The Definitive History of BFG Tirebirds - Doug Innes

Origin of the Cars

There were 3 (1970) race cars and 6 (1971) promotional/show cars built by T/G racing. We wound up the 69 T/A series in 3rd place and Pontiac was coming out with the new body style in 70 ½. The 69’s were actually run with 68 sheet metal because of an SCCA ruling and the shop prepared for the 70 season. GM was late with the introduction of the new Firebird so components were prepared while we waited for the new cars. In February of 1970, I took the company hauler to Pontiac Michigan (Pontiac had not shown the cars nor did the dealers have them yet) to pick up the first 2 cars. These Firebirds were complete except for interiors because I was told that the interiors had not been received from the upholstery supplier. The cars were not true “cars in white” as they had undercoating, stock engine, wiring etc. which would be stripped out in our California shop. For one of the cars, I was advised that it was car # 1 off the assembly line. It had 4 small jig holes, or measuring holes in the roof and those holes remained throughout our build and racing seasons. When picking up the cars, I also brought quite a few factory supplied parts, spindles, steering components etc. I delivered the cars to our shop, 18422 Topham St., Tarzana, California where we immediately went to work as we were late and under the gun. I took the cars to the acid dipper as they were all acid dipped. The third Firebird I believe was secured from a local Pontiac dealer after the cars were introduced and became readily available. These cars were campaigned by Jerry Titus through the 70 Season until Jerry was fatally injured at Road America. They were campaigned by T/G Racing in the base color of white with blue accents. The car Jerry was injured in was scrapped – it was a total write off. Now we were down to 2 cars. T/G chose to finish off the season with David Hobbs as lead driver and John Cordts as 2nd driver. The cars were repainted base blue with white or yellow accents after Jerry’s accident and finished the season that way. So at the end of the season Pontiac withdrew from the program and we had 2 cars and a reasonable parts supply. At this point, BFG had not entered the picture. The T/G team was scaled back and looking for a sponsor or activity for 1971. The California shop was still open and I had moved back to Canada. 

Securing the BFG Contract

Godsall was approached by BFG to discuss trying a new street tire they were going to introduce –the Radial T/A in a racing venue... My understanding was that they had someone that worked for their advertising agency who was an amateur racer and envisioned driving the car himself and advertising the tires durability through racing. An agreement was made to run the car at a 4 hour endurance race that fall in Mosport. John Cordts was the driver and Peter Dodge and Paul Walden (T/G crew – Calif.) flew in and joined me to work the race. We met at Mosport and the BFG tires had no lettering on them, nor did the BFG guys wear any identifiable clothing. In practice the tires were slow but decent. When the race started the tires started chunking. Due to excessive heat build up and a very deep tread we had a problem. The Goodrich guys kept putting new tires on rims and we the crew kept making pit stops. I believe we went through 20 tires that day and finished the race in 3rd place on the last set of tires which were also coming apart. Cordts saved the day for us by smooth driving and reducing tire wear. We had performed very well as a crew with faultless numerous pit stops. The effort was not embarrassing as BFG had never tested the tire and were in a learning curve. Everyone was pleased but more work was needed on the BFG product. Approximately the next weekend Cordts and I took the car to Watkins Glen for an SCCA event. This car was still dark blue-no lettering. Just the two of us went as they weren’t long races and we didn’t intend changing tires. BFG Engineers had done their homework. They X-Rayed the tires to determine the directional “wrap” of the radial wires and shaved the tires to a much reduced tread depth to reduce heat build up. The tires were great, still not fast but dependable. In the Saturday race it was extremely hot and I had installed the fan not being concerned with H.P loss. The starter held the cars on the grid a long time and most cars overheated. When the flag dropped the Firebird and Cordts performed admirably. The competitors were overheating and we won our class.  I also recollect a Sunday’s race with heavy rain showers and the BFG tire was good in the rain and of course John Cordts was an excellent rain driver. Once again we won our class and BFG were impressed. These were the first production races won by a street radial! The tires had proven themselves dependable and while a little slow could be fairly competitive in the right field. The car itself looked great and Cordts was flawless.  I have no knowledge of whether Godsall was paid for these races or not. It certainly set the stage for the signing of a contract as BFG guys were all very pleased and as a result of the placing at these three races I believe they thought the tire was competitive. The Glen race resulted in a BFG magazine ad campaign introducing the T/A Radial and Cordt's win. 

