|ATLAS F1 Volume 6, Issue 43||Email to Friend Printable Version|
|Rear View Mirror|
Backward glances at racing history
Where Upon Our Scribe, Sherman,
& Mr. Peabody Once Again Crank Up
The Way-Back Machine for 1961...
|by Don Capps, U.S.A.|
Which is better known as...the Season of Low Expectations or Britain Sees Red
In this chapter:
As the cars surged up the hill from the starting grid, Cameron Argetsinger finally took a moment to sit down on a crate in the pit area and say, "Phew!" Then it was right back to the business at handů
Few realize how far back Grand Prix racing goes in the United States. The W.K. Vanderbilt Cup races on Long Island in 1904, 1905, and 1906. Then there were the American Grand Prize races in Savannah in 1908, 1910, and 1911 along with the 1911 and 1912 races at Milwaukee, the 1914 and 1916 Grand Prize races at Santa Monica, and the 1915 race in San Francisco. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy at the wheel of a Duesenberg - on Oldfield tires - won the Grand Prix de l'Automobile Club de France on a course laid out near Le Mans. At various times, Duesenberg and Miller machines popped up on the grid in European events during the 20's and 30's - along with the occasional American driver, such as Peter DePaolo or Whitney Straight. In 1936 and 1937, there were two races run once again on Long Island - Westbury - over the specially constructed Roosevelt Raceway. The first of these was won by Tazio Nuvolari in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. The other was won by Bernd Rosemeyer in an Auto-Union Typ C.
When the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) established the World Championship for Drivers commencing with the 1950 season, one of the rounds was the Indianapolis International 500 Mile Motor Sweepstakes. At the time this was not that far-fetched as it might seem today. Although there were still some of the entries using the supercharged 3-litre engines allowed by the Grand Prix formula that was adopted in 1938, most of the entries at Indianapolis were powered by 4.5-litre engines - just like those allowed in the successor to the old Grand Prix formula, "Formula 1." Plus, with all the other rounds in Europe, there was a need to have a round outside Europe to at least make it appear as a "World Championship." The American Automobile Association's (AAA) Contest Board was only to happy to oblige.
In 1959, the United States held a "genuine" round in the World Championship which was run before a small crowd at Sebring in December. It was also the last and deciding round in the Championship that season. The next year, the United States Grand Prix moved to the Riverside track in California with the race being run in November. Due to a lethal combination of factors - the running of the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix for Sports Cars just a few weeks previously on the same track and a Rams game that same weekend to name but two of them - the turnout was dismal. For the second straight year the promoter, Alec Ulmann, took a bath.
Before I go any further, those of you counting on your fingers and going "One - 1959, two - 1960, and three - 1961; hey, so where did the 'IV' come from?" let me explain. For reasons that don't have to make sense and wouldn't even if we tried to do so, the first "USGP" of this era apparently was held at Riverside in 1958. Your blank stare is noted for the record. Seems that the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix for Sports Cars of 1958 also gets dual credit as the "I United States Grand Prix." Why? Well, it seemed like a great idea at the time... Seriously, how could I make something up like that?
Watkins Glen is in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and lies at the southern end of Lake Seneca. Of all the places in the United States to be the birthplace and ancestral home of post-war road racing in America, few are as unlikely as this small village. However, Cameron Argetsinger had a vision to bring international road racing to the United States. He organized and ran the first post-war road races in the United States on a true 6.6-mile road circuit laid out on the roads around the village. It had four different road surfaces (cement, macadam, oiled gravel, and dirt) and had the start/finish line in front of the Court House on Franklin Street, the village's de facto main street. Argetsinger called the main event of the first meeting the Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix. He also stated at the time that the site would someday host a true Grand Prix race.
The 1948 event was a huge success and there were bigger and better events there until 1952. That year the odds finally caught up with the race. Although Sam Collier was killed during the 1950 race, extraordinary efforts to ensure a safe race were taken each year. With crowds in the tens of thousands - with easily a hundred thousand in attendance for the main event, crowd control was a constant source of attention. Even the best efforts are foolproof, however. As they started on their second lap in the 1952 Grand Prix, the Cunningham teammates of Briggs Cunningham and John Fitch were flashing down Franklin Street in that order with Fred Wacker in a an Allard close behind. Fitch had moved left to set up for the right-hander past the State Park. Wacker had closed in on Fitch and was right there with the Cunningham driver. When Fitch realized that the Allard was closer than he realized, he pulled sharply to his right and Wacker moved just a bit to his left. That move to the left saw him move closer to the crowd lining the street. The slight fishtail wiggle resulted in the rear of the Allard strike spectators sitting on the curb. A seven-year old boy was killed and his father and a brother, plus 10 others injured as a result.
