Darkness and distress on Friday, and a lightning bolt named Moss on Sunday, created memorable excitement in the Bahamas Speed Week. This multifeatured racing event, the unofficial opener of the new Western Hemisphere season, has never failed to provide thrills along with its glamor; but this time it was also spiced with confusion.
The fireworks began on Friday, in the 20-lap Governor's Cup Race for cars of more than 2-liter displacement. This was a scramble between Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, Marquis de Portago ("Fon" to his friends), descendant of a Spanish conquistador, whose fiery temperament matched that of his ancestor, and plain Carroll Shelby, of Dallas, Texas. Shelby, the year's hottest U.S. driver, gave the race an extra twist by injuring his shoulder painfully beforehand—he had been playing football on the beach with a coconut.
It was a Ferrari contest, with De Portago aboard a 3.5, Shelby a 4.9. Their principal opposition came from John Fitch's potent D Jaguar, the 3.5 Ferrari of California's Phil Hill and the D Jaguar of another Californian, Lou Brero. Since the day's racing was already two hours behind schedule, darkness threatened, and some drivers removed headlight masking tape at the starting line. Others did not, to their sorrow.
When Shelby jumped to an early lead, Fitch was closest in pursuit, but on the fourth lap De Portago took second place and began to close in on the big red leader. Fitch and Brero scrapped for third place until Hill started a drive that was to take him past the two D Jags. As dusk set in, a few headlights came on, then more, until perhaps half the 50-car field, which had to contend with a car-bouncing bump on the first sweeping turn and loose sand in the next bend, was using lights. It began to look like France's 24-hour Le Mans race after dark.
December 17, 1956
The volatile Spaniard roared past Shelby on the 15th lap, widened his margin on the next two rounds, and then tangled with a blacked-out Austin-Healey. That cost him the race. Shelby, who had had a less damaging set-to with a Corvette, flashed home first just ahead of the Spaniard with an exhilarating average speed of 99.095 mph. Brero, who had four lights, was third, and Fitch, whose lights were covered by protective panels and therefore useless, groped home fourth.
The race was over, but the arguments were just beginning. "Indefensible," fumed some angry drivers in bitter protest that the race had not been stopped before darkness. Said Shelby: "I almost got it, and so did Fon." Captain Sherman Crise, the red-haired panjandrum of speed week racing, who described the condition of the sky as "the delicate edge of darkness," was undisturbed. "It is my privilege," said he, "to do what I want to." Nonetheless, three days later 50 drivers signed and sent a formal protest to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.
Stirling Moss was fresh and fit for the main go, the 210-mile Trophy Race. His original mount, a very fast factory three-liter Maserati, was sold out from under him and never arrived in Nassau, so Moss spent the first two days water-skiing. For the big race, he borrowed the aging but factory-freshened three-liter Maserati of Connecticut's Bill Lloyd. Factory-freshened the engine was, but not the front end, which had been crumpled in one of the many preliminary race collisions. Hurriedly repaired and swathed in tan masking tape, the Maserati went to the line for the Le Mans start with 41 other cars. De Portago was back with his original Ferrari, Phil Hill was ready again, Shelby had soaked his shoulder, and the D Jaguars of Fitch and Brero were set. So was Masten Gregory, whose two-liter Ferrari was like a terrier braving mastiffs.
It was a race that would be decided by tires. The man who did not have to make a pit stop to change, the pundits said, would win. Shelby's Ferrari, a notorious tire-chewer, took the lead, with Moss's wobbly Maserati not far behind. By the time the field had settled down after 10 laps, Moss was pressing Shelby hard, with Hill, De Portago, Fitch and Brero next and Gregory well placed and moving fast.
But from here on the contenders who might have pushed Moss at the end began to expire with astonishing speed. Shelby, plagued with endless tire trouble and a damaged tie rod, lasted for 35 laps. A faulty transmission finished Fitch at 20 laps. Four laps later Hill, then in second place and cautiously conserving tires, spun into an oil drum marker, rupturing his fuel tank. De Portago lost time in a brush with another car on the second lap, blew tires twice but held on to take third place.
Moss, who stopped only once to take on more oil, never changed tires at all. He drove an unfamiliar and difficult car with brilliant security, honking his horn merrily at drivers who got in his way. He averaged an amazing 96.219 mph. Scarcely less brilliant was Gregory, who was second with the little Ferrari, a minute and 27 seconds behind. The rugged little Porsche-engined Cooper, driven by Hollywood's Ken Miles, was an astonishing fourth. As the pundits said, it was the tires that won.
WINNERS AT NASSAU
Governor's Cup (first section, cars 2 liters and under): 1. H. Hively, Ferrari Testa Rossa, 92.206 mph 2. K. Miles, Porsche-Cooper 3. E. Crawford, Porsche Spyder 4. M. Gregory, Ferrari Testa Rossa
Governor's Cup (second section, cars over 2 liters): 1. C. Shelby, 4.9 Ferrari, 99.095 mph 2. A. de Portago, 3.5 Ferrari 3. L. Brero, D Jaguar 4. J. Fitch, D Jaguar
Ferrari Handicap: M. Gregory, Ferrari Testa Rossa, 94.96 mph
Jaguar Handicap: J. Fitch, D Jaguar, 94.879 mph
Porsche Race: M. Marshall, Porsche Spyder 88.983 mph
Ladies' Race (best of two heats): Sammie Chapin, Ferrari Testa Rossa
15-lap preliminary: M. Malarky, Mercedes 300SL, 85.135 mph
210-mile Nassau Trophy Race: 1. S. Moss, Maserati, 300S, 96.219 mph 2. M. Gregory, Ferrari Testa Rossa 3. A. de Portago, 3.5 Ferrari 4. Ken Miles, Porsche-Cooper