Promotional Car taken by Tom Senter

BFG Promotional Cars

 Godsall negotiated a contract with BFG that to the best of my knowledge was for Daytona, Sebring and SCCA Northeast (8) races plus runoffs if invited. The value of the sponsorship was $125,000 plus a daily rate for filming of commercials, trucking of race car at $1.00 or $1.25 a mile plus a race car collision clause. I have no idea if there was a bonus clause or what other perks there may have been. Also, included in this contract was that T/G Racing would build, for an additional fee (unknown) a total of 6 promotional/show BFG Tirebirds. The show cars were purchased new from a Pontiac dealer in Long Beach and were made into show cars in the T/G shop in Tarzana. No one could ever confuse them with a real race car as they had a phony fuel cell, exhaust tubing roll cage, factory engine, wiring, heater etc. The engine compartment was tricked up a bit, had headers, Minilight wheels and of course BFG TIREBIRD graphics with BFG tires installed.  These cars went out to BFG divisions to be used for store promotions, shows and Radial T/A introductions. So the final tally of 1970 Firebird cars built by T/G was 6 SHOW CARS, 3 RACE CARS. (one car lost at Road America) 

1971 BFG Campaign

  

  • The BFG campaign of 1971 therefore started with 2 race cars both hold over Firebirds from the previous year. The Pontiac engine was heavy, down on horsepower and had finally picked up some dependability after Dave Billes of Performance Engineering in Toronto had come up with a swinging oil pickup in late in the 1970 season. (We were still on wet sumps). They were not Chevy engines in 1970 but Pontiac 303 long decks. One of these cars was still the original #1 Firebird production car with the holes in the roof. Both cars had Hurst/Airheart brakes that were useless. Both cars had dual master cyl. with brake booster. The rear ends were GM with negative camber built in and were full floaters designed by Jerry Titus. This was 20 years before rear camber came to NASCAR. They were equipped with a Titus designed Watts linkage on the rear and a rear sway bar. Reworked leaf springs (with Teflon strips to reduce friction) retained original mounting points. They had fuel cells with Holman Moody flip over valves, Stewart Warner 240A fuel pumps and Jabsco pumps for rear end oil. In the 71 season the battery was trunk mounted under the rear window on the ledge at the front of the trunk. Rear end oil cooler was slung under the floor pan but pump was in trunk. Front end had dropped spindles, hollow massive sway bar and mildly reworked stock upper and lower control arms (bushings upgraded). Jerry had always liked lot of sway bar so the car tended to be stiff. Herb Adams, the Pontiac engineer deserves a lot of credit for suspension design and chassis improvements that I may have attributed to Jerry. They worked very closely together and only Mr. Adams could really advise which his ideas were and which were Jerry’s. I can’t remember brand of radiator. Ignition had 2 stock boxes mounted at the front of the tunnel inside the car and the driver could switch them over. Both cars had been sent out for the BFG Tirebird logo and graphic package which I always thought was brilliant and I assume the design was generated in house at BFG. So it was on to Daytona.

BFG Radial Tirebird

The Radial T/A was introduced thru the Tirebird program in 1971 - 47 years ago. This tire is still merchandised under the same name in 2018 and was the first radial tire to win in a race.

Larry Dent

The BFG Tirebird was successfully raced across the US.   The BFG Tirebird show car program was the first time I can remember a company actively promoting their track performance thru showcars and spreading cars throughout their U S dealers.  

Daytona & SCCA Races

Daytona & the Backup Camaro

  • For Daytona John Cordts and Don Pike were chosen as drivers. Lew  Spencer remained as Team Manager as he had been with T/G starting with  Road America . The car ran as a Firebird in keeping with BFG’s play on  words “Tirebird-Firebird”. Their preference was to always run as a  Firebird- more on that later. I was not at Daytona or Sebring but my  understanding is that Larry Dent who was known by Lew Spencer actually  qualified the car at Daytona because Cordts and Pike were late getting  to the track. I know they did have some chunking problems with the tires  at Daytona during the race but the engine expired after 7 hours and  they dropped out. ( Cordts and Pike drivers) Sebring: One Firebird was  converted to a Camaro (with dry sump Chevy engine) and that was the car  that competed at Sebring. The car was a DNF. Cordts and Pike again were  the drivers and failed to finish because of rear end failure. In lap 2  the diff went out, a new one was installed but old debris in the system  knocked it out.  At this time Godsall asked me to come back and run  the program as most of the races  were in the North and I’d had pretty  good success with the car. BFG were not very pleased with  Daytona/Sebring results so we needed to satisfy them. At the same time, I  was determined to make some money from the sponsorship. The focus was  always to be on the Firebird, it fit BFG’s advertising campaign and the  Camaro was to be a backup car with the realization it was also faster  and more dependable with its Chevy engine than the Pontiac engined  Firebird. The Camaro was set up with a Smokey Yunick engine which had a  lot more horsepower and lighter engine weight than the Firebird. 

