On October 8, 1967, the 300-mile long final road race of a twelve circuit cross-country series, once and for all, determined the winner of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-American Sedan Championship.
Pacific Raceways, located near Kent in Washington State, was the scene for the national circuit finals for model year 1967 stock cars. Ford Motor Company and its subsidiary, Mercury, supported factory teams with production-based Mustang and Cougar purpose-built race cars. General Motors Chevrolet division was not officially involved in racing, but a production-based 1967 Camaro was raced by an independent team formed by Chevrolet Dealership owner and experienced race car driver Roger Penske.
On the final Trans-Am race day Sunday, series race #12, Penske’s modified Camaro, driven by Mark Donahue from the starting line, led every lap of the 2.25 mile Kent circuit. Donahue crossed the 135-lap finish line first, winning the event trophy and money. But Penske’s team, during the prior ten months of event racing in nine states, was 11 points behind Carroll Shelby’s Mustang team. Consequently, the Penske Camaro did not qualify for the series title on that race day Sunday. Before that final Trans-Am circuit race #12 even started, the only two contenders eligible for the series victory were the Ford Motor Sports Shelby Mustang team, and the Mercury force, Bud Moore’s Team Cougar.
Entering the final race for the sedan series manufacturer’s championship title, Team Cougar was second only to the FoMoCo Mustang, separated by 1 point. As the performance and endurance contest progressed, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat came into sharper focus about midpoint into the race. Team Cougar experienced stardom in a comedy of errors—bouncing rocks broke a windshield, tires punctured, and a routine pit stop shut-down resulted in a disabled ignition system which eliminated one Team Cougar racer for the duration of the race.
In the final laps of the event, the Pacific Raceways audience of 17,000 spectators witnessed the remaining Team Cougar driver Dan Gurney enter the pits to stop a fountain of fuel gushing from his tank spout. The Team Cougar pit crew and Gurney got the racer back onto the track in 38 seconds, but by then, Mustang team driver Ron Bucknum secured a second position lead with a distance gap that Gurney couldn’t overtake. Team Cougar finished the race in third place, and earned second place honors for the season.
After the 1967 near victory of Cougar racers over Mustang racers, Ford Motor Company disbanded the Mercury special vehicle team of engineering and driving talent.
Although Ford corporate sponsorship ended, the Mercury Cougar race cars would remain a force in motor racing. Before the 1968 racing season, Bud Moore Engineering in Spartanburg, South Carolina—the shop that built the prototype Cougar SCCA Trans-Am racer, and modified the second and third production Cougars for the 1967 team—redeemed the three Cougar race cars, and they continued racing with private sponsorship.–M.S.T.