The race was halted and so was the last race run over the original course at Watkins Glen. In 1953, another course was found in the area (near Valent's Farm) and the 4.6-mile circuit was used from 1953 to 1955. In 1956, a permanent circuit was built and opened that September. The new circuit was 3.70 kilometers/ 2.3 miles long and would serve basically unchanged until the 1971 season when a "boot" was added in time for the 1971 USGP.
However, we are almost getting ahead of ourselves. Let us return to the aftermath of the 1959 and 1960 USGP races. In both years, there was a small problem that the organizer of the events - Alec Ulmann - had with the teams after the races: his checks bounced. In 1959, Charles Moran and Briggs Cunningham personally covered the checks save face for American racing and make amends. In 1960, the same thing happened. Amazingly, Stirling Moss somehow managed to get his check to clear - but Moss being Moss somehow one expects that sort of thing. The others were somewhat uncharitable in their mutterings about Ulmann and what was apparently becoming a pattern. Once again, Moran and Cunningham reached into their pockets and ensured that the teams were taken care of.
So, it was with more than polite interest that the teams arched their collective eyebrows when the USGP was on the 1961 calendar for November with Alec Ulmann still the promoter. What is more, there was neither a specific date in November nor a designated track, although the reasoning was that it would be either Riverside or Sebring again. Largely unnoticed was that the only Inter-Continental Formula scheduled for outside the UK that seemed to actually be on target to be run was the October event at Watkins Glen.
Starting in 1958, the Watkins Glen organizers held a formula libre event each Fall. In 1958, Joakim Bonnier was invited and won the 300-km event in one of his Maserati 250F machines. He was impressed by the manner in which the event was run and the promptness of the payment of his starting and prize monies. Second was Californian Dan Gurney in a Ferrari sports racer after real ding dong with Phil Hill. In 1959, Argetsinger chose Stirling Moss as the star of the formula libre event. In a Yeoman Credit/ British Racing Partnership Cooper - Climax, Moss braved rain, sleet, hail, and snow to win the 80 lap event, ahead of Eddie Johnson in another single-seater: a Kurtis - Offenhauser midget! In 1960, Moss was back and along with him came the reigning World Champion, Jack Brabham, Olivier Gendebien, Roy Salvadori, and - once again - Joakim Bonnier. Moss won with Brabham, Salvadori, and Bonnier next in the order.
As the 1961 season moved on, the situation with the fate of the USGP started to cause some concern on the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States (ACCUS). The ACCUS was set up as the US representative to the CSI once the AAA Contest Board withdrew it place at the table at the end of the 1955 season. It was composed of the leading racing organizations of the day - USAC (the United States Auto Club which assumed control of the National Championship series), NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing), and the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America). Its chairman was Charles Moran and the purpose of the ACCUS was to take care of the interests of the US with the CSI. Interestingly enough, while the three groups were often not on speaking terms much less friendly with each other, their work on the ACCUS was usually cordial and effective in taking care of US interests.
The ACCUS began to question Ulmann as to the specifics of the USGP he was entrusted with, The fact that an American was in the running for the Championship and the deciding round could be held on American soil was foremost in their concerns. Ulmann had talks with Miami and Bill France for the use of the Daytona track fall through. Daytona wished to hold the USGP in February as a part of the annual Speedweeks it held. That meant that it would be 1962 if the race was to be held at Daytona. And returning to either Sebring or Riverside was not an option. It was looking as if there might not be a 1961 USGP, something that the ACCUS was determined to avoid.
In early August, Cameron Argetsinger presented to the ACCUS a proposal for the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation to host the USGP on the date it had scheduled for its Inter-Continental race, the 8th of October. Ulmann fought the proposal and tried to gain more time with ACCUS to exercise his option. In reality, at this point he was merely trying to make life difficult for Argetsinger and Watkins Glen.
On 28 August, the ACCUS informed Argetsinger that the date of 8 October was now the date of the USGP and the venue was...Watkins Glen. This meant that Argetsinger had a mere six weeks to get ready for the USGP! Actually, since the I-C race was already scheduled and arrangements laid for that event, it was more a matter of shifting gears than building something from the ground up. The excellent work done for the formula libre events was now paying off.
