James Garner (all smiles) gives a hearty welcome to the Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher second place car from Garner’s AIR team. Garner’s other Lola finished 7th.

1969 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile

1969 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile Page Five

With the retirement of the factory Porsches and JW Automotive Ford GT40’s, the Roger Penske Lola T70 Mk. IIIB of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons will eventually inherit the lead if they can just hold the car together. This was a stunning turn of events for everyone watching the race and there were plenty of folks shaking their heads in amazement.

And that’s the way it was for the very tense five remaining hours of the race. When you consider what transpired during the race to bring the Penske Lola down pit road and into the winner’s circle it was an incredible turn of events and a lucky and well-deserved win for the Penske team. This win graphically showed that Roger Penske and company were more than a match for John Wyer and the JW Automotive group. Drivers Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons covered 2,383.75 miles with an average speed of 99.268 mph.

The AIR Lola T70 Mark III of Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher finished second, 30 laps behind the winner, much to the delight of actor and team owner James Garner. The Pontiac Firebird 305 of Jerry Titus and Jon Ward finished third, 35 laps behind the winner, but first in class The best Porsche could do was 4th with a private entry 911T driven by Tony Adamowicz, Bruce Jennings and Herb Wetanson.

<strong>Close-up of the eventual winning Penske Lola T70 Mk IIIB. After the collapse of the factory Porsches and the John Wyer GT40s, they would make up a 200-mile deficit to inherit the lead and eventually win. Note the copious amounts of duct tape on the left front fender. This was due to contact with one of the 908’s during the race.</strong>
Close-up of the winning Penske Lola T70 Mk IIIB. After the collapse of the factory Porsches and the John Wyer GT40s, they would make up a 200-mile deficit to inherit the lead and eventually win. Note the copious amounts of duct tape on the left front fender. This was due to contact with one of the 908’s during the race.
<strong>James Garner (all smiles) gives a hearty welcome to the Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher second place car from Garner’s AIR team. Garner’s other Lola finished 7th.</strong>
James Garner (all smiles) gives a hearty welcome to the Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher second place car from Garner’s AIR team. Garner’s other Lola finished 7th.
<strong>The winning #6 Penske Lola T70 Mk IIIB entering the winner’s circle. Look closely and you can see the head of Donohue (with flattop haircut) practically sitting on the lap of Chuck Parsons as Chuck tries to negotiate through the crowd.</strong>
The winning #6 Penske Lola T70 Mk IIIB entering the winner’s circle. Look closely and you can see the head of Donohue (with flattop haircut) practically sitting on the lap of Chuck Parsons as Chuck tries to negotiate through the crowd.
<strong>The winner’s circle sees press and crew surrounding the winners. Look closely and you can see Roger Penske next to a fellow with a white driving cap.</strong>
The winner’s circle sees press and crew surrounding the winners. Look closely and you can see Roger Penske next to a fellow with a white driving cap.

In March of that year Penske entered the Daytona winning Lola in the 12 Hours of Sebring but they failed to finish due to a rear suspension failure. The notoriously rough Sebring airport course had claimed another victim. Despite this setback Penske and Donohue were already planning for an assault on the Holy Grail of endurance racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both men returned to Penske HQ in Philadelphia to start the planning for the trip to France.

Le Mans wouldn’t be in the cards for the Penske team in 1969 and the reason had nothing to do with racing. It had everything to do with good-old-fashioned car theft.

While most of the Penske crew returned home, two were assigned to trailer the Lola back to Philadelphia. They made an overnight stop in Daytona Beach for what they considered was much needed R&R. When they awoke the next morning the truck and race car were gone. Yes, stolen right out of the hotel parking lot while the crew members were “resting.”

An alert was immediately sounded. The newspapers headlines read “Top Lola Stolen in Daytona Beach, 2 Engines and Parts Worth $35,000 Are Missing.” Later the purloined truck was located just west of Daytona Beach. Unfortunately the race car and related equipment in the truck had been picked clean. In the process of removing the engine and other parts from the Lola the thieves had literally chopped the car and frame to pieces. In other words they butchered it. As a result Penske and Donohue were forced to abandon their trip to France.

A few weeks later a tip led the police to the place where they supposedly would find the missing items. Mark Donohue was even allowed to accompany the police on the raid. After the police arrested the miscreants they found that the thieves were in the process of installing the Lola engine into a Shelby Cobra.

The win by the Penske team at Daytona in 1969 would be the only major international victory for the T70. Within weeks of the Daytona race Porsche would unveil its legendary 917 race car at Geneva. The world of endurance racing would never be the same.

[Source: Photo credit: Louis Galanos and Fred Lewis]

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Show Comments (30)

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    1. Wonderful story….certainly much better detailed with insight compared to Road & Track reports of the day….which usually came 3 months later in the mail !

      A couple of things.
      1.) Heavens To Murgatroyd!….Wasn’t that Snaggle-Puss?.”Heavens to Murgatroyd…exit…stage left!”
      2.) More correctly, John Wyer’s operations were in “Slough”, not really in London.
      3.) Pretty much the full armada of the 5 908’s suffered the very same intermediate shaft failure. I believe it was team manager Rico Steinemann ( taking over from long-time Baron Huschke von Hanstein) who was supposedly quoted as saying..”I guess Porsche does not make very good intermediate shafts. These are some of the reasons Porsche goes racing, to improve components. ” In fact, I think these were aluminum and were indeed later changed to steel. Hmm…even spin doctors back then !

