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Celebrating a Legend

George Follmer Honored At Petersen

Andy Bolig - September 17, 2012 03:55 PM

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Festivities include a gallery display of George Follmer-centric race cars and memorabilia generously supported by eminent collectors.

For its fourteenth year of celebrating Legends of Motorsport, the Petersen Automotive Museum, along with the Checkered Flag 200 Group, will present a very special “Tribute to George Follmer” program to be held at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.

Certain to be a memorable dinner event for all who join the Petersen’s prominent guests, friends and colleagues, the evening’s festivities include a gallery display of George Follmer-centric race cars and memorabilia generously supported by eminent collectors.

The tribute will brim with stories about George. Forty years ago, Trans-Am Champion Follmer, subbing for Mark Donahue, was under pressure going into Mid-Ohio’s Can-Am race to drive Roger Penske’s 5.4-liter twin-turbo Porsche 917/10, while the car’s L&M sponsor coined a promotional button “Let George Do It!” The mantra stuck and fan fervor soared. Follmer drove the bristly 917, heeding team boss Penske’s pit signal to keep going in his lead while others pitted for rain tires. Follmer won the race, inspiring media scribes to brand him “George Am.” He finished out 1972 as series champion in Trans-Am and Can-Am—the only driver to win both series titles in the same year.

Another accolade came Follmer’s way in ‘72, and remains very special to him. The American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association’s Jerry Titus Memorial Award honored George Follmer as “Driver of the Year.” Also, in August of ’72 he simultaneously held Mid-Ohio’s qualifying records for three major racing series—Can-Am, Trans-Am, and Continental F5000. Follmer would also later win the Trans-Am title for a second time in 1976 driving Vasek Polak’s sizzling Porsche 934 Turbo.

At age 39, George was then the oldest driver to start an F1 race—it was 1973 at Kyalami, South Africa, where he finished in sixth place, a points-earning position in his very first Grand Prix start. Teamed with Jackie Oliver in Don Nichols’ menacingly black DN1 Shadows, George’s next F1 race in the UOP car was on the challenging Montjuich hill circuit in Barcelona where Follmer, finishing third, stood on the Spanish GP podium alongside winner Emerson Fittipaldi and second place François Cevert.

There is so much in George Follmer’s racing career that it seems there had to be two, or maybe three, Georges—not just the one and only. Filling his driving’s three decades were Trans-Am, Can-Am, NASCAR, Champ Car, Continental F5000, the Indy 500, IMSA, IROC, FIA Makes, Bosch Super Vee, SCCA Escort Endurance Showroom Trucks, top qualifier in Fast Masters’ Jaguar XJ220, and the enduros at Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans. He’s in the Motorsports Hall of Fame, and on The Walk of Fame at Watkins Glen.

Of his upcoming tribute night at the Petersen, Follmer says, “I would like it to be a good time for everybody, because there aren’t too many times at this point in our lives that we’re all going to be together.” Follmer himself was lucky to survive a horrendous crash during qualifying for Laguna Seca’s Can-Am race in 1978, and George will tell about it.

Says Parnelli Jones, Follmer’s 1969-70 Trans-Am teammate in their storming Bud Moore Boss 302 Ford Mustangs, “George proved he was a talented race driver, and he had a bubbly personality—not a sour puss by any means.” They won the series title in 1970.

Tom Madigan, writing a book on Follmer, published soon by Ed Justice, Jr., first saw George at the old Palm Springs airport races, driving his Porsche. “He cleaned the field,” Madigan recalls. “He was a very versatile driver, and also braver than Dick Tracy.”

The Petersen’s program will begin with no-host cocktails and a Museum presentation that includes cars and collected memorabilia representing George Follmer’s life in motor-racing. The buffet dinner follows, then a multi-monitor video screening compiled of filmed and still photo highlights from George’s extraordinary competition years. Renowned drivers and Follmer’s friends we all recognize or have read about will be introduced to tell some of their best stories from knowing George Follmer, with the tribute evening hosted and moderated by Master of Ceremonies Bill Stephens. Among the VIP guests who’ve been invited are Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, John Morton, Tony Adamowicz and a number of other familiar names from George Follmer’s racing past.

Because the Petersen Museum’s tributes are routinely capacity audience sell-outs, early ticket purchase is a must for those who don’t want to miss this “Tribute to George Follmer.” To guarantee admission for this gathering, or for more information on the event at the Petersen Automotive Museum, please call Sarah Hill (323) 964-6325, or Paul Moritz (323) 964-6359. Reserved ticket purchase is priced at $125 per person for Museum Members, $150 for non-members. Ticket price includes buffet dinner, the evening’s complete program, and parking. A cash bar will be available. Tickets are not mailed; “Tribute to George Follmer” reservations will be held at the Petersen Museum door. Tickets may also be purchased online through the Museum’s website at www.petersen.org. For more general Museum information, call 323-930-CARS (2277).

For Your Information:

The Petersen Automotive Museum

6060 Wilshire Boulevard

Los Angeles, California 90036-3605

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