MILES: "FAST ENOUGH TO WIN, SLOW ENOUGH TO FINISH"
This is an article from the Feb. 14, 1966 issue
For more than a decade the heavyweight champion of sports-car racing has been the Ferrari of Italy. Perennial winner of France's 24-hour race at Le Mans—an event rivaled in world stature only by the Indianapolis 500—the Ferrari stands for all that is swift, virile and enduring in auto racing. Needless to say, the manufacturer who beats Ferrari can claim no little speed of his own, and the manufacturer who covets that distinction most ardently is Henry Ford II. This is the showdown year between Ford and his Italian antagonist. It began brilliantly for the American last weekend as the latest Ford racing cars, the Mark IIs, swept the first three places in the new 24-hour race at Daytona Beach, Fla. It remains to be seen whether Ford can repeat that triumph in next month's Sebring 12 Hours and—most important—at Le Mans in June, when Ferrari will roll out his most sophisticated racers of the year. But for Ford, Daytona was a very sweet opener.
The weather may have been arctic and the crowd but a fraction of the 300,000 that annually converges on Le Mans but, ah, the field of cars! There were no fewer than nine Fords and 12 Ferraris; there was a new and exceedingly fast, though fragile, Chaparral from the stable of that inventive Texan, Jim Hall; and among the middleweights and lightweights to fill out the roster of 60 cars there were rapid new models from Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Sunbeam, Triumph and MG. To drive them were assembled at Daytona most of the world's best drivers.
What Daytona lacked was tradition, and no wonder. Le Mans, first run in 1923, took 10 years to get rolling. The 12-hour race at Sebring will be 15 years old. Bill France, the president of Daytona's speedway and founder of the stock-car racing organization NASCAR, gave Daytona the 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday afternoons to make some instant Le Mans-style history. He set himself a considerable task, because a 24-hour sports-car race on the Daytona track did not fill an aching need either of the drivers or of the audience closest to the proceedings. Daytona is stock-car country. The Daytona 500 for stock cars later this month will have the speedway's 44,000 seats filled and the community of Daytona Beach in a perfect uproar.
Last weekend the presence of a million dollars' worth of sports cars and all but a few of the great international drivers left Daytona unmoved. Up and down the 23 miles of Daytona's raunchy strip of motels there were neon vacancy signs and additional signs that did not say, WELCOME, WORLD'S BEST SPORTS CAR DRIVERS but instead said: WELCOME, DALE AND ROY ROGERS, HI, ROY AND DALE, SING ALONG WITH HARRY SKAN, COMING SOON HYPNOTIST ROBERT STAR and, in one case, CONGRATULATIONS, RUSS BEEKMAN. Who Russ Beekman may be and what he did have not been determined to date.
As for the world's best drivers, who deplore endurance races as energetically as they struggle to win them, they were in loud and almost unanimous voice at Daytona. "I find it a ridiculous form of racing," Joakim Bonnier of Sweden and Switzerland said on Thursday, with an air of mingled gloom and outrage. "It doesn't prove a thing. It has nothing to do with motor racing, really. Le Mans is bad enough, but at least it's a sort of four-minute lap or a three-and-three-quarter-minute lap, not a two-minute lap, and Le Mans is an institution. Here it is just a question of car reliability."
Bonnier was driving that cynosure of all eyes, Jim Hall's new Chaparral II, with the veteran Grand Prix driver and triple Le Mans and Sebring winner Phil Hill. Hill temperately agreed with Bonnier when asked what 24 hours on the Daytona track would prove, and summed it up: "It proves that a car will last 24 hours. Or it won't."
What Bonnier and Hill ultimately proved was that the Chaparral needs more testing. Beset by new-car bugs, it retired on the 318th lap after leading on only one lap—the first. However, don't write off the Chaparral—when it was functioning it appeared capable of out-running most of the cars on the track.
On Friday, the day before the race, the world's finest went about preparing to risk their lives with an appealing lack of panache. Chaparral's Hill and Bonnier qualified second with a fastest lap of 116.237 mph, and then sat around in a Chevy, Hill reading a newspaper, Bonnier staring out the window. Pedro Rodriguez of Mexico boiled around the track in a 365 Ferrari prototype for the fourth-fastest time and came back to the pits to sit on his father's lap and discuss the whole thing with him in rapid Spanish.
The fastest qualifier, Ken Miles, who drove a record 116.434-mph lap in one of the factory seven-liter Ford Mark IIs managed by Carroll Shelby, stalked about in a worn, hooded, camel-colored coat. At 47, Miles has the narrow build of a boy, a bony, long-nosed face and an expression of continuous, unexplained manic glee. Peering out of the hood of the camel coat he looked like a disreputable monk in racing shoes. He and Lloyd Ruby, his co-driver last weekend, won the fourth Daytona Continental last year (when it was a 2,000-kilometer race) in an earlier Ford. An engineer, Miles has lived for 15 years now in Hollywood, but he was born in Sutton Coldfield, England, where he started with motorcycles and drag racing in his youth. "Drag racing in England isn't much of a sport," he observed, perched on a stack of tires in the Ford garage, struggling to make himself heard above the clangor. "Just something you do when there isn't anything better to do—just something to tide you over the bad weather."