SCCA & the Tirebird

  • Before the SCCA series started we went to Laguna Seca with John  Cordts and did an in house commercial for BFG dealers. We used the  Firebird and all went well in the two day shoot. Midsummer(1971) we did a  test with Larry Dent at Nelsons Ledges and some additional photography  work for commercials. The tire test performed at the track confirmed to  an unbelieving BFG factory how slow their tires were. SCCA Program:  BFG wanted to run the SCCA Northeast A/Sedan series  and wanted an amateur driver in the seat. The concept was smaller,  innovative tire the big tire companies with lots of money. A driver’s  competition was staged by BFG, arranged by T/G Racing with invited  drivers to test at Riverside. A Mustang race car was rented and 6  drivers tried out. Larry Dent of Fort Wayne, Indiana proved to be the  fastest, had the most big car experience and had shown at Daytona that  he was a very capable driver. He had the support of Lew Spencer but the  ultimate decision was BFG’s. Larry was chosen to drive the SCCA campaign  and the following months performance showed it was the right one.  
  • Interestingly enough here’s what I was told about Larry by BFG.  Now BFG had just inserted this “amateur” driver to replace John Cordts  who I enjoyed working with. I was told Larry was an experienced radio  announcer who’d be a good speaker and that’s the reason he was chosen.  It was obvious the BFG guy didn’t have many human resources skills or  knowledge of how to deal with prima donna race car mechanics. No one  said he has some big car experience, was good at Daytona or in the test  and all I could think of was, since the invention of the vacuum tube, every radio announcer I’d ever met was a goofy looking non aggressive  wimp. “Oh by the way Doug, Larry’s last name is DENT” was a parting  sentence I didn’t need to hear. Just a few practice laps straightened  out my perception of who I was working with and that we were likely to  have a good season.                                                        

1971 A/S SCCA results: 


  1. Bridgehampton- Firebird, 2nd  Cumberland- Firebird, Sat on pole, DNF Head Gasket, Overheating 
  2. Lime Rock - Firebird, Sat on pole, 1st place 
  3. Bryar Trans Am - Firebird 16th place – This race was not in the  contract T/G threw this race in. Larry and I went at the last minute and  BFG provided the tires. During  the race Tony Adamowicz came down on  Larry and hit his tire causing a lengthy pit stop. We had been running  top ten. 
  4. Thompson - Camaro 2nd 
  5. Road America June Sprints- Camaro 3rd
  6. Mid-Ohio- Camaro 3rd 
  7. Nelson Ledges-Camaro, DNS wreck in practice 
  8. Summit Point-Camaro, 3rd, (unverified) 
  9. Fall Runoffs Georgia- Camaro, qualified well but blew Smoky Yunick engine. DNF. 
  10. SCCA Final Results:  2 poles, 1 win, 2-2nds, 3-3rds.  2 DNFs engine, 1 DNS accident. 
  11. 2nd overall SCCA NORTHEAST DIVISION POINTS- A/SEDAN 

End of the Season

  • That brought us to the end of the 71 race season. Godsall had not  made a proposal to BFG for the 72 season nor was he interested. He was  pursuing a sponsored Can-Am program for 1972 and the Trans-Am series was  arguably losing factory participation and overall momentum. BFG  contracted with John Greenwood for an ambitious 1972 season to include  racing Greenwood Corvettes at Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Watkins Glen  and Mid-Ohio. Two parties, BFG and Greenwood had deluded themselves by  believing they could really race a street tire competitively, that they  could out achieve T/G Racings finishing positions in 1971, and thirdly  that their team could actually finish. I won’t repeat their results but  would term them as embarrassing!  In addition they publicly expressed  some negativity about the tire finally admitting the BFG tire was slower  than a race tire. Needless to say Goodrich did not renew the contract.  
  • So here we are (T/G Racing) with a 1970 Firebird, still in BFG  trim, Pontiac engined wet sump car which was sold locally to a speed  shop. The car ended up being oval track raced and was mercifully rescued  in the early 1990’s by James Thomas a southern boy. The car (this is  car #1 with the drilled roof) was sold by James to Mark Mountanos in  California. Its final home was Canepa Design, Scotts Valley,  California. 
  • The other car, a Camaro as rebodied by T/G Racing at the start of  season was powered by a Smokey Yunick Chevy engine and was dry sump.  This was sold to Alfie Ruys de Perez and subsequently raced by he and  his wife. This car also made its way into Mark Mountanos’ hands and  later to Canepa Design. It appears rebodied as a Firebird in Jerry  Titus’ colors of white with blue trim Car#8. 

