American "performance rallies" are tougher in some respects than the marathon open-road races held in Europe, according to John Buffum, many times an American champion who has raced abroad.

Buffum pointed out that rallies in this country are raced over secondary roads, usually at night when it is easier to close them to regular traffic. And, unlike Europeans, the Americans cannot "recon" or run the course before the race. They see it for the first time racing at speeds up to 100 miles per hour.

Buffum will drive a Triumph TR-8 in next week's Golden West Rally from San Francisco to Reno, Nev., to Carmel, Calif. The rally, which carries a $50,000 purse, includes the longest racing stage in North American rallying, a 125-dash in Neveda.

A. J. Foyt agrees he isn't No. 1 this year. As U.S. Auto Club champion he is entitled to the "1" on his car. But, his lucky number is 14, so he has given the top number to defending Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.

Don Kearney's success driving Datsuns has earned the Tuxedo, Md., garage owner a factory-supported rise this season in the new Mazda RX-7 sports car. He's still a specialist in repairing Datsuns, but the rival firm made him a offer he couldn't refuse.

He, daughter Linda, who is his mechanic, and others are building the racer by mail for the Sports Car Club of America national championship meet at Summit Point, W. Va., next weekend. "I got a stock car that needed everything done to it," Kearney explained. "Then, I began to get packages in the mail, 'trick goodies' I call them." Those goodies included engines, a spare transmission, many parts nad plenty of advice.

Kearney has been racing sports cars since 1956. He has earned an invitation to the national title runoffs every year since 1962. When Mazda decided to enter cars in the same class as Datsun, the company tried to recruit successful Datsun drivers, with Kearney their prize catch.

Closer competition and less expense should result from the latest rule set fourth by the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) for its rich Winston Cup series. In the races over tracks less than one mile around, no team can change tires during caution laps without incurring a two-lap penalty.

It has been customary for drivers to roar into their pits for new rubber "under the yellow" when the field is moving slowly. The rich teams could do this easily; the poor ones, sometimes. Fresh tires can be worth a second or ore a lap on a short track.

The penalty will not apply to long super-speedways. No reason was given for this exception, but the high speeds on the big tracks use up tires quickly so safety might be a factor in allowing frequent tire changes.

When the well-dressed, and safe, racing driver steps into his car, he is clad in $1,500 worth of protective clothing. His three-layer, fireproof suit costs more than $600, his helmet well over $125 and his underwear $60.

Defending world road racing champion Jody Scheckter says, "When I race, I never think about safety, just about getting around the circuit fastest." To Scheckter, racing is about one thing, "money." When asked if there is a lot of it, Scheckter, who stands to make about a million dollars this year, replied "Not enough."

Major events coming up are the national championship road races at Summit Point, W. Va, Saturday and Sunday over the two-mile course near Charles Town Sunday. The Richmond Fairgrounds will offer a doubleheader featuring Grand American stock cars in a 200-miler with David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnet among the entries. A 150-miler for smaller sedans once called Baby Grands is also on the card beginning at 1 p.m.

Funny cars and jet dragsters will race over the quarter-mile Maryland International drag strip at Budds Creek -- Saturday night.