NISSAN IN SCCA RACING IN THE 1960s
"Winning is not the only reason we go racing. One word sums up our whole approach to competition. That word is participation"
(Yutaka Katayama - 1969)
The first hint that Nissan Motor Corporation in the USA were interested in American racing was back in 1962 when they allowed a mechanic at one of their West Coast Datsun dealerships a limited amount of funding to race the first Fairlady Roadster, the SPL212. This mechanic, Jean LePlant, also went on to race the 1500, although it was a racer by the name of Paul Jaremko who secured Datsun's first win in SCCA competition, again at the wheel of a 1500.
Nissan, under the direction of Yutaka Katayama, started advertising the recently released Fairlady Roadster 1500 as a competition prospect in 1963. In 1964, a sales brochure for the twin carburettor Fairlady announced the imminent development of factory competition parts.
1964 also saw the first Nissan advertisement proclaiming US race success, featuring Bob Sharp's 1500 in the SCCA's G Productrion class. Bob's success had caught the eye of Nissan, who were soon to offer Bob factory support, in return for competition consultancy work and promotion of the Datsun marque, both at shows and on the track. Nissan were very new to competition and were anxious to learn all they could to bring Datsuns success on the track, which they believed would enhance their profile in the USA and result in increased car sales.
In 1966 Datsun started their sponsorship programme with limited financial support. Successes increased and cars from both east and west coasts qualified for the runoffs. Although Bob Sharp led the ARRC for many laps that year, track debris put paid to his (and Nissan's) hopes when it sliced through the bottom hose. When Bob achieved Nissan's first SCCA National Championship in F Production in a 1600 in 1967, Nissan opted to extend more support to Datsun drivers, irrespective of their status. Advertising and sales literature now regularly featured pictures of racing Datsuns, and sales were growing. The Solex aspirated 2000 had also recently been announced which gave the company another string to their bow, in C Production.
On the West Coast, Nissan turned to Dwayne Feuerhelm of Auto Works, Granada Hills, Ca, to campaign a team of semi-works cars. Dwayne had a Triumph dealership and had successfully raced Triumphs, including works drives. Financial support was again given to the team in return for results and technical assistance to other Datsun racing outfits. The team raced under the DATSUN RACING TEAM banner with Dan Parkinson as the team's top driver. Dan had already achieved 4 National Championships and was to achieve some notable performances in both 1600 and 2000 roadsters. He went on to drive the 240Z for BRE.
By 1968 the small car manufacturers saw success in SCCA racing as an excellent form of advertising, and increasing importance was placed on achieving ARRC qualification. To qualify for the ARRC, drivers in each of the 7 geographical areas had to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their divisional championship in their respective category. There were 21 classes of SCCA competition across four categories (production sports, modified sports, sedan and open-wheeled). With the introduction of the Hitachi aspirated 2000 in 1968, the Roadster was classified in the following classes:-
Nissan was now committed to success. In the 1968 season no less than 17 Datsun Roadster entries qualified for the run-offs at Riverside. This followed a season where Datsuns achieved 43 firsts, 42 seconds and 25 thirds in national competition. At the runoffs, Nissan erected a massive tent measuring 150ft x 50ft, equipped with work benches, power tools and overhead lighting. Tyres and parts were available from factory representatives, and the Datsun crews, who were treated to air-conditioned trailers and food and drink, were the envy of the other competitiors. Nissan even treated the competitors to dinner the night before the runoffs.
Datsun Tent, Riverside, 1968
Although Datsun achieved some success at the 1968 runoffs, the championship eluded them. Undeterred, Nissan's support for the 1969 and 1970 seasons continued, and funding increased. (Click on the Datsun competition manual below for the breakdown of the lucrative funding on offer from the factory).
By 1969, BRE had burst onto the scene on the west coast, with significant support from Nissan, Japan. It took a full year before Nissan USA followed Tokyo's lead and decided to shift their backing from Dwayne Feuerhelm's team. Dwayne's team had achieved limited success, and BRE had succeeded in embarrassing both Nissan USA and the Datsun Racing Team. Although BRE enjoyed much Regional success, National success eluded them. At the 1969 ARRC in Daytona (the runoffs alternated between Riverside and Daytona during this period) Nissan offered the same facilities to their drivers/crews. This year Nissan gained their second National championship, courtesy of Jack Scoville in his D Production lightweight. Indeed, 7 out of the top 8 places went to Datsun drivers, an amazing feat.
By the 1970 season, attention had turned to the 240Z and 510. However it is often forgotten that the 2000 Roadster continued to chalk up three more D Production championships in a row, under Jim Fitzgerald (1970) and Bob McQueen (1971 and 1972, in one of the former BRE Roadsters). Later, National success was achieved by Tom Brennan (2000 - D Production), a retired USAF Colonel Joe Hauser (three championships in a 1600 - G Production) and Bob Studdard, (the last national success in a roadster, as late as 1987, in E Production).
Much is written about the SCCA successes of the later models. It should be remembered however that the pattern of Nissan's support, through the leadership of Yutaka Katayama, was formulated in the Datsun Roadster years. In the short time since the launch of Datsun's first true sports car in 1963, Nissan enjoyed victory after victory against many long established marques, a testament to everyone involved.