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OCT 1, 2020 | By Donald Farr

50 Years Out, We Recap Parnelli's Boss 302 Sprint to Trans-Am Title

Yellow Boss 3020 Trans-Am Race Car on track

Editor’s Note: It’s now been 50 years since Parnelli Jones piloted his Mustang Boss 302 race car to the 1970 Trans-Am season series championship for Ford Motor Company. To mark this historic victory, we’re retracing the 1970 Trans-Am season race-by-race though the following excerpt from the hardcover book, Boss Mustang: 50 Years (1st Edition – Motorbooks, 2019). It is reprinted here with permission from author Donald Farr. For the whole story, we invite you to read the entire chapter on the Trans-Am Championship Mission in the book, which includes details on the new-for-1970 Competition, Rules Changes and Testing before the “End of Everything” came for corporate involvement in motorsports competition on November 20, 1970.1970's race cars on track coming up to a turn head on

Off and Racing

April 19, 1970: Laguna Seca Trans-Am, Monterey, California

The tone for the 1970 Trans-Am was set at Saturday's tech inspection before Sunday's Laguna Seca Trans-Am. Friday's Inspection had progressed smoothly, with Jim Hall's Camaro and Mark Donohue's Javelin approved with minor changes, but on Saturday morning the Inspection crew, led by new SCCA technical inspector John Timanus, found numerous infractions. First in line were three Bud Moore Boss 302s, two numbered 15 and one numbered 16. Follmer's number 16 car rolled into the inspection area first and was cited for too-short windshield retaining strips and brake ducts from the headlight openings. Ford Trans-Am coordinator Fran Hernandez made a plea for the brake scoops on the grounds of driver safely. Timanus temporarily cleared the scoops and sent the Mustang to the scales, where it weighed 3,195 pounds -- 5 pounds underweight. But Moore threw open the hood. "Look, no air cleaner!" he exclaimed. "That weighs at least five pounds!" Timanus agreed and okayed Follmer's Mustang.

The Boss 302s also showed up at a Laguna Seca with the new Autolite In-Line carburetors, but SCCA officials promptly outlawed them because they violated the "spirit of the law" in keeping the cost of the Trans-Am racing to a minimum. The retail price of the In-Line setup was reasonable, but its development had cost Ford plenty. Moore switched to his Mini-Plenum for Laguna Seca amid rumors that the In-Line induction would eventually be approved.

Saturday's qualifying confirmed everyone's suspicions: the factory Boss 302s were the faster cars on the track. Jones qualified his number 15 on the pole beside Donohue's Javelin, followed by Follmer's number 16 Boss 302 in third and Gurney's Barracuda in fourth. Mustang held an advantage because the Boss 302s were basically the same cars as the year before while everyone else was sorting out new body styles, new teams, and, in Penske's case, totally new cars.

When the green flag dropped, Jones grabbed the lead and began pulling away from Donohue by a half-second each lap. To Chevrolet's embarrassment, Hall's Camaro retired on the third lap with a broken transmission. Two-thirds of the way through the race, Jones had lapped everyone except Donohue, who trailed by nearly 40 seconds. Nearing the checkered flag, Jones slowed down to allow the lapped Follmer to catch up. The pair of orange Boss 302s crossed the finish line together.

At the post-race inspection, SCCA officials noticed a rules violation on the first four finishers – the required SCCA emblem was missing on the Jones and Follmer Boss 302s, Donahue's Javelin, and Swede Savage's Barracuda. For a moment it appeared the cars would be disqualified. However, Chief Steward Merle Stanfield provided the solution: "Tell them that if anyone shows up at Dallas without his decal, it will cost them a hundred dollars!"Black and white photo of Boss 302 and competitor on track

April 26, 1970: Dallas Trans-Am, Dallas, Texas

The second Trans-Am race of 1970 was cancelled due to eight inches of rain in less than 12 hours. Dallas International Speedway was brand new, and drenching rainstorms transformed the infield road course into a mud pit. At 10:35 race morning, the event was postponed; it was eventually cancelled.

