When a man goes about evicting the succulent conch from its hard shell on the picturesque fishermen's dock at Nassau, first city of the Bahama Islands, he raps the shell smartly with a hammer or machete and then adroitly teases the slippery gray critter out with the blade of a knife. This is easily done.
When Lance Reventlow and his heads-up crew set out last week to part Nassau from its most important sports car racing trophies they went about it with much the same kind of easy assurance. That they were able to anticipate success was fairly surprising. For one thing, the United States is supposed to be light-years behind Europe in the building of road racing cars. For another, Reventlow is only 22 and, although spectacularly well heeled (being the son of Barbara Hutton), he is hardly an old racing hand. Furthermore, his personally designed Scarab sports cars are less than a year old.
Even so, for Reventlow and Co. the opposition was only average, several cuts below the quality of past fields in Nassau's speed week. This was true of both drivers and cars. Established stars like Britain's Stirling Moss and the Americans, Phil Hill and Masten Gregory, sat this one out. Two other potentially fast Americans, Carroll Shelby and Jim Rathmann, had so much mechanical trouble in the early part of Nassau's week that they could be counted on for only one of Nassau's two major events: the featured 252-mile Nassau Trophy Race on Sunday. Nevertheless, the Reventlow team knew it would have at least respectable opposition in Friday's 112.5-mile Governor's Cup event: the 4.5-liter Maserati of Illinois' Ed Crawford, the 3.9-liter Aston Martin of Massachusetts' George Constantine, the venerable but powerful 4.9-liter Ferrari of California's Bruce Kessler and the 3-liter Ferrari of Mexico's Pedro Rodriguez (this last won the world-famous 24-hour race at Le Mans, France) Pedro's little brother Ricardo, 16, a sensational performer in his Nassau debut last year, returned with a Porsche Spyder. Big and little cars both were lumped together in the field of 33.
Reventlow, who took two of his three 5.5-liter fuel-injection Scarabs to Nassau, was understandably eager to see them excel, since two Scarabs would be offered for sale after the Nassau events. Reventlow planned to concentrate then on the building of a new Formula I car for international Grand Prix racing. He would have been in the thick of the sports car championship season abroad this year if a new engine ceiling of three liters had not been ordered after the big-engined Scarabs were already abuilding.
The beautifully finished metallic blue Scarabs, driven by Reventlow and his chief aide, 35-year-old Chuck Daigh, were paired at the head of the field for the start of Friday's race. At the flag, they roared briskly out onto the 4.5-mile airport course, and after one lap it was obvious that they outclassed their pursuers. Before he retired with a broken half shaft while in the lead on the fourth lap, Daigh had gone 12 seconds ahead of Reventlow, who held the third-place car of George Constantine safe. Reventlow thereupon steadily widened his lead over Constantine and won the race by more than a minute (after the Aston Martin made a quick pit stop) at an average speed of 88.642 mph.
"I think," said Daigh, a square-rigged, green-eyed man with a gift for understatement, "that we can run with anything here." Opponents were not heartened by the news that Reventlow had finished the race minus a third gear. Back at the shop to help mend the damage (he is a first-rate mechanic), Daigh had the look of a man who expected to open a particularly large and juicy conch on Sunday. "The blacktop out there is a little rough and the coral in it is hard on tires, but we should be able to get by with one pit stop. You know, some of the cars here have more peak horsepower than we do. We're pulling about 360. But I think we have a better power curve. We get good torque all the way up through the gears. Some of the others can go a little faster when they get wound up, but we get there first."
Get there first they did in the big race—but the hard way. Reventlow pulled into the pits to have his car's hood tightened after just one lap, and Daigh's car was out for good after three laps with half-shaft trouble.
Racing again, Reventlow found himself a half minute behind Carroll Shelby's leading Maserati. For 15 laps Shelby held on, although Reventlow, driving very well, gained steadily. The Scarab came through in the lead after 16 laps as Shelby limped in with a badly worn tire. He could not get started again, and the Scarab had no further challenge. Reventlow gave his seat to Daigh during a pit stop halfway through ("I told Charley he could have my car if his car popped"), and Daigh cakewalked on to victory, with Pedro Rodriguez a distant second. The average speed of the winning Reventlow car was 87.549 mph. Anybody want to buy a Scarab?