  1. Thanks for such a vivid account of the race, told as only someone close to the sport could. My earliest racing memories were about the same time, so it’s great to hear trackside reports like this. Photos are great, but the words are king!

  2. Great summary of the events that took place, it caught us all by surpise that the Porsche or the Wyer GT40’s did not finish….

  3. Louis,

    It is really an amazing article for a great race with an incredible field. I could not stop reading the story before the end. The photographs are gorgeous, as the cars are too.
    Congratulations and thanks for that.

  4. Thanks for a great story, and great photos (esp ‘hello’ to my friend Fred Lewis)This was the golden era of sports car racing.

  5. Another great Louis Galanos story. Fabulous details and pictures. Between you and Fred, there are some great shots. Thank you for writing it, and for Sports Car Digest for playing Santa and delivering this, just in time for Christmas.

    But I think Will Ferch is right about Heavens To Murgatroyd!

    Exit – stage left

    Cheers

  6. Another fantastic return to the great years of “sports car racing”. With your descriptive writing, you could omit the photos….. But don’t you dare !
    Mario

  7. Yes, I remember reading the Philadelphia newspaper sports pages on the Monday after the race and being amazed at the victory.
    I may have said this before, but I think this particular victory did a lot for the reputation of Penske racing-it was against a strong field in an event with a big international reputation.
    For me, it was impressive as it was a LeMans-type race against cars that I was well familiar with from slot car racing!

  8. In the 60’s I vacationed in Florida in March to attend the 12 hours of Sebring. However, in 69, my wife was expecting our firt child and the Doctor ruled out traveling in March. However, the Doctor approved traveling earlier so we attended the Daytona 24.
    We didn’t rent a motel so we slept in the car that night. The wife made it through the night just fine and cheered her favorite driver to victory the next day.
    Therefore,the article brings back a fond memory.

    Bill

    1. Thanks Bill. I am curious about one thing. Since you have taken your share of nice race photos yourself I wonder what you would have done if your wife had gone into labor during the race. Would you have dropped her off at the track physician and continued photographing the race, or??? :-)) Happy Holidays

  9. Bill:

    That anonymous comment is from me (forgot to list my name). My wife said you might not take it as a joke so no offense intended. Best wishes.

    1. Louis,

      No offense. We both thought your comment was quite humorous as we look back on it now. She says that the back set was not very comfortable.

      I’m looking forward to more articles to be able to relive memories.

  10. Louis and Fred have done it again. Great article. Spectacular pictures. What a treasure you all have tucked away. I hope you all will get more published. Next let’s hear about the ‘water in the fuel’ BMW CSL win with Gregg, Redman and Fitzpatrick.

  11. Another great article from SCD and the photos were fabulous. Kudos to the author and photogs. Hopefully there will be more from the author in the future.

  12. Small world, isn’t it, because of the ‘net? Thanks for the kind words from e-mail pals Ed, Nathan and Arthur. I had the pleasure of meeting Lou and Wilma at Daytona in November. As a retired teacher I assumed Lou’s subject was English since all his stuff is so well written. No, Wilma was the English teacher and she proofs the articles, he said. Having good material makes proofing easy, I’d think. And, probably entertaining for Wilma since she was there as a corner worker along with Lou. Two sets of memories can make for more details to enhance readers’ enjoyment of remembering what it was like then.

  13. A great story from a great era in sports cars and motorsport. I have a great fondness for endurance racing and stories like this preserve it for later generations to enjoy.

  14. Thanks for the article , it brought back many memories of those awful looking Porsche 908L , I was rooting for the GT40’s or anyone else for that matter….I am glad they designed the 917 they really did a great job with the design maybe they fired the 908L design crew…

  15. Jorge: If memory serves me correctly the design of what we remember the 917K looked like was a result of stealing design ideas from Eric Broadley’s Lola T-70 Mk.IIIB and then having John Wyer Automotive adapt and improve on those ideas. The Ferrari factory stole design ideas from both the Lola and 917 for their 512M. Alas, it was too late to help Ferrari win the championship. If they had had only one more year.

  16. My father’s (Jon Ward) car, is pictured. I remember the stories my brother told me of running and dragging a floor jack around the parking lot in the middle of the night looking for a late model camaro to steal a rear end out of! They found one (luckily the right gear ratio) and left the car on stands with a note. Everyone burnt their hands getting the failed rear end out (apparently it was nearly glowing red) and the whole process took about 45 minutes.

  17. Thank you Louis and Fred !!! Wonderful story and photos !!

    This was the first race I ever attended, thanks to my incredible father. I was immediately awestruck, and knew then and there that i would race cars….and I did, even at Daytona. So wonderful memories for me, and thanks again to Louis and Fred ,and SportsCarDigest for publishing this about a GREAT era of racing.

    Louis, also thank you for the 1970 Sebring 12 Hour video…..fabulous !!!! Was there as well…what memories

  18. Thanks for the “reprint”.
    The race articles with great photos by lou Galanos are always a pleasure to read and re-read
    .