Flashback Friday with Editor-in-Chief D. Randy Riggs—Where Were You in 1970?

Ignazio Giunti, Nino Vaccarella and Mario Andretti celebrate their victory at the Sebring 12 Hours on March 21, 1970. Photo by Bill Warner

We moved out of the Swinging ’60s and into the census year of 1970 dealing with labor strikes, inflation, pollution, the Vietnam war, a generation gap, down stock market and yes, even a worry over, of all things, cyclamates. Gas cost an average of 36 cents a gallon and one could mail a letter for six cents. In the air, Boeing’s Jumbo Jet, the 747 debuted.

Detroit was still turning out musclecars, although the industry was becoming nervous about the oncoming emissions requirements and younger drivers were forced to pass on that musclecar purchase when they saw how much their insurance rates would increase.

Even so, Plymouth and Dodge finally arrived at the ponycar party to compete with Mustang and Camaro, Plymouth’s ’Cuda and Dodge’s Challenger offered with a 340cid small block, 383, 440 Magnum or Six-Pack and the now super collectible and valuable 426 Street Hemi.

If that wasn’t enough for Mopar enthusiasts, the factory’s follow up stock car racing design for the 1970 season, to the Dodge Charger Daytona of 1969, was the wild Plymouth Superbird.

It didn’t take many NASCAR laps for the Superbird to establish itself, but few would’ve predicted that newcomer Pete Hamilton would be the one to outrun veteran David Pearson to the prestigious Daytona 500 checker.

At Indianapolis in the 500, Al Unser proved he was more than an up-and-comer by winning in dominating fashion driving the Vel’s Parnelli Jones team’s PJ Colt-Ford, sponsored by Johnny Lightning, that year’s 33 starters all driving turbocharged cars—a first for the 500. By joining brother Bobby as an Indy 500 winner, they became the first (and so far only) siblings to have won at Indianapolis. The USAC driver’s title was his as well.

The “Indianapolis of the West,” Ontario Motor Speedway, opened to great fanfare in September but never met its potential and had difficulty meeting its debt service obligations, closing in 1980.

The Can-Am community had to deal with the tragic loss of Bruce McLaren in a testing accident, but “the age of thunder” as writer Pete Lyons described it, was roaring along with Denny Hulme becoming champion.

SCCA’s Trans-Am series in 1970 was the first and only year that every Detroit “pony car” manufacturer had a factory-backed team, with Ford coming out on top, thanks to drivers Parnelli Jones and George Follmer.

In Formula 1, all teams save Ferrari, BRM and Matra had switched to Cosworth engines but sadly Jochen Rindt would be crowned World Driving Champion posthumously, after being killed during practice for the Italian Grand Prix in his Team Lotus 72.

NASCAR’s Grand National Series champion was Dodge driver Bobby Issac.

We were hearing James Taylor and Elton John for the first time, the Beatles bowed out, a year of musical contrasts, from the screechy Jackson Five to the smooth Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Cruising town boulevards in a muscle machine was still much in vogue, as were car-hop drive-ins. A vanilla cola, anyone?

As for me, I was hobbled by a badly broken leg suffered in an August motorcycle flat track race, attending junior college classes and starting my journalism and photography career with freelance work.

Fifty years on, I remember back then how promising the future looked, and how pleased I am that it turned out that way.