Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the January edition of SPEED SPORT Magazine. In recognition of John Bishop’s death, we reprint it here.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Vision. Without it mankind would be unable to move forward.
Perhaps nowhere are visionaries more important than in motorsports and perhaps the most important of them for North American sports car racing was John Bishop, a refugee from the aircraft industry who became head of the Sports Car Club of America during the late 1950s.
Today, Bishop’s name is unknown to most enthusiasts. Even so, the legacy of his influence remains for it was he who founded the International Motor Sports Ass’n, the sanctioning body for the new TUDOR United Sports Car Championship that debuts Jan. 25-26 at Daytona. While that is more than enough to ensure his place in the sport’s history, Bishop’s true legacy is that he was responsible for the creation of modern day professional road racing in North America.
While motorsports here began during the earliest days of the 20th century on the dusty unpaved roads of Long Island, those primitive venues were quickly exchanged for the horse racing fairground ovals that were so plentiful throughout the land. It was only after World War II when the foreign car boom began that the road racing scene came to life again.
However, it was largely a restrictive life, confined to the most affluent by the SCCA that largely opened its doors to a privileged few, some who had the talent to drive the Ferraris, Jaguars and even the MG TCs they owned, and the others who did not.
For the latter group there was a corps of skilled professionals who could help out with the problem of winning; names such as John Fitch, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby. However, because the SCCA had a ban on professional drivers, Shelby, Gurney, Fitch and their fellow brethren were paid under the table.
Other than Sebring Int’l Raceway, which held its first event, a six-hour handicap affair on New Year’s Eve in 1950 and its first 12-Hour race in March, 1952, there were no professional races until the mid 1950s when the newly formed United States Auto Club stepped into the SCCA’s world.