Final Notes

  • This provides the perfect opportunity to dispel rumors, straighten out  inaccuracies, and bury falsehoods. While reviewing many blogs and  submissions on the internet regarding these cars I sometimes wondered if  the authors of same smoked too much in the sixties or slept through the  seventies. I am fortunate that I was relatively young when I worked for  T/G Racing and am still young enough to have retained an excellent  memory.  
  • However I am deeply indebted to Larry Dent who was our BFG  Tirebird driver during the 1971 SCCA season for his review, discussion  and corrections of my ramblings. The debt runs deep back to the 71  season when a patient, intelligent Larry Dent adapted to an underpowered  Firebird shod with a uncompetitive tire and delivered finishes and  Corporate representation that any team would be proud of. 
  • I am also thankful for the input from Terry Godsall for his  insight into boardroom dealings, the financial aspects of the BFG  contract and for providing me with the opportunity to work the BFG  contract. I trust my performance was satisfactory. 

Terry Goodsall

Jerry Titus, his wife and Doug Innes

Now Let's Kill the Rumors

  • The  BFG cars were for most of the season run out of a small BFG warehouse  in Medina, Ohio. The remainder of the time we operated out of my shop in  Ottawa, not Toronto as reported. T/G did have a shop in Toronto during  this time but it was seldom used and while the California shop still  existed the only activity for T/G was the BFG campaign which I ran out  of the North. No parts or cars were retained in California or Toronto,  nor was any support provided by those shops. 
  • The Northern operation was self sufficient. Don Innes my brother  would help through much of the season as well as a young man named Kim  MacKenzie who filled in. The cars (Pontiacs in 1970 or 71) never  campaigned with Chevy engines. That was 1969. 1970 Firebirds were  homologated only with Pontiac engines unfortunately.  We did not attend  the races with a tractor trailer or fancy rig. We showed up low key with  a Chevy pickup and open trailer taking only one car to the track. We  attempted to blend in to the club racing scene.  The Jim Donnelly  authored article in Hemmings has some inaccuracies. He claims we ran a  Dave Billes built Chevy engine in the Firebird that produced 550 h.p. We  never ran a Chevy engine in the Firebird. It was pure Pontiac. The  Camaro ran with a Smokey Yunick engine and in 1971 550 h.p was unheard  of out of a 302 (no matter how much Smoky cheated). The car it was  stated was supposed to run the Trans-Am Series with the BFG tires. No  one aspired to reach that level with a street tire. The only T/A race we  ran was Bryar and coming off a win at Lime Rock Larry Dent and I  decided to treat ourselves to a racers weekend. Donnelly also is in  error on the designated drivers for Daytona –it was Pike and Cordts who  were assigned the duties. At Watkins Glen we did not appear with a huge  trailer labelled Titus-Godsall as we didn’t own one.
  • We did not attend a Michigan race where it is falsely claimed that  Greenwoods cars defeated the Tirebird. Attempts by me to correct this  inaccuracy have fallen on deaf or reluctant ears. The Derek  Johnson/Todco Firebird that campaigned in a couple of races in 1970  Trans Am was not built by T/G Racing. Todco built it in Montreal and  T/G’s only involvement was Pontiac engine parts. I’m not sure we did him  any favours there! 
  • We tested the Camaro (in BFG colours) at Mid-Ohio in the middle of  the BFG season with David Hobbs driving and Smokey Yunick in  attendance. The car had a Yunick engine and it’s an anomaly why we were  there. I believe we ran Goodyear tires and perhaps it was all for  Smokey’s benefit as a month later he ran his Camaro and Swede Savage at  the Glen. 

Yes we made money in the 1971 season! 

  • Summary:  I began working for Terry Godsall in the spring of 1969  on his private car collection. I transferred over to T/G Racing starting  at St. Jovite Trans-Am  race in 1969 and continued with the team until 2  weeks before Jerry was fatally injured. I returned to finish off the  1970 season and ran the BFG Tirebird campaign in 1971 (after Sebring) to  its conclusion. At the termination of racing activity I worked for  years after for Terry. We remain in touch and all recollections are to  the very best of my memory.            

Doug Innes, May 2011

BFG Tirebird Diagram

Doug Innes - T/G Crew Chief