What attributes and achievements should be used to distill the six greatest
American sports car drivers from dozens of plausible candidates? Is it the
number of wins? Quality of competition? Quantity of big victories? How many
championships they earned? Career longevity? Did they strike fear in their
opposition? Or how about the era when a driver competed, and the relative
danger or safety they faced while amassing their stats?
And then you have the tent pole argument. As in, would replacing any of
the drivers in the top six cause the list to crumble? With those questions as a
general guideline, separating the great from the good involved using a variety
of filters and miniature arguments to apply some semblance of logic and
science to an incredibly subjective task. Let the arguing begin…
If any American driver can be credited for
continuing the legacy that Mark Donohue
started, it’s Pennsylvania’s Al Holbert. The
young Penske Racing mechanic learned
his trade from Donohue – carrying on the
driver/engineer/designer tradition – and
used an incredible work ethic to become
the best America had to offer in sports car
racing before his untimely death in 1988.
Holbert’s wasn’t an innate driving
talent, yet he honed his craft until wins in
Porsche 911s and Lola Can-Am cars
signaled he’d arrived. Two IMSA GT
driving championships, plus three GTP
championships, from 1976-’ 86 set him
above the rest, and his 49 IMSA wins
continue to stand as the series record.
Holbert was Porsche Motorsports in
America, developing the 962 into a world
beater, and earning consecutive wins at
the Daytona 24 Hours, plus two at Sebring.
He’s also peerless among his
countrymen at Le Mans. From seven
starts, Holbert finished inside the top six
an amazing six times, winning three of the
24 Hour contests in a span of four years.
Al Holbert: the humble inspiration;
the indomitable champion.
(LEFT) As an engineer,
as well as a potent
racer, Al Holbert took
Porsche’s 962 and
made it even better
the ’ 85 IMSA GTP
title with Derek Bell.
WORDS Marshall Pruett
MAIN IMAGE LAT archive/Pruett archive
Al Holbert 5