If producing great racing and graduating drivers to higher levels is the yardstick, then the supermodified group known as the Canadian American Modified Racing Ass’n (CAMRA) has to rank near the top.
When representatives from eight cities in western Canada, the U.S. northwest and Salt Lake City gathered in Spokane, Wash., for two days in January 1963, it led to the formation of CAMRA.
The first race was held May 17 with Idaho driver Bill Crow taking a 100-lap feature at Nanaimo. The following night, Crow made it back-to-back wins by taking the checkered flag in Victoria, British Columbia. CAMRA was off and running. Over the next 22 seasons, CAMRA sanctioned supermodified racing in Canada and the Pacific Northwest.
The early years of CAMRA saw several drivers who later graduated to Indianapolis. British Columbia’s Billy Foster won the first championship, in 1963. Coloradan Jim Malloy took the next two titles while driving creations built by his brother Jerry. Art Pollard, another CAMRA driver who would soon be racing Indy cars, finished seventh in 1964 points.
The 1970 season saw a juggernaut — a four-wheel drive, rear-engine car. Built by Jim Tipke and driven by a young man from the Spokane area, Tom Sneva, the duo took the championship.
Four members of the Sneva clan claimed CAMRA titles, with Jerry (’74), Blaine (’81) and Jan (’83, ’84) joining Tom. In all, eight CAMRA drivers made it to the Indy 500 — Foster, Malloy, Pollard, Tom and Jerry Sneva, Dick Simon, Eldon Rasmussen and Cliff Hucul, while a few others made starts in Indy-car races.
CAMRA also offered fields of great diversity, with winged sprints, uprights, roadsters and rear-engined cars all racing alongside each other.
While they didn’t become nationally known like the drivers who raced in the 500, other drivers played a role in CAMRA history: Edmonton, Alberta’s Norm Ellefson was a three-time champ, winning in ’66, ’67 and ’69, and no one won more titles than British Columbia’s Doug Larson, who won four titles from ’75 to ’79.
“Jungle” Jim Roberts, Palmer Crowell, Don “Rebel” Selley, George Robertson, Bob Cochran, Marc Edson and Marty White all won single championships, and drivers like “Barefoot” Bob Gregg, Al and Roy Smith, Ralph Monhay and Bud “Suds” Gorder were among many drivers who made the association what it was.
In 1984, Jan Sneva won his second-straight title with brother Blaine in the runner-up spot in what turned out to be the final season for the venerable group.
At the end of the campaign, CAMRA merged with the Washing-ton Racing Ass’n to become the short-lived USAC-Washington, bringing an end to a memorable chapter of supermodified racing.