Using a combination of telephone calls and cable messages, Argetsinger assembled the field for the USGP. Meanwhile, new pits were constructed for the race, being modeled after those on the Continent - pit boxes with overhead cover. The teams were making their plans to attend the race and many were eager to see what the Watkins Glen track was like. However, there was one stumbling block that all of the arguing and pleading simply did not seem to be able to overcome: Enzo Ferrari, in the wake of the death of von Trips at Monza, simply refused to send an entry. "Significant" sums of money were mentioned. The pride of having the first American Champion drive a Ferrari in his home Grand Prix did not faze the man. In the end, Phil Hill was at Watkins Glen, but only as a spectator, serving as the Grand Marshal for the event.
Here is the entry that Argetsinger gathered for the USGP:
1, 2 - Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren: Cooper Car Company, Cooper 58 - Climax FWMV and Cooper 55 - Climax FPF
The entry was a good mixture of talent from both sides of the Atlantic. There were eight "Americans" on the grid - seven drivers from the United States and Peter Ryan from Canada. The latter was fresh from his triumph in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park where he beat Moss and the rest of the field. With few exceptions - Ferrari being the major one of course - it was the Usual Suspects that were in the paddock and using those newly constructed pits.
Cooper showed up with the Climax FWMV in the Type 58 for Brabham. He also had a Type 55 with a FPF as a spare. McLaren was in his usual FPF-powered mount. The spare chassis that was taken to Indianapolis in May, a Type 53, and left in the US, was now in the hands of Hap Sharp and being looked after by the works as if it were a third car. Other Coopers were in the hands of: the young man from Philadelphia, Roger Penske; Walt Hansgen in the Briggs Cunningham Momo Corporation entry; and the two Reg Parnell cars.
The BRM team did not bring the vee-eight that was shown at Monza, but the cars seemed to suit the Watkins Glen course and both Hill and Brooks were smiling for about the first time all season. The Porsche team had its usual mounts for Bonnier and Gurney.
Rob Walker brought two cars for Moss, one with a Climax FPF and the other with the second Climax FWMV the Coventry firm was providing to a team. Team Lotus was present with their hopes up for a good finish to the season.
The first practice session on Friday saw Brabham the fastest by over a second from Moss in the FPF-powered Lotus. Moss equaled his time in the FPF car with the FWMV car, as did McLaren. Moss was complaining of an engine misfire and that the handling of the car - the vee-eight was crammed into his usual spare (906). The only hairy moments were when both Ireland and Gendebien both had the steering disappear when a joint broke and visited the trees in the neighborhood: the Ireland 21 was not badly hurt, but the 18 of Gendebien needed some serious effort by the UDT-Laystall mechanics.
The first session on Saturday saw Clark the fastest in the session, but still 1.2 seconds off the time set by Brabham on Friday. Gurney found some speed and slipped into third on the grid and second best in the session. Generally there was not much improvement by those who practiced, only nine cars taking to the track during the whole session.
The second Saturday session saw folks get downright motivated. Moss got the vee-eight under the time set by Brabham by 0.1 second, but Brabham came back with a lap of 1min 17.0sec which was not approached by any else, but still a second off the lap record set by Moss the year before. The only Hill on the track that weekend got the fire going in the BRM and snatched the outside spot on the front row, albeit 1.1 seconds off the pole time of Brabham.
Prior to the race, there were various people vying to select the winner of the race. The odds on favorite was Moss, naturally. However, one of Argetsinger's daughters, Louise, chose Innes Ireland. Needless to say, most thought her selection "interesting" but few followed suit.
And here is how the Starting Grid finally looked:
The weather was overcast, but actually balmy for October in the Fall. As Argetsinger looked out over the crowd, he was impressed by the numbers of "white shirts in places where there had never been spectators before..."
After the starting grid was formed, out strode the starter for the race. Although his parent christened him Richard Norman Hopkins, to history he is known as "Tex" Hopkins. In his lavender suit, big cigar, and enthusiasm for the job, Tex Hopkins is easily the most famous and easily recognized starter in Grand Prix racing, even "Toto" Roche taking a distant second to Tex.
Once things were in order, Tex Hopkins strode across the front of the grid with his back to the field, turned, and then jumped into the air and waved the flag to start the race! This was a performance that he was to repeat many times at Watkins Glen - a far cry from the lights of today.