May 9, 1970: Schaefer Trans-Am, Lime Rock, Connecticut

Because of his familiarity with Lime Rock and his 1969 win there in a Shelby Racing Boss 302, Sam Posy was the prerace favorite in his Challenger. Despite the advantage, Donohue qualified on the pole with Gurney's Barracuda on the outside. Jones qualified his Mustang third.

On the first lap, Jones stormed past Donohue and Gurney, pushing his Boss 302 to an overwhelming lead until the first pit stop. Even then, Moore's pit crew got the number 15 Boss 302 back on the track before second-place Donohue could catch up. Follmer and both Javelins retired with blown engines. Near the finish, Jones' brakes were fading and the engine lost a valve.

With three laps remaining, the exhaust pipe fell onto the track. Even with his problems, Jones cruised to an easy victory, finishing a lap ahead of Ed Leslie's second-place Camaro.

With Jones' second consecutive win, Mustang held an early edge in the championship point standings, 18 to Camaro's 8, Javelin's 6, Challenger's 5, and Barracuda's 3.Orange Boss 302 on track

May 31, 1970: Herald-Traveler Trans-Am, Loudon, New Hampshire

During qualifying at Bryar Motorsport Park, Savage posted the fastest time in his AAR Barracuda. However, Jones and Follmer, along with Donohue, were noticeably absent, having skipped Saturday's Trans-Am qualifying to participate in the Indianapolis 500 -- Follmer and Donohue as drivers and Jones as an owner. At a special Sunday morning qualifying session, neither of the three could beat Savage's time, although Jones came close by qualifying on the outside pole. Savage's Barracuda threatened Mustang's 1970 dominance in the early laps, leading until the clutch failed on lap 33. Follmer inherited the lead, with Jones in second until his hood flew off, yanking the hood pins out of the subframe and the hinges out of the firewall. Number 15 headed behind the pit wall, retired for the afternoon. Follmer continued to drive a steady race while problems plagued the other teams, eventually winning the race by three laps over the Javelins.

After the Boss 302's three-for-three start in the 1970 Trans-Am, the point standings totaled Mustang 27, Javelin 12, Camaro 11, Challenger 5, and Barracuda 5.

June 7, 1970: Mid-Ohio Trans-Am, Lexington, Ohio

Smarting from three straight losses to the Boss 302's, Roger Penske was worried. When he switched from Camaro to Javelin, he had promised American Motors at least seven wins in 1970. With only eight races remaining, the chances of making good on his promise looked slim. Obviously, the Boss 302s were making the most power and, unlike the year before, were withstanding the rigors of Trans-Am racing while everyone else fell apart. Penske was looking for a win at Mid-Ohio, mainly because the 2.4-mile handling course might offset the Mustang's power advantage. During qualifying, Donohue's Javelin won the pole, although tied with Ed Leslie's Camaro. The Boss 302s of Jones and Follmer also tied, just 0.3 seconds back.

Jones catapulted into the lead on the first lap and held it until his first pit stop. Then the competitors began dropping out. Savage's Barracuda blew its engine for the second race in a row. Leslie's engine followed, and Hall ran out of gas on the course. The Jerry Titus Firebird, one of the few cars running with power steering, retired when the pump failed, providing a fourth consecutive DNF for Pontiac.

Near the end, Follmer repeatedly attempted to pass Jones, ignoring his pit crew's sign to slow down. Ford Racing director Jacque Passino recalled, "The objective was a Ford win. We could care less who won, just as long as it had Ford on it. As a consequence, the directions to Jones and Follmer were, 'Stay where you are, just run around and don't let Chevrolet pass you.' Follmer couldn't stand that. After the race, I thought he was going to hop on me about the slow-down signs from the pits. I said to him, "I don't think you could have passed Parnelli, and in trying he was going to run you off the road and maybe we'd lose both cars.' Finally he said, 'Just tell me, how in the hell do you get around Parnelli Jones?' He finally got the hint. Follmer was a great driver, but Parnelli had been around a long time and was tough to beat."