He expressed the prevailing disaffection with a 24-hour race, saying, "I can understand Bill France's wanting to run a 24-hour race, but from our point of view it doesn't really make too much sense. A 12-hour race here is about right. And there's really only room for one 24-hour race. However, I don't mind long races. I like them. I'm tough. I'm wiry. This race is a great gamble, though. The faster you go the more chance you have of winning and the less chance you have of finishing. The slower you go, the more chance you have of finishing and the less chance you have of winning. Somewhere in between these two conflicting demands is a speed that is just right—I believe somewhere between 1:59 and 2:10 a lap is the winning time."
Asked what he did in the evenings after practice for the great gamble, Miles said, "I brought down a large assortment of crossword puzzles. And I brought my chess book with me. We spend the early part of the evening eating, and we talk about automobiles and tires and people. And I've had more sleep at Daytona Beach than I've had in the last six months."
On the face of it, sleep seemed to be about the only thing Miles had in common with his co-driver, Lloyd Ruby, who slept all the way through an appointment Thursday evening and whose eyes are not more than half open the rest of the time. Ruby, 37, is a big Texan and a seasoned Indianapolis driver with solid experience in just about every other kind of car and no great interest in any of them. He had no objections to 24 hours on the Daytona track: "Just another race."
And he said he had no favorite distance or race: "I just go where the money is." About the swarm of Ferraris around him he confined himself to, "They'll always be there."
The day of the race was bright and cold, 34° in the morning, and the field went around alternately moaning and saying that, well, it would be good for the transmission. Three o'clock loomed up, race time, and nobody appeared tense. Along the pits, a mechanic sat digging quite a large hole in the road with a seashell. MG Pit Man Russ Brumbaugh rushed in from a Daytona matinee of the Nutcracker ballet still wearing the Mother Goose wig of his dance role. He kept the wig on thereafter except when working; he said it kept his head warm. Ferrari Driver Bob Bondurant sent his manager back into town for thermal underwear.
Mario Andretti, Indy's rookie of the year and the co-driver of Rodriguez' Ferrari, leaned on the sunny wall of the track cafeteria to talk to friends for a while and then went inside to consume—stoically—a very dry roast-beef sandwich. Andretti is a small man, perhaps 5 feet 4, and he is one of the few drivers with the old glamour, the marvelous arrogance that one associates with the late Marquis de Portago and the racing heroes of the movies. "Mario," a newspaperman said to him seriously before the race, "you've shown me a lot of class in the last three days." Andretti considered that and replied, "How?"
For some reason Daytona did not copy the start to which Le Mans has given its name—drivers sprinting across the track to their cars, starting the engines and commencing the race in a Place de la Concorde traffic jam—but instead let them roll away, two by two, in track-racing fashion. It was Bonnier in the Chaparral out front at the first call, followed by Miles, Walt Hansgen in another Mark II Ford and Rodriguez in the most promising Ferrari, which eventually placed fourth. This was the one closest to the factory—entered by Enzo Ferrari's man in America, Luigi Chinetti, under the aegis of the North American Racing Team. (A still newer Ferrari was withheld from the race on the ground that it was not yet ready.) After Lucien Bianchi's Ferrari came the stylish American Richie Ginther, winner of the Mexican Grand Prix (his first world championship win and the first for Japan's Honda car), in yet another Mark II Ford, which boasted an automatic transmission. Ford has been vexed over the success of Hall and his Chevrolet-engined Chaparrals, which have performed sensationally with automatics, and this was clearly a step toward equality. But it failed at Daytona, the car retiring after 329 laps.
The Chaparral's lead was short-lived. On the second lap Miles put his foot down and nosed his black-and-white Ford past it, and from that point he and Lloyd Ruby were invincible. Rarely has one car so dominated so long a race. Miles and Ruby steadily increased their lead through the remaining hours of daylight on Saturday afternoon, through the gold twilight and into the frigid evening, when the racers' headlights lit the speedway like a giant carnival ride and the temperature slowly dropped below 20°.
The wind was off the sea. The moon was full and in its glow the cars zipping around the course looked like fluorescent water bugs. To spectators the road seemed to disappear in the darkness, and headlights etched patterns that looked as if they would cross one another and result in alarming collisions. In the pits it got colder and colder. Figures moved about muffled from their eyes to their ankles in blankets and scarves. The cold and the constant roar, the tension in even inactive pit crews seemed stranger and stranger as the night wore on, and by midnight one was as fatigued as if it were hours later, just from nerves. Carroll Shelby stayed up virtually all night to watch his Fords. "I sat in the car for a minute, but I got a crick in my neck," he said. Baron Huschke von Hanstein was as vigilant over his Porsches, one of which—the new Carrera—lanced in among the bigger and faster cars and finished sixth.
Most vigilant of all were Miles and Ruby, who had faultlessly compounded the equation for victory. Lord knows they did not go so slow as to risk losing the race; they won by a stunning eight laps, or 30 miles. And yet they did not race so swiftly as to risk destroying their car.
And so Signor Ferrari has had fair warning: The monk is at large with a very fast automobile, and so are the rest of Ford's manic men.