As the annual speed festival at Nassau in the Bahamas moved last week into its second decade, the town was swinging with fast drivers in a free-spending mood. Count Barnardino, who is the Mickey Mantle of Calypso singers, made up a special song for the occasion. The Dun Gurney Song. "You look like a driver from Paradise," he crooned to Gurney and the sun-tanned crowd drinking Bloody Marys at the Pilot House Club on Saturday morning. The Count and his steel band were putting in a typically busy day. The last party had broken up a few hours before, just in time for morning swimming, and this one would rock along until evening, when everybody would move over to the terrace of the Nassau Beach Hotel for the next one.
The Nassau racecourse snakes around an unused airport, and it may be the only one in the world where the papers blowing across the track are cocktail napkins. "Ye gods, but it's hard to get serious about all this," said one pit man. "I mean, just look at me." He was shirtless, wearing multicolored Madras shorts, thong sandals and a native straw hat with an orchid on it. His eyes redly supported the pit area's description as Hangover Alley.
But a few people in Nassau were haying while most of the drivers were playing, the most serious being Texas members of a new wave that has become the most potent force in U.S. sports car racing. John Mecom Jr. had shipped in all of his rolling stock—five cars—including a monster he calls the Hussein after a personal pal. He clearly intended to win. Cobra Builder Carroll Shelby, Texas thick in his salty speech, kept up a casual appearance for three days until one of his 427-cubic-inch Ford engines broke down in practice. Then he called the mainland. He chartered a C-46 cargo plane to fly in a new engine and kept his crew working around the clock to install it.
The most serious man of all was still another Texan, Jim Hall, a young engineer whose strategy is simple: build your own cars and beat them all. "I like this role," said the 29-year-old Hall. "It is like being David against Goliath."
December 14, 1964
Hall's pet Goliath is Shelby, whose protégé he once was. But they have had a falling-out. Nothing is sweeter to Hall than beating Shelby and his lavishly financed Cobra organization. Well-heeled and educated in engineering at Cal Tech, Hall has for three years put money and brains into a slingshot of which any motoring David might be proud the Chevrolet-engined racer he calls the Chaparral.
Hall came to Nassau wearing a plaster cast on his left arm, a memento of a smash up in September at Mosport, Canada, where he turned a car upside down. He also wore a runaway crew cut and a constant earnest look.
Hall directs a racing team of extremely tough, competent drivers, of which he was No. 1 until he damaged his arm. He won the Sports Car Club of America's U.S. Road Racing Championship this year, driving to four firsts and four seconds in the 10-race series. The Chaparrals have fully automatic transmissions—a shocking, unheard-of thing in sports car racing. But then Hall has always been something of a maverick.
In designing the Chaparral, he borrowed heavily from every successful car around. "I take only the things that are good," he explained. "A little bit here, a bit there. I don't want an unusual-looking car. The far-out cars are not winners. I want only winners."
During the days leading up to Sunday's 252-mile Nassau Trophy race—the climactic event—Hall sat on the fence in Hangover Alley, drinking grape soda pop and eating candy bars and looking very sober, which he was. On Friday afternoon he sent the Chaparral out to take on the giants in the 112.5-mile Governor's Trophy race, a warmup for Sunday's feature. Chaparral Driver Roger Penske faced a lineup of cars and drivers that read like an automotive celebrity register. There was the Indy king, A. J. Foyt, in the Hussein. There was Calypso Dan Gurney in his own new Lotus powered by Ford, Walt Hansgen in the Mecom Scarab Chevy that Foyt had driven to win the race last year. Other names were as scary: Mexico's Pedro Rodriguez in a Ferrari, New Zealand's Bruce McLaren, former world champion Phil Hill, stock car ace Paul Goldsmith. With a field like that, who needed John Surtees—who had promised to come but did not—or Jimmy Clark, who would not come because of a disagreement over appearance money?
The Chaparral won at an average speed of 100.12 miles an hour, establishing a new record for the course. Penske held off the bursts of Foyt, who led the pack occasionally, and Gurney, who led briefly before dropping out. The race also established the Penske-Chaparral-Hall combination as favorites for Sunday.
As race time approached, Hall's pretty blonde wife, Sandy, cut masks from a couple of T shirts for Penske and another Chaparral driver, Hall's Texas colleague, Hap Sharp, as protection against track grime. The sky was threatening. "If it rains," said Penske, "we might just as well go home. We have everything but rain tires."
Penske's fear was realized. A tropical storm rolled in. As 65 drivers awaited the countdown for the Le Mans start, light rain began to slick the course. With Sandy Hall and Roger's wife, Lissa, handling stopwatches and lap charts, Jim was free to begin his assault on the Chaparral pit's supply of soda and candy bars.
After only five laps of racing on the 4.5-mile course, Penske spun out, and in so doing damaged his Chaparral's suspension. Meanwhile Sharp was rolling along nicely in fifth place. Penske sprinted back to the pits, and Hall decided to flag Sharp in and replace him in the healthy car with Penske. When he sent Penske out, 23 of the race's 56 laps had been run and the rain had stopped.
Foyt, an early leader, had also spun out and lost much time. Gurney fought from 41st place to a contending position, dueling with the Oldsmobile-engined racer of Bruce McLaren. And then along came Penske like a Texas norther. Smoothly extracting the most from his Chaparral's powerful engine, he took the lead on the 42nd lap and was an easy winner. Hall's and Penske's score for the week: a sweep of the major races. Penske had won the previous Sunday's Grand Touring event in a Hall-entered Corvette.
"Boy, I don't know about this," said Hall with un-Texan modesty. "I sort of liked it better when I was David the underdog.
"If it weren't for the fact that this is a prestige week we probably wouldn't come down here," he said. "Can you imagine living steady in a place like Nassau? It would be like living on nothing but cotton candy."