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The International Race of Champions Porsches and the Dozen Great Drivers who Raced Them

International Race of Champions

Any racing fan that lived in Southern California in the early 70s knew of the late, great Riverside International Raceway (RIR).  And if you followed top-level Porsche racing during the same period, no matter where you’re from, likely knew of the International Race of Champions (IROC), and that for its first, and then-one-season only, was contested with a special batch of Carrera RSR 3.0s developed and produced by the Porsche factory for the IROC spec series.

International Race of Champions
Riverside track

A foundational element of this series’ magic is the dozen truly international champions that contested Season 1; (B)Allison, Donohue, Fittipaldi, Foyt, Follmer, Hulme, Johncock, McCluskey, Pearson, (R)Petty, Revson, and (B)Unser.  F1, Can-Am, Trans-Am, Champ Car, Indy500 season championship, and race winners all. 

International champions
Penske, Donohue and Richter at the Daytona IROC

Imagine today putting together a field of this accomplished caliber for a special series of four races in a purpose spec’d and built a roster of racing 911s from among today’s drivers of similar credentials – it would cost a billion dollars.

IROC was the brainchild of the incomparable Roger Penske, TV and marketing wiz Mike Phelps, and former LA Rams Linebacker and later RIR track president Les Richter. 

International Race of Champions promotion

ABC’s Wide World of Sports was the exclusive broadcast partner – thus it was critical that the cars look great, and be recognizable on TV. 

The idea of the series was, of course, to match up champions from a wide spectrum of racing series, run them in identical, matched racing cars, in an attempt to divine who and/or what types of racing drivers were really best (by removing the variables of differences in cars, testing and development money, the proficiency of engineers, mechanics, and crew chiefs). 

Donohue in Porsche Carrera RSR

Penske Racing was primarily responsible for the development and procurement of the cars, and a wide variety was considered – open-wheelers, such as Formula Fords, and Trans-Am style cars (like Mustangs or Camaros). 

It was ultimately decided that the series would be contested on big fast and famous road courses, with three “heat races” at RIR and a winner-take-all-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

Penske owned and operated several Porsche factory-backed teams, and his hired guns (George Follmer and Mark Donohue) convinced him to run Porsche Carrera RSRs for the series. 

Porsche Carrera RSR on trailer
Porsche Carrera RSR

Penske took the idea to Stuttgart, and they agreed to develop and sell him a batch of 15 of the special RSRs (12 cars for each race, plus three spares). 

The 2.8-liter RSR was the starting point, and in the name of more low end torque, the twin-plug, MFI flat-six was upped to 3.0-liter and something just over 300 horsepower.

Mark Donohue

The freshman season (1973/74) was a success, but for the second season, the principles elected to sell off the IROC Porsche fleet in favor of Chevy Camaros, then later Dodges, then Firebirds. 

Over time, even though IROC became somewhat less international, it lasted an impressive 26 seasons.  To me, however, nothing was ever as special as the dozen great men that contested the first IROC season, and those howling, multi-colored, naturally aspirated, air-cooled RSRs. 

Follmer in porsche

As much as the entire IROC story deserves to be told in a standalone book, I deeply believed that the first season’s cars, drivers, tracks, races, and principles’ stories warranted a book of its own. 

I’m proud to say that I spent much of the dreaded 2020 writing it; and that book’s just been published and released. 

I’m honored that one of the series’ greatest drivers, George Follmer, authored the Foreword. 

The IROC porsches
The International Race of Champions, Porsches 911 RSR and The Men Who Raced Them

If it interests you, THE IROC PORSCHES; The International Race of Champions, Porsche’s 911 RSR, and The Men Who Raced Them is available hardbound publisher-direct from Motorbooks, Amazon or you can arrange for an autographed and/or personalized copy from Autobooks books store in Burbank, CA.