Still Racing (and Winning) After All These Years: Tony Adamowicz
In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Creedence Clearwater Revival had a #1 hit with “Bad Moon Rising,” the Woodstock Music and Art Festival was still a month away and a 28-year-old Tony Adamowicz would win the Road America SCCA Formula A/5000 race on his way to that year’s championship. Gaining the championship would give Adamowicz an edge over notable drivers of the day including David Hobbs, Peter Gethin, John Cannon and Sam Posey. At the end of that brilliant season, Adamowicz' Milestone Racing Eagle Mk 5 would be parked and not see the light of day again until 2008.
Formula 5000 gets its name from the 5.0 liter pushrod engine blocks fitted to a lightweight, open wheel chassis. In the '70s, the cars were raced on four continents with more notable racers of the day participating than any other series outside of Formula One—in fact, many F1 stars raced the F5000 cars too, including: Mario Andretti, Brian Redman, Jody Scheckter, Patrick Tambay, Alan Jones, Chris Amon, to name a few. In the United States, the F5000 series ended as a SCCA National Championship in 1976, giving way to the Single-Seat Can-Am (not to be confused with the original Can-Am)—a re-bodied “sports racer” version of the popular F5000 cars. Many of the best teams, including Newman/Haas, Hogan, VDS and Trueman defected to join CART in the subsequent four years.
After his championship '69 year, Adamowicz would go on to a very successful driving career - he drove for Ferrari, Nissan, and Porsche (the only American to pilot 917's in international competition) - scoring a 24 Hours of Daytona win and a podium at LeMans during that time. Tony was well regarded for his technical feedback and ability to run fast and bring the equipment home sans damage. In 1973 he returned to F5000, although this time in the beautiful Carling Black Label/Roy Woods Racing Lola T-330. That year he raced the entire season with a broken left hand, scored two podiums but was unable to repeat his stellar 1969 championship.
Another notable achievement, that maintains a certain cult status amongst American road racing fans today, is Tony's part in the founding of the Polish Racing Drivers of America (PRDA) with friends Oscar Koveleski and Brad Niemcek. The trio hold the cross-country speed record for a passenger van. This was attained during the famed Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea race—an event created by legendary Car and Driver Editor Brock Yates in protest to the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Law imposed by the federal government in response to the oil crisis in the early '70s.
In the early 1980's, Tony would take a very lengthy hiatus from racing, focusing instead on raising his son.
Forty-six years later, in 2014, 73 year-old Tony, affectionately known as “a2z”, would clinch his 4th Historic Formula 5000 Championship in the very same car that saw his first national championship—and remains the only person to pilot this special steed. The number 7 Eagle Mk 5 was found and restored by Doug Magnon at the Riverside International Automotive Museum. Magnon strategically reunited the amicable racer and car with crew chief Bill Losee and propelled them into one of the most successful campaigns in modern day racing.
Is it different, nearly a half century later, to drive the car? Undoubtedly the reflection in the rear view mirrors has changed a bit, but the spirit and skills remain. His support system remains equally great. In 1969, the Milestone Racing crew chief was Carroll Smith, on loan from the Shelby organization, it proved a great pairing for that particular championship. Today, Tony has the skills of master mechanic Bill Losee, a veteran racing and Porsche wrench who’s chemistry with Tony has proven even more successful than back in the day. As an example, a2z’s times at Elkhart Lake’s Road America in 2012 were within one second of his times back in 1969.
The car is relatively the same, with some modern reliability touches. Adamowicz explains: ”There were a lot of issues with the car back in the day. It is far more reliable [now]. Brakes were an issue back then. I had to develop a left foot braking technique. You would go down the straightaway and before a corner, would have to pump the brakes to build up enough pressure to slow the car entering the turn.”
“Pete Wilkins was Dan (Gurney)’s top fabricator. When we had to have some bodywork and uprights repaired at All-American Racers (AAR), I said to Pete, ‘I need you to make me a Y-Pedal.’ We kept a lot of secrets back then, but I knew that all the others were having the same problems. The calipers and uprights were junk. So to allow me to both right and left foot pump and brake, with a steering shaft right down the center. I showed Sam Posey the pedal at Elkhart lake in 2008—and he was totally surprised.”
Better calipers, which still allows him to use the Y-pedal for sweepers and such, with more reliable engine tuning aside, Adamowicz still recognizes the shortcomings: “With this car, you never do anything real hard or it will walk away from you. Overall the car is so much better, but has other new quirks.”
Adamowicz counts his blessings: “To be reunited with this car has been incredible. To win additional championships represents all the hard work by Doug and Bill.” To learn more about Tony "a2z" Adamowicz and his fascinating racing career, a2zracer.com is just a click away.
For 2015, the F5000 series was chosen as one of the groups to Participate in the fabled Monterey Historics—known around the world as the most prestigious meeting for vintage racing cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. More than 40 Formula 5000 cars, coming from Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand and various regions of the U.S will participate in this reunion—and Adamowicz and the Eagle are geared up to appear in the mid-August classic. Plan on coming if you can - if you'd like to join the PRDA, jusk ask Tony... he'll gladly initiate you!
Driving Line accelerates automotive passion by providing a fresh angle of what fuels us. Recognizing that every individual's motoring journey is unique, we seek to give form to both untold as well as celebrated facets of the automotive world. We invite you to get behind the wheel with us, it's certain to be an interesting drive.