“Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition … This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Through the magic of television, those famous words of legendary sports announcer Jim McKay echoed throughout millions of households on Saturday afternoons for 37 years. The popular sports show ran from 1961 to 1998 but was most prominent throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Later years saw a decline in viewership due to cable programming where ESPN eventually became the premier sports channel.
Growing up in the ’70s, we didn’t have hundreds of cable channels (or even a remote control, for that matter). With basically three major networks to choose from, and a few local channels, mainstream sports like football and baseball took up most of the sporting event airtime. So on many Saturday afternoons we parked in front of the television, turned on Wide Worlds of Sports, and were treated to 90 minutes (time-delayed highlights mostly) of non-mainstream sports like NASCAR, NHRA, demolition derby, surfing, and the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. It was all good stuff. It was then that I caught my first International Race of Champions (IROC), and it was awesome! There was nothing like it. There was no other racing series where you could watch NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Bobby Allison go head-to-head with Formula One heroes Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme. Mix in IndyCar and F-1 champion Mario Andretti, and you were treated to the best drivers in the world trading paint with each other.
Now, I understand that to many younger Camaro enthusiasts, IROC is merely an option package developed for the Camaro beginning in 1985. But the story on the IROC series goes all the way back to 1973 when Roger Penske, Les Richter, and Mike Phelps had the idea to put 12 of the world’s greatest race car drivers in identically prepared cars to compete on road courses and NASCAR super tracks in a four-race series. Richter was cautious to say that the IROC series might not determine whom the best driver in the world is, “but we sure go a long way towards that goal.”
The first IROC season (1974), started on October 27, 1973, consisted of four events with racing done in Porsche Carrera RSRs. The very next year, Chevrolet came on board and Camaros were the IROC’s weapon of choice.