Tales from the Tower: The Car & Driver Showroom Stock Challenge: Small Cars, Epic Tales by Greg Rickes Pt. 2
Now with the upper-hand over the “unwashed masses” there was strong pressure from One Park Avenue to call it quits while they were ahead. Some would say against better judgement, Challenge IV took its usual spot on Lime Rock’s Fall calendar.
To the perceptive, the winds of change were in the air. What started as a concept for bare-bones econo-boxes was morphing into a venue for more performance-oriented (and expensive) cars, typified by VW’s Scirocco, a sleek sports coupe, and its German counterpart, the Audi Fox. Front-wheel drive cars were also becoming more prominent, including Honda’s Civic, the VW Rabbit, and a brace of ungainly looking French Renaults.
Upping the ante even more it was rumored that VW was behind the entries for Lime Rock Favorite son Sam Posey and up-and-coming Camel GT star Al Holbert, both in Sciroccos, as was Pat Bedard.
And then the rain came. And stayed.
While Bedard, Sherman, and Posey struggled with their cars (it was the first time Sam Posey had ever raced a front-wheel drive car, though the family collection did include a classic Citroen Traction Avant) and the diabolical conditions, Holbert got off to a promising start, winning the first qualifying race.
Also making the most of the opportunity was a young racer named Paul Hacker. Hacker’s father had been a dirt track legend in upstate New York and Paul shared his enthusiasm, though in a somewhat different genre. Though he’d done a little bit of dirt track racing with his brother Karl, Paul had extensive experience racing on the frozen lakes of upstate New York, where track conditions changed every lap and whoever could find grip was king. Paul had only a few years of road-racing experience but he’d already been a consistent Showroom Stock winner, and the new Scirocco suited his style and ambition.
In spite of the dire conditions the hillside, and the Car & Driver High Roller Enclave, were packed as usual. When the main event got underway Paul Hacker raced to the front, while now it was Holbert struggling with the conditions (he’d tangle with Challenge I winner Bruce Cargill and eventually finished seventh).
Always a contender but never a winner Don Knowles finished second in a now unfashionable Opel. Third was a stunning result for an ungainly looking Renault 12 expertly driven by Frenchman Patrick Jacquemart, who it turned out was actually a test driver for the French firm. Don Sherman had his best Challenge finish, in fourth. Of the rest, Posey was tenth (taking home the princely sum of $180), while Bedard never found his mojo and ended up 20th. For Paul Hacker it was a big boost towards his goal of being a full-time professional race driver. So the tally was now tied, again, with 2 wins for C&D, 2 for the weekend warriors from Mohawk-Hudson Region SCCA! What next?
There would be one last tie-breaker, Challenge 5, October 1976.
The racing landscape in Showroom Stock had already changed dramatically. In some ways the C&D Challenge was the victim of its own success. More and more manufacturers wanted to get in on the concept. The performance envelope expanded from basic econ-boxes all the way to marquee brands. As the performance went up, so did the cost. In response to the clamor of its members the SCCA went down the path of expanding Showroom Stock from one small group of cars to an array of classes. The balancing act for C&D became exponentially more complicated. For Challenge V they tried to stick close to the prime directive, including only Showroom Stock B and C (the original framework) classes.
Taking up what VW had started the previous year, SAAB saw an opportunity ripe for exploiting. Not only did they outfit Pat Bedard with one of their new 99s, they upped the ante by bringing SAAB factory test driver and World Rally Championship winner Stig Blomqvist as their not-so-secret weapon.
Gratefully for the masses who populated the hillsides of northwestern Connecticut Fall weather returned in all its glory. With a backdrop of rich hues of yellow, red and gold Bedard and Blomqvist sent the message early that this was going to be a two-car race, everyone else would have to settle for the left-overs. MoHud’s Paul Hacker would end up fifth, while Tony Hilferty in his Opel never made it out of the consolation round.
Though it was the first time Blomqvist had ever seen Lime Rock’s rolling terrain to him it was just another road to master, and even without the rallye navigator he was accustomed to having alongside he made it look easy. It was a race punctuated by grinding crashes.
Bedard made a game effort, but the Swedish folk hero was not to be denied victory.
How to call the final reckoning? Bedard had won two for C&D, while those who read carefully will recognize that only Mohawk-Hudson Region produced the talent that could get the better of One Park Avenue as Cargill and Hacker upheld the honor for the “weekend warriors”. What of the representative from Trollhattan?
Clearly the Swede was not out of the same mold as your usual SCCA club racer. By the same token he’d never had a seat in the editorial suite at One Park Avenue. Who knows if he even read the magazine? There was a movement to make Stig Blomquist an honorary MoHud member, thoughwhether that ever reached fruition is just conjecture. Maybe it all ended in a bit of draw then, 2-2-1?
And so, with the last free beer quaffed, and the High Roller Enclave consigned to history, an epoch reached its conclusion.
They were raucous, rambunctious days, the likes of which will likely never be seen again. For those who were part of it there will always be the priceless memories.
(1975 and 1976 B&W photos: Joe Cali)
(color photos: Pete Watson)
Post-Script: Sadly Mo-hud’s Bruce Cargill and Paul Hacker have both passed on, depriving us of first-hand recollections of those halcyon days. Two-time winner Pat Bedard advanced his career from Showroom Stock Sedans all the way to Indianapolis 500, where he suffered serious injuries that ended his racing endeavors. Following a long career at Car & Driver he retired to his native Iowa.
Statistically MoHud’s Cargill and Hacker were always in the thick of the action. In three appearances Cargill was 1st, 10th and 8th. Hacker was DNF,4th, 1st and 5th. By contrast Bedard was bust or win: in 5 races he was DNF, 1st,1st,20th, and 2nd.After his win at LRP Stig Blomqvist returned to the World Rally Championship, where he scored notable wins for both SAAB and later the revolutionary Audi Quattro. Still active today, Blomqvist runs a winter driving school on the frozen lakes of his native Sweden.
Continuing the family tradition of motorsport his son Tom was part of the Meyer Shank Acura team in the DPi division of the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, scoring a win in the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona and then going on to take the overall season title in the
P.P.S. – The Race That Never Was. As part of its noble commitment to grass-roots level racing Mohawk-Hudson Region made a valiant attempt to keep the Showroom Stock Challenge going. In 1977 plans were made for a race for Showroom Stock B & C class cars to be run in conjunction with the Skip Barber Racing Series at Lime Rock. For unknown reasons the idea was not embraced by the drivers, and with a poor entry the event was cancelled, but not before the commemorative dash plaques had been printed.