GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Riverside Raceway and the Times Grand Prix

Back when I was starting to develop my interest in auto racing, I dragged my family to the Times Grand Prix at Riverside. This was about the time I started driving but before I acquired the Jaguar E-Type and so we drove out in the family Cadillac. The first thrill for me was entering the parking lot which could also be described as acres and acres of dirt that became dust as you drove into it leaving your car covered in a thick coat within minutes. Nevertheless, I recognized more exotic cars than I ever thought existed. I saw my first Aston-Martin DB5 in the flesh. Ferrari GTEs and Maserati 3500GTs were there along with Alfas, Lancias, Rolls and Bentleys, too. All coated with dirt.

The race was exciting and the cars very loud. I remember the Cheetahs, which I'd never heard of. A.J. Foyt was driving the Hussein for John Mecom. Roger Penske and Hap Sharp were driving Chaparrals, Bruce McLaren a McLaren Elva Mk I, Richie Ginther and Parnelli Jones Cooper King Cobras and the field included Jack Brabham, Innes Ireland, Jim Clark, Augie Pabst, Ken Miles and Bob Bondurant to name of few. Not a bad line-up!

Riverside was pure racing and didn't pretend to offer glamor like Monaco or Spa-Francorchamps but glamor was present if one cared to look for it. That was the day I first saw what I would later learn was a Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso. I caught site of it in the paddock and I also caught sight of its owner, Jill St. John looking awfully good. Much later, I was to see Jill towing a cabin cruiser on the 405 with that Lusso...

When the race was over, it was every man for himself. The parking lot--essentially a dirt field--had no lane markers and one headed towards the exits like so many cows leaving the pasture. It was chaos, in other words. My father was nothing if not prepared and he fetched a white painter's cap (where ever did he get hold of that?) and a flashlight from the trunk of the Cadillac and said, "Follow me!" Where, I wondered, as the car was blocked by hundreds of other cars wanting out.

My father donned the white cap and used the flashlight to direct the traffic ahead of me. The other drivers must surely have thought he was a parking lot employee for they followed his directions thinking, I can only assume, that he was directing them towards the nearest exit. He was not. What he was doing was clearing a path through which I could drive that big, gold Cadillac out of the parking lot turning the other cars back to where they'd come in the process. We were out of there in no time and it was a stunt that would have belonged in the movie It's a Mad, Mad World. It was just a day in the life with my father, as those who knew him can attest.

That was a seminal day for me and I found that everything I'd read in magazines such as Road & Track about the excitement of racing was true. I was still some years away from owning my own Berlinetta Lusso but the desire was formed and it would be longer still before I attended the Jim Russel racing school, but everything was set in motion that day--not to mention we beat everyone out of the parking lot.


Anonymous said...

Stephen - I enjoyed reading your post about Riverside and the bit on Jill's Lusso. My family and I had a few good times at the track, too.
William Edgar

Stephen Mitchell said...

Thank you, William!

Mike Gulett said...


Did you ever see the Hino (BRE) Samurai race?

Stephen Mitchell said...


Though I read about the Hino (BRE) Samurai in Road & Track, I don't recall ever seeing it in person. It was a very interesting car--the sort we don't see anymore...