To a dedicated minority of American sports followers, the week's major event was not the World Series or pro or college football but an automobile race in upstate New York. Citizens aloof to the artistry of Mantle and Mays and booming halfbacks booked lodgings as far as 90 miles away—and well in advance, too—just to be somewhere, anywhere, within range of Watkins Glen for last Sunday's U.S. Grand Prix, where a couple of blokes named Graham Hill and Jimmy Clark were to duel in swift little British racers for the world driving championship.
Americans who have never vibrated to the sweet thunder of single-seat, open-wheeled Grand Prix road racing cars might well ask, "Who in blazes are Hill and Clark, and why should I want to know?" The two happen to be master craftsmen in one of the most demanding and dangerous of sports. As practice began at the Glen last Friday they were tuning up for the performances of their lives. England's Hill, tall, broad-shouldered and sporting a luxuriant mustache beneath his hawk nose, was the solid favorite to succeed America's own Phil Hill (they are not related) as champion. But if the tousled-haired, buoyant little Scotsman, Jimmy Clark, could win the Glen and then take the year's last race in South Africa on December 29, he would capture the title. All other drivers had been mathematically eliminated from the hunt.
But much more than the individual championship was at stake. By winning for British Racing Motors, Graham Hill could expunge a decade of BRM futility. A car once so poor that a cartoonist sketched it being dropped mercifully into the sea from an airplane, the BRM has cost more than ¬£l million over the years. It has long been financed by the Owen Organisation, a British industrial combination headed by Sir Alfred Owen.
"Sir Alfred called me in last April," said Tony Rudd, BRM's chief engineer, "and put me in sole charge. He said, 'It's yours. Get on with it.' He also said that if we did not win at least two world championship races within six months we would stop racing, period. Sir Alfred is an impressive figure of a man. He can be rather emphatic. He was emphatic. We purged BRM from top to bottom."
Rudd's technicians built a whale of a car, powered by BRM's own new V-8 engine, and Graham Hill won not two but three Grand Prix races while building up his championship point lead in a long, tense summer.
However, a Watkins Glen victory by Clark in a Climaxengined V-8 Lotus would sustain Lotus' hopes. A year-end Lotus triumph in South Africa not only would crown Clark, deflate Hill and sadden BRM but also would elevate Colin Chapman, the dashing young technical wizard who builds the Lotus, to the world supremacy so long and ardently sought by his home country rivals. And, as the BRM people were grimly aware, the Lotus was inherently the faster car, although it had often been proved somewhat fragile.
Some drivers are obsessive; they cannot kick the racing habit. Clark, surprisingly, is a compulsive farmer and, in the words of Chapman, a "genuine amateur motor racer" who would hurry back to his beloved 1,250 acres of Scots soil "in a minute" if there weren't so much at stake. Clark admits that he is anxious to get home and "get the feed in for the winter" but doubts that he will give up racing for another year or two. A natural, instinctive driver, Clark is possessed of marvelous reflexes and a light, precise touch. No hayshaker in history ever drove faster or better.
Graham Hill is Clark's opposite. Authoritative in appearance, he is regarded by some as "a hard bloke" and "a charger." Dogged, plucky work has brought him to the top—not natural flair. The flamboyant mustache belies the man. "You mustn't let the old emotions take charge," he says. "If you make a mistake in racing you pay a price for it."
Perhaps better than any other driver, Hill exemplifies a new breed. In tennis terms, today's drivers rarely hit winning shots; rather they force, or await, opponents' errors or breakdowns. Neatness is everything; bravura driving counts for very little. This is due to the small, "underpowered" engines of the day and a new kind of car. The current racers handle better—corner more securely and more quickly—than any in history, but they lack the surplus power that used to enable an inspired driver to outrace a superior opponent by scrambling around the turns.
The result is that more and more the cars themselves, not the drivers, are becoming the real stars of modern racing. Among builders there is a frantic search for ever lighter, more tractable, more streamlined machines. Invincible last year, Italy's Ferrari works failed to keep up with the British, who boast no fewer than five Grand Prix makes. The Ferraris have been humbled nearly everywhere in 1962. The only serious rival to British dominance proved to be the German Porsche, and it was, until recently, outclassed.
Friday's trials in threatening weather produced a record and, as happens when the world's best drivers get together, a spate of wild rumor. Clark circled the 2.3 miles of winding asphalt in one minute 15.8 seconds, faster than anyone ever before him. But even before he drove, the news was already spreading that Phil Hill had been fired by crotchety old Enzo Ferrari. Hill allowed that the firing was fiction, but on Saturday afternoon he put on his pale-blue driving coveralls and ripped off eight laps in the Porsche of Sweden's Joakim Bonnier, who had aggravated an old back injury. No one could say for certain whether Hill would replace Bonnier on Sunday. If he did not, then surely (rumor had it) he would be in Richie Ginther's BRM. Ginther was said to be flying to California to be with his wife, who expected a difficult delivery of her first child at any moment.
As a power blackout in the night added further confusion to the Glen's Grand Prix fling, only a few facts were certain: besides Graham Hill and Jimmy Clark, America's Dan Gurney in a Porsche, Australia's Jack Brabham, the former world champion, in his own Brabham car and New Zealand's Bruce McLaren in a Cooper would all be formidable—and the expected crowd of 40,000 or so spectators would be likely to churn the track's sodden infield into an immense and not very pleasant bog.
Race day brought leaden but dripless skies and news of a 7-pound 15-ounce son for Ginther, who had not left the Glen after all. Another rumor was scotched. Phil Hill, unhappily, could not obtain access to a car, and thus the champion of the world could not drive in his own country's foremost road race.
But for smooth little Jimmy Clark all the news was good. He sprinted his green bullet away from the starting line ahead of his 17 competitors and ever so neatly and easily ran away with the race despite losing the use of his clutch halfway through the 230 miles. Only once was another car ahead of him. Graham Hill slipped past on the 12th lap when Clark was blocked by a slower car he was lapping, but on the 19th lap Clark regained the lead and simply sailed home. Second by 11 seconds was Hill, who still leads on title points 39-30 but faces the specter of another Clark runaway in the South African finale. If Clark wins there he'll be tied with Hill and will win the championship because he will have more first places. A lap behind Hill came McLaren, Brabham and Gurney. Thus the first five were from five different nations in five different kinds of cars.
"What a race that'll be in South Africa if Jimmy can keep the car together," said Colin Chapman. "He can win it. The only bloke who can beat him is me."