Deep-dyed followers of sports car racing are famous for their indifference to the incidental suffering that often goes with their allegiance. Much congested highway travel, programs of unconscionable length and comfort stations from the age of Jackson are typical difficulties. This is taken for granted. Special mention should be made, however, of the 70,000 persons who attended the West Coast debut of major professional sports car racing last week at Riverside, Calif.
As the freeway lies, it is 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Riverside. It seemed 600 to the fans, who found themselves part of a colossal California traffic jam. At the race course the temperature went above 100, and some spectators keeled over from sunstroke. One singularly unfortunate witness was struck down by the electrically powered wheelchair of a female invalid. The wonder here is not so much that the able-bodied spectator was unfortunate, but that the invalid chose to attend at all.
What attracted this exceptionally large and stoical crowd to Riverside was the best field of road racing drivers ever to compete on the Coast—and, in fact, one that could not be surpassed elsewhere in the U.S. except at the annual Sebring, Fla. international race. An aggressive promotion by the Los Angeles Times and the Mirror News, which jointly sponsored this fourth race in the U.S. Auto Club series, spread the word. The drivers, for their part, were lured by a purse of $14,500.
From Europe came the internationally known drivers Jean Behra, Roy Salvadori and Joakim Bonnier—as well as the American stars Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby and Masten Gregory, who do most of their driving these days in European classics. From the ranks of American track racing came the Indianapolis drivers Troy Ruttman, Johnnie Parsons and Rodger Ward, from California road racing such stars as Dan Gurney, John von Neumann and Richie Ginther—as well as three other Californians who would gain special attention. These drivers—Lance Reventlow, Bruce Kessler and Chuck Daigh—were to be aboard the fleet new Scarabs financed by Reventlow.
As nearly everyone knows, Reventlow is the son of Barbara Hutton; at 22 he has produced, in the Scarabs, the best independent American racing sports cars since Briggs Cunningham's fine machines of the early 1950s. Kessler is a rising young driver. Daigh, 34, is a mechanic-driver who belonged to Pete De Paolo's old Ford stock car racing team.
In qualifying runs Daigh used the tremendous acceleration of his Scarab, which has a bored-out Chevrolet engine of about 5.5 liters, to achieve a record lap of 2 minutes 4.3 seconds on the 3.3-mile course. The best lap that Phil Hill, co-winner of the Le Mans 24-hour race, could manage was 2:06, in a new 4.1-liter Ferrari. Reventlow crashed his own mount, then jumped into Kessler's and recorded the third-fastest qualifying lap (2:08.1).
Next day, at the start of the 200-mile race, Reventlow's Scarab was struck from behind by the new 4.1 Ferrari of Von Neumann. That put Von Neumann's car out of the race and caused a puncture in Reventlow's gas tank. Flagged into the pits by officials, he had the puncture sealed off, then went out on the track again, apparently without official clearance. When he was blackflagged back to the pits, Reventlow angrily tongue-lashed the officials. At this, Pit Marshal Babe Stapp, a former driver, threw a punch at Reventlow; the row ended there.
There were apologies all around a little later, but Reventlow's earlier bad manners would not soon be forgotten. Until then his clear thinking and surefootedness in the difficult business of producing a successful sports racer from scratch had won much praise and good will. For almost a year Reventlow has employed a crew of 14 men on the Scarab project; each of the three cars is said to have cost about $50,000 to build. Part of the good will has now been lost, although the achievement is no less praiseworthy.
Indeed, it turned out to be Reventlow's day, after all. While he stewed in the pits, Chuck Daigh scrapped with Phil Hill for the lead in the race. Daigh, in hot pursuit for five laps, went ahead on the sixth and seventh, then fell behind for four more. But on the 12th lap he collared Hill and never was headed again. Hill had begun to have fuel pump trouble. He made several pit stops and finally dropped out as Daigh confidently ran on to victory, at an average speed of 88.765 mph. Riverside's hometown hero, Dan Gurney (SI, Nov. 25, 1957), brought a 4.9 Ferrari home second; a D Jaguar driver, Bill Krause, was third.
On a day of frustration for most of the big-name drivers, France's Jean Behra drove a little Porsche RSK Spyder magnificently and placed fourth. The Indianapolis men, gamely trying to adapt to road racing, fared poorly. But, said Rodger Ward: "Give us some practice and good equipment and we'll do all right." That's the kind of talk deep-dyed sports car fans like to hear.
By the way, you should have seen the traffic jam on the trip home. The little lady in the wheelchair could have kept up very nicely.