity in 1986 with none other than Bernie Ecclestone, who owned the Brabham team at the time. A versatile driver, Ribbs also competed briefly at the top level of NASCAR as well as in their truck series. Like St. James he is no stranger to SVRA competition, scoring a podium finish at the 2014 Brickyard Invitational Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am for Group 6 classic era Trans-Am racers.
Also on hand will be Ribbs’ 1983 Trans-Am teammate David Hobbs who was the series champion that year. Hobbs’ resume includes seven Formula One starts, four Indianapolis 500 starts and two in NASCAR Cup competition. He also competed in an IROC race at Riverside in 1979. In 1971 he dominated the SCCA L&M Continental Formula 5000 championship, winning five of eight races. He competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans an impressive 20 times, scoring two class wins and overall podium finishes twice.
After racing Hobbs built a highly successful career in broadcasting beginning in the 1970’s. He has provided commentary for auto racing events covered by CBS, the Speed Channel and currently the NBC Sports Network where he is especially well known for his work in the Formula One announcers’ booth. He is a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Among other fan-friendly activities, all these legendary drivers will participate in a panel discussion moderated by auto racing author and journalist Rich Taylor. Taylor has written numerous books on auto racing history and promises to draw out little-known tales from a panel responsible for some of road racing’s greatest moments over the past 50 years. Current Trans-Am champion Amy Ruman will take her rightful place on the panel. Ruman, a 20-year veteran of American road racing, is not only the first woman to take the Trans-Am crown but is also the series’ winningest driver the past two seasons with 10 victories.
In addition to these legendary drivers the SVRA’s hundreds of vintage racers will share the Sebring venue with today’s Trans-Am series. The Historic Trans-Am series will also bring their show to the weekend. These authentic and historic Trans-Am machines stage their own competition contest. Among the entries are cars once driven by Parnelli Jones (Boss 302 Mustang), Mark Donohue (Javelin and Camaro), Sam Posey (Dodge Challenger), and a Dan Gurney/Swede Savage Plymouth Barracuda.