Graham Hill is a most conspicuous Englishman—tall, hawk-nosed and mustached, yet with an uncanny talent for being overlooked. He arrived at Watkins Glen last week first in the run for the world driving championship and last on the lips of the enthusiasts gathered for the U.S. Grand Prix. Most people were talking about his two hard-pressing rivals: the magnificent Scot, Jimmy Clark, sentimental favorite of many to win his second consecutive title, and John Surtees, the silent, wonderfully skilled and dedicated Briton whose recent victories had given him a winning momentum.
There was much talk also of Enzo Ferrari's astounding decision to annoy Italian racing officials by painting his cars American blue and white rather than Italian red; of the poodle encamped on the registration desk of the gloomy old Jefferson Hotel; of the college kids camping out above town at the racecourse and burning every signpost and hay bale they could lay hands on against the chill autumn air; of the local grape harvest and the fall foliage and the monster traffic jam that would clog the roads of this upstate New York village on race day.
Two days of practice on the Glen's 2.3-mile course tended further to camouflage Hill's presence. This year's speeds on the newly resurfaced course were faster from the start. Hill's record 1963 practice lap of 112.81 mph was quickly broken, and when practice was over Clark had earned the pole with a new record lap of 113.9 mph. Surtees was close behind with 113.7 mph, followed not by Hill but that redoubtable American, Dan Gurney, in a British Brabham car. Hill could manage no better than fourth place on the starting grid.
But Hill was conspicuous when it counted. Before a rocking, roaring record crowd of 65,000 he dueled furiously with Surtees and brought his dark-green British BRM home first by a margin of 30 seconds over his countryman's Ferrari as Clark dropped out of the race—and all but out of the title chase—with mechanical troubles.
October 11, 1964
Of the 19 cars that started on a grid headed by Clark, only eight finished, and Clark, who came into the contest with 30 points, was left standing still Sunday night. Hill wound up with 39 points to lead the standings and Surtees advanced to 34.
Pitside calculators quickly perceived that in the last of the Grand Prix championship races, to be held October 25 in Mexico, Clark must win—with reservations—to take the world title. The reservations: Surtees must finish lower than second and Hill must finish lower than third.
Clark's mechanical failure was the big surprise of the Glen race. During Saturday's practice Tony Rudd, team manager for BRM, nodded discreetly toward the pit spectators behind him and said: "You see those two chaps? They are the two senior engineers from Coventry-Climax. The top men. They do not come to every race, you know." He pointed to Clark's Climax-engined Lotus racer. "They are here expressly to make that engine run and to make it run well.
"Thus I would be forced to pick Clark to win. We cannot play the waiting game. We must win or bust. Earlier we could perhaps drive more conservatively and save our engines. Here we must not. We dare not. We must risk breakdowns and hope our cars finish."
As the race began in a blur of fast cars against the autumn colors of the Glen's wooded setting it was Surtees in the blue-and-white Ferrari who seemed most eager to win or bust. The driver was convincing enough, but Americans conditioned to the flame-red hue of a generation of conquering Ferrari racers could not quite believe the paint job. Nor could Franco Lini, whose Auto Italiana is one of the oldest and most respected of European motoring publications. He tried to explain.
"No one can deny that Ferrari is the true representative of Italian racing, right?" he said. "It has been this way for years: Italy and Ferrari, Ferrari and Italy. But now, unless Ferrari gains the recognition he deserves from both the Italian government and the Italian Automobile Club—the dispute is otherwise too complicated to explain—then, alas, the red Ferrari color will race no more."
It was suggested that perhaps Ferrari was being a touch too emotional about all of this—whatever it was.
"My dears," shrugged Lini, his hands fluttering, "all Italians are emotional."
After one lap, Surtees was leading the field by several lengths. Hill was driving third in his dark-green BRM, setting a steady pace. ("Nothing happened," cracked Hill calmly after it was all over. "I just won the race, that's all.") By the 13th lap—after a record round at 112.96 mph—Clark burst into the lead, and then for a high-tension hour the three point leaders fought a no-quarter battle. But by the 44th lap, the terrible toll of Formula I racing claimed Clark. He angrily wheeled his Lotus-Climax into the pits for an engine check, rejoined the race, then later took over a teammate's car, which also failed.
At one point, the bearded Swede, Jo Bonnier, pitted and inspected his Brabham-BRM, then held up a broken wheel spindle. "I thought it was steering funny," he said. Other top drivers were out. Dan Gurney had moved into fourth position early in the race, running strong, but fell out with engine problems.
Amid this action, the Japanese Honda crew was staging a drama all its own. In practice leading up to the race, the 12-cylinder Honda, most powerful car on the track, had spun and narrowly missed a smashup. A hard-to-replace kingpin had been broken, reported Driver Ronnie Bucknum. After an emergency huddle in Japanese, English and pidgin English. Honda chartered a plane to the West Coast to get the part.
"A kingpin," snorted one of the Ferrari crewmen disdainfully. "Flying to the Coast for a kingpin. That is why they lost the war." He paused, thoughtfully. "And come to think of it," he added, "that is why we lost the war, too."
The kingpin did not arrive, but Bucknum started the race after makeshift repairs. He did not finish.
At the end of the day, with a cold wind coming across the collegiate camp grounds, Graham Hill had quietly outdone them all. His average speed was 111.10 miles an hour—not spectacular but sufficient. Surtees had averaged 110.69 mph: Switzerland's Jo Siffert, in third place with a Brabham-BRM, 109.20. From there, speeds ranged sharply downward.
Hill turned up in Victory Lane wearing a garland, his usual imperturbable look and a sponge-rubber bandage around his throat, a reminder of a wrenching accident in Europe earlier in the season.
It had been, for Watkins Glen, the wildest weekend of them all. Ford Motor Company, in a Madison Avenue-inspired move to lure the college crowd, had roped off a special parking area, coyly called it a "Mustang Corral" and invited the students to park their Mustangs in it. The kids did. They also ripped down all the signs and burned them to keep warm, and in a gesture of commercial impartiality lit a bonfire under a wooden CBS television tower, which was badly scorched.
But down at the Jefferson Hotel on Sunday night the poodle dozed peacefully. The blare of bands and roar of foreign cars couldn't move him. He had the last available spot in town in which to sleep.