The mechanical stars of a pair of zestful Sports Car Club of America endurance races last weekend on the exacting Road America course at Elkhart Lake, Wis. were bright-red Italian machines, an Osca and a Ferrari. The Osca was driven by men who have heard much applause, the Ferrari by an unsung team to whom the laurels were rare and exhilarating.
This was a weekend dedicated to the proposition that the owner of a sports car should turn up in the driver's seat on race day. The board of directors of the SCCA's Chicago region, which had charge of the races, laid down a ruling that the owner of each entry must share in the driving. Since the best SCCA drivers, by and large, happen to be those who compete in cars they do not own, the directive resulted in some fancy scrambling.
Carroll Shelby, the rawboned Texan who put together a winning streak of 19 straight for absentee owners, was tapped by SCCA President Jim Kimberly for Saturday's four-hour race for cars of less than two liters displacement. Kimberly wanted Shelby to co-drive his 4.4-liter Ferrari in Sunday's six-hour event for larger cars, but a damaged crankshaft eliminated that plan. For a time last week Millionaire Sportsman Kimberly played with the idea of buying a spare Jaguar from Millionaire Sportsman Briggs Cunningham on the spot, but that fell through, too. As it turned out, a single Kimberly entry returned glory aplenty.
The veteran Johnny Fitch, a member of the invincible German Mercedes team last year, teamed up with Cunningham. Paul O'Shea, the 1955 SCCA champion, most often seen in a Mercedes 300SL owned by George Tilp, brought along his own 300SL. He paired with Phil Hill, brilliant winner of the Road America inaugural last year, who had just returned from a European campaign.
September 16, 1956
As Saturday's 51-car field surged into a rain-dampened starting grind under gray skies, Shelby grinned happily in the Kimberly pit. The lucky, raggedy overalls which he had worn during his winning streak and which had been absent when it ended the other day at Thompson, Conn, (because an airline muffed a baggage delivery) were again draped on the Shelby frame. Out on the tough four-mile course Kimberly was cutting out a fast early pace in his superbly tuned 1.5-liter Osca. His roughest opposition, surprisingly enough, in a pack that included several potent Porsche Spyders, came from the little 1,100-cc Lotus of Dr. M. R. J. Wyllie. Wyllie moved up through the field to take second place on the fifth lap, snatched the lead briefly from Kimberly on the 12th, and then faded a trifle as the Osca asserted its superior speed. Still, Wyllie was cruising at 6,500 rpm, with 700 rpm in reserve. Wyllie's bid ended when a jackshaft failed.
Kimberly turned the Osca over to Shelby at the end of 31 laps, and Shelby celebrated the return of his renowned overalls by breezing to an overwhelming victory. He lapped the field on the 59th lap, barreling through Road America's tight corners with his asbestos-shod foot down hard and took the checkered flag at the end of 75 laps. The Osca's average speed for the 300 miles was 74.436 mph. The Robert Fergus-Ray Mason Porsche Spyder was second, and the Lance Reventlow-Richie Ginther Cooper, another 1,100-cc machine, an unexpected third.
Fitch built up an amazing lead in the Sunday race and was just short of lapping the third-place D Jag of Ernie Erickson (driven now by Frank Bott) when he pitted. Nearly four hours remained when Cunningham took the wheel. A tenaciously-driven 4.5-liter Ferrari, owned by husky John Kilborn, which had clung to second place, now took the lead. When Kilborn stopped at the pits to be relieved by co-driver Howard Hively, the yellow D Jag moved ahead. Frank Bott kept it ahead until he pitted, with three hours gone, to hand over to Erickson.
It became apparent that Hively had a stunning lead over the Cunningham D Jag, and when Fitch jumped back into the cockpit, with two hours to go, he had a lap to make up. He whittled away at the lead, turning some laps as fast as 2 minutes 53 seconds—more than 83 mph. With an hour remaining, Kilborn got back into the Ferrari. A 41-year-old Decatur, 111. automobile dealer who has been racing only four years, driving a much-traveled Ferrari, Kilborn could not let up.
With 25 minutes left an exuberant Hively chalked "I love U" on a pit blackboard and flashed it to Kilborn, then, "Go man." When the big red Ferrari screamed across the finish line, having gone 480 miles at an average of 79.738 mph, Fitch was only seven seconds behind.
Hively, as Kilborn approached the finish, stood joyously on his head until the car was safely in.