At Mid-Ohio, no one beat Parnelli, and the Boss 302 point lead stretched to 20 points: Mustang 36, Javelin 16, Camaro 13, Challenger 7, Barracuda 3, and Firebird 0.Black and white photo of boss 302 on track

June 21, 1970: Marlboro 200, Bridgehampton, New York

"They don't want Ford to win this series!" Jones remarked to the press prior to the Marlboro event at Bridgehampton Race Circuit. He was referring to the SCCA outlawing the headlight opening brake ducts at Laguna Seca and, more recently, the Autolite In-Line induction, which other teams opposed. After Bridgehampton, he would be able to say it again.

Savage and Donohue led early, with Jones and Follmer in tow. A blown tire and off-course excursion sent Jones sparking into the pits, but the quick-working pit crew had number 15 quickly back on the track in third place. Later, when Bud Moore's crew was preparing for Jones' routine pit stop, SCCA officials black-flagged Follmer because too many Bud Moore crewmen were over the wall. In truth, Jones had missed the pit sign because of blinding rain, and with his crew waiting, number 15 cruised by for another lap. Ford's Trans-Am coordinator, Fran Hernandez, charged across the pit lane for an explanation, with Bud Moore following. The SCCA prevailed, and Follmer was pulled into the black flag area, warned, and waved on. However, his engine stalled and he had to be pushed-started, losing two minutes. Donohue won the race two laps ahead of Follmer for the first non-Ford win of the 1970 season. Jones finished third.

Climbing out of his car, Jones remarked, "I told you they don't want Ford to win the series."

July 5, 1970: Donnybrooke Trans-Am, Brainerd, Minnesota

Round six went to Milt Minter's Camaro, marking the first Camaro win of 1970. Follmer's Boss 302 finished second, while Jones retired with suspension and tire problems. Mustang's closest competitor in the points race, Javelin, came away empty-handed when Donohue's engine expired. The second Javelin did not enter the race.

Points standings after six races: Mustang 48, Camaro 26, Javelin 25, Challenger 7, Barracuda 5, and Firebird 0. After six races, the Firebird team had failed to finish a race.

July 19, 1970: Road America Trans-Am, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Pontiac's dismal Trans-Am showing suffered a more tragic blow during Saturday's last qualifying run for the Road America Trans-Am. Driver Jerry Titus was attempting to improve his position in the starting grid when, coming off turn 13, he spotted spinning cars ahead, locked his brakes, and skidded nearly head-on into a concrete bridge. A week later, Titus was dead, the result of a skull fracture and internal injuries.

The seventh race of 1970 provided close competition between Donohue, Savage, Posey, Hall, Jones, and Minter. They finished in that order, all on the same lap. Follmer failed to complete the first lap, dropping out with suspension problems. The Javelin win and the Boss 302 fifth-place finish provided American Motors with a substantial gain in the point race: Mustang 50, Javelin 34.

August 2, 1970: Le Circuit Trans-Am, St. Jovite, Quebec

With Javelin closing in, Ford threw its racing budget to the wind and signed A.J. Foyt to drive the backup Boss 302 at St. Jovite. During most of the season, Jones had picked the best of the two number 15 cars for each race while the other served as a spare. At St. Jovite, the backup became Foyt's car. However, during a test session after qualifying, Jones ran off course and stuffed the rear of his Mustang into a tree. Jones got the backup car and Foyt watched the race from the pits.

The race became a Javelin-Mustang showdown, Donohue against Jones and Follmer. With help from the Penske pit-crew. Donohue sailed to the checkered flag 61.5 seconds ahead of second place Follmer, who lost time in the pits when he stopped to have a crumpled fender pulled off a tire. Jones, who finished third, lost a lap after spinning off course.

