GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Monday, March 22, 2010

John Surtees

During my teens, I followed the Can Am series and have some great recollections of the sights and sounds of those exciting cars at Riverside and Stardust raceways where I was able to attend. Standing along the back straight at Riverside watching Dennis Hulme and Bruce McLaren race past on the opening lap mere inches separating their cars at 190-plus miles per hour is an experience not to be forgotten. They had already established a commanding lead over the rest of the field and they hadn't yet reached Turn 9!

It was in the pits at Riverside Raceway that I got to rub shoulders with Stirling Moss (never saw him with a shirt on), Bill Hickman (he drove the Dodge Charger in Bullitt) and Brock Yates (who wrote great pieces for Car & Driver magazine). It was at the Stardust Raceway near Las Vegas that I met Henry N. Manney III who wrote inspired and inspring articles with his uncommon wit for Road & Track. I actually met him on the track itself prior to a parade lap featuring a lot of Ferraris from the Ferrari Owners Club.

That year, my father rode up with me to Las Vegas to see the Stardust Grand Prix. His function was to watch for the Highway Patrol and police vehicles from various jurisdictions along the way. With his assistance, we made it from Woodland Hills to Las Vegas in world-record time and I am not exaggerating! We were in my Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso and took full advantage of the car and the fact that Nevada had no speed limits. In California, my dad was watchful, let us say.

We participated in the parade lap of Ferraris, which was rather interesting because the driver's side of my car was bashed in--not a cosmetically perfect specimen like the rest of the Ferrari parade cars. You see, the week before, my father had borrowed the car for an evening and, while stopped at a red light two blocks from home, a drunk driver slammed into him. He wasn't hurt but the car looked a disaster. So it was in this condition that we took part in the parade lap and it was the pitiful condition of the Lusso that drew Henry Manney's attention and provided me the occasion to meet him. Go figure.

I had long been a fan of John Surtees who was Ferrari's number one driver. I almost bought a 330 GT 2+2 from him after David E. Davis wrote in Car & Driver that John was selling it. I remember getting a telegram from Surtees described the car and its 'grey external cellulose'. In the end, I bought the Lusso instead but I held onto that telegram for the longest time!

The year my father and I attended together, John Surtees won the Stardust Grand Prix in his Lola T70 Mk3B. Afterwards, I sat next to John in the steward's shack while he was being interviewed about his victory. A journalist asked him how much fuel was carried onboard the Lola and I'll never forget his answer. Surtees said, "We calculated the race distance and duration, the rate at which the car burns fuel and the effect of desert temperatures on evaporation. Then we filled the tank to the brim."

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