Although taken slightly by surprise despite seeing this performance twice before, Moss caught and passed both Hill and Brabham before the end of the first lap. Ireland also had a great start and was in third. Not having a great race was Surtees, he had the engine break a connecting rod on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Cameron Argetsinger was just down sitting on his crate saying, "Phew!" However, it was simply the merest of moments for this dynamo of a man. He then when back to completing the miracle he had helped bring forth: a full-fledged Grand Prix in a small New York village. It took 13 years, but here it was! Years of hard work and endless toil finally being rewarded...
Ireland and Hill almost had a coming together on the third lap, which dropped them 10 seconds back from Brabham and almost got Gurney as well, which allowed McLaren past into third place. Also having a flyer was Masten Gregory, up to fourth place in the early going. Brabham motored past Moss on lap six for the lead, but Moss stayed glued to his tail rarely more than a half second back.
The Gendebien Lotus never quite got its handling back after the incident on Friday. On lap 16, Gendebien spun and Hansgen left the road to avoid him and the Cunningham Cooper was heavily damaged. However, this chassis (F1/16/61) will be sold to Roger Penske and once repaired emerge as the demon of the 1962 Fall Pro Season for sports cars in the shape of the "Zerex" Special.
Bonnier pitted to have a rock removed from the cockpit - it was jammed behind the throttle pedal. (Interestingly enough, after the race Gurney would complain that his car just didn't seem to have that little extra "bit" since while he could stay with Ireland in practice, Innes drew away easily during the race - during a post-race inspection the mechanics found a stone wedged behind the throttle pedal...). Meanwhile, Moss and Brabham were swapping the lead, Brabham setting the fastest lap during this period on laps 28 and 30, 1min 18.2sec. Finally, on lap 39, Moss got past Brabham and started to draw away. Meanwhile, Ireland and Hill were creeping up the order after their near disaster in the opening laps.
Then the Cooper started to overheat and that was it for Brabham. Although he pitted for water and continued for awhile longer, the Climax was cooked; a cylinder head had warped and allowed the water to escape and the engine overheat.
Moss was now safely in the lead from Ireland, Hill, and McLaren, Salvadori, and Gurney. However, the oil pressure in the Walker Lotus was now wavering and finally dropped to the very low end of the gage and Moss was forced to retire after a visit to the pits.
Now, Ireland was in the lead, with McLaren in second, Hill in third, and a fast-moving Salvadori and Gurney heading his way. Soon Salvadori was second, nipping past both Hill and McLaren. Hill dropped into the pits to have the magneto looked at and returned to the race. McLaren was without fifth gear and struggling with the now balky gearbox. Salvadori was sizzling and soon had reduced the lead to merely eight seconds with 10 laps to go - and he was gaining. Gurney, despite the top end not being quite what it was in practice, was hanging on the tracks of the Yeoman Credit Cooper. While the crowd was on its feet and cheering the Yeoman Cooper on, Ireland was casting an anxious eye at the fuel pressure gauge, which was not giving him anything pleasant to look at: it was starting to fall...
With only three laps to go, Salvadori had now closed on the Lotus and gaining rapidly as Ireland was not getting very concerned about his fuel state. Then, it was all over: the bearings in the Yeoman Credit car failed and Ireland could ease off that little bit necessary to get to the finish line. When he crossed the line and Tex Hopkins leaped into the air and dropped the checkered flag, it was the first Championship Grand Prix win for both Ireland and Team Lotus. Salvadori was the moral victor and made it an exciting race. And out of nowhere was Tony Brooks for a great third place and teammate Hill in fifth.
Less than a week later, Colin Chapman gave Ireland his notice that his services would not be required next season. Needless to say, Ireland was furious. Complaining that he found the cars unexciting and that it was time to leave, Tony Brooks announced his retirement. And Ferrari was about to embark upon the Great Terror... And, Howard Hughes made his last public appearance at Watkins Glen - he was interested in purchasing the Cooper team. After some discussion - in a Ford sedan - which wound up with Hughes promising to get back to John Cooper, that was that. Later on, Cooper admitted that had Hughes made an offer, he would have sold the team.
The race saw 28,000 paying spectators (your Scribe being among them!) and brought in a tidy sum of about $140,000. The expenses were about $90,000 so there was actually a profit to begin defraying the loan taken out to finance the new track in 1956. One interesting aspect of all this is that Argetsinger paid the drivers and the teams not by check, but with cold cash. Needless to say, this was a popular move after the experience of the previous races.
Final Standings for the 1961 World Championship for Drivers:
Final Standing for the 1961 World Championship for Constructors:
This article was produced with the assistance of Cameron Argetsinger.
|Don Capps||© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.|
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