With bad memories still lingering from the 1969 St. Jovite race, Mustang had survived the 1970 event with no casualties except for Jones' prerace shunt with the tree. Mustang's lead was cut to 13 by Donohue's victory.1970 photo of boss 302 in the pits with crew changing tire

August 16, 1970: Watkins Glen Trans-Am, Watkins Glen, New York

With three races remaining, Javelin needed a spectacular effort from Donohue, combined with low or non-finishes from the Mustangs, for a shot at winning the 1970 Trans-Am championship. It would not happen at Watkins Glen. Vic Elford won the race, having replaced Jim Hall as a Camaro driver. Donohue took second, just ahead of Follmer and Jones. Eleven points separated the Javelin from the Boss 302s: Mustang 60, Javelin 49, Camaro 39, Challenger 14, Barracuda 12, and Firebird 0.

September 20, 1970: Kent 200, Kent, Washington

Parnelli Jones left little doubt that the Boss 302 Mustang was the best Trans-Am race car in 1970, taking the Kent pole twice, once in his primary Mustang and again in his backup car. In the race, Jones led nearly all 90 laps to win the Kent 200 by 19.6 seconds over Donohue's Javelin, thereby nailing down the 1970 Trans-Am championship for Ford. Follmer finished fourth behind Posey's third-place Challenger.

But the season was not over. One race remained, and every non-Ford team headed to California with thoughts of salvaging its season with a win over the factory Boss 302s.1970 Boss 302 leaving the pits black and white photo

October 4, 1970: Mission Bell 200, Riverside, California

The last race was considered important because Riverside International Raceway was sprawled in the backyard of the automotive press. A win over the "champion" Mustangs would provide good bargaining material for 1971 sponsorships.

In qualifying, Jones set the fastest time in his favorite Boss 302, then went out and beat the time in his spare car. Regardless, he would pilot his regular ride, saying it fit him better. Follmer qualified third, so the fastest three cars at Riverside were Boss 302 Mustangs -- and one of them would sit out the race in the pits. When the green flag fell, Jones and Follmer demonstrated their dominance by driving away from the rest of the field. On the fifth lap, while passing a lapped car, Jones was bumped off-course by a black marker and returned to the fray with the right side of the Mustang crushed in, fenders rubbing the tires and driveshaft bent. In tenth place, Jones continued until black-flagged for smoke, pitting for emergency repairs to the leaking transmission seal caused by the wobbling driveshaft. Meanwhile, Follmer had opened up a huge lead and was seemingly headed for an easy victory.

However, Jones worked his battered Mustang into third place behind Donohue's Javelin, then manhandled his way past for second.

In the book, The Mudge Pond Express, driver Sam Posey described the final Mustang-versus-Mustang confrontation: "The season was at an end and Bud Moore's Mustang had destroyed the opposition. Now it was time for a showdown between Follmer and Jones, with nothing at stake but each other's fierce pride. Parnelli's familiar school bus yellow Mustang was battered and dirty and the right side was caved in, the front spoiler was crumpled, and the brake ducts were dropping off, but Parnelli didn't care. Lap after lap he charged out of turn nine, contemptuously brushing the wall, gunning past the pits with his granite chin thrust forward. Each time around the Mustangs were closer together, and with ten laps to go they were running nose to tail, their domination of the Trans-Am so complete that they had each other to race with." Behind the pit wall, Ford brass worried about the possibility of another Jones-Follmer showdown, but in the nick of time Follmer's shift linkage broke, leaving him without third gear. Jones cruised past to cap off a tremendous 1970 season with a win at Riverside.

The 1970 Trans-Am season ended as it had begun -- with Jones in the winner's circle. Final point standings: Mustang 72, Javelin 59, Camaro 40, Challenger 18, Barracuda 15, and Firebird 0.

FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY FORD ARCHIVES

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