The Bruce and Denny show makes a fast buck

By winning in Canada two unlikely New Zealanders named Bruce McLaren and Denis Hulme, racing sports cars built by McLaren and powered with Chevy hot-rod engines, continued their runaway in the rich Can-Am series
October 01, 1967

Mosport, Canada is a rustic Toronto suburb just on the outskirts of Hurricane Beulah. Denis Hulme and Bruce McLaren are a pair of fast-moving New Zealanders whose hobby is collecting North American money. Last week they carried off a truckload as Hulme won the Player's 200 sports car race in a car built by McLaren, and Bruce himself finished second in a twin of the winning car. Hulme got so far ahead of everybody else that he drove the last lap with a fiat tire—at a mere 75 mph—and they still couldn't catch him. There is every chance they won't catch him until some time next year, if ever.

That thought depresses the big names who have been snarling along after Hulme and McLaren, because the fall Canadian-American series has become one of the richest and most glamorous runs of all time, worth $460,000 this year. Mosport was the third of six events—and Hulme's third victory.

Everybody who was anybody in road racing was there for a crack at Hulme. They rolled into Canada with low, fat, brutish Group 7 racers—which means 500-hp, mid-engined monsters that loaf along at 175 mph on straightaways and take corners with such lumbering ferocity that bystanders flinch. The drivers hide themselves so far in the bowels of the cars that only their knuckles and the tops of their helmets are visible.

The racers had to blast 80 times around a 2.45-mile circuit boasting nine tight turns and two faster bends, over punishing bumps and through black woods that figured to be full of grizzlies.

Track officials had calculated there was room for 30 cars all mixing it up at once out on the course. They got together a crowd of 23,978 to watch the show. (Only 16,000 of them paid. Everybody else sneaked in through the forest.) By Saturday, after much rain from Beulah's northern backlash and some wild banging around in practice, only 26 cars were ready for Denny, and when he got through with them only 15 were still running.

Not that he won laughing. On the first loop around he lost control at full bore, and skittered sideways and backwards through a few turns. Then, with a lap and a half to go, 30 seconds ahead of the pack, he did it again. This time he gouged out a sandbank, redesigning the left side of the car, and popped a tire. By the time he got all straightened around the car was spewing sparks, smoke and a few bolts and trailing the pungent smell of burning fiber glass. "But, no matter," he said afterward, mountainously calm. "I would have driven it that last lap even if the wheel had come off. You can do that with my balanced chassis, you know."

Now, everybody knows it is impossible for two poor little Kiwis to find wealth and happiness among all the sharks assembled for the Can-Am series—Dan Gurney, Jim Hall and Mario Andretti, to name three—so it is instructive to take a look at the reasons why.

Hulme is 33, a giant, bulldog-jawed man who posed for years as a quiet, mild-mannered mechanic for a frequent world champion, Jack Brabham, until Jack discovered he could really drive those cars. And so, all of a sudden. Hulme becomes Indy's Rookie of the Year, takes the point lead for the 1967 world championship and starts running away with the Can-Am.

McLaren, a gentle, fragile, 30-year-old who began racing 14 years ago, said: "It was a natural combination. As far back as 1964 I bought an old Cooper Formula I car from your American, Roger Penske. We chopped it about a bit, then put an Oldsmobile engine in it. But I learned an important thing: it is wise to concentrate on one or two forms of racing instead of flitting about. When the Can-Am series took shape two years ago, I began getting ready solely for this."

McLaren got ready with a vengeance. He 1) spotted Hulme and signed him; 2) designed a car for each of them (Hulme's is two inches longer, the only concession to his hulk); and 3) got Goodyear and Shell so enthusiastic about the project that they put together what is considered one of the sweetest support contracts in racing. "It costs $150,000 a year to run my factory," McLaren says. "Now we have several people interested in our car. We have orders for about 10 of them."

The monster that emerged is perhaps the fastest sports car in the world. Officially it is a McLaren M-6-A, or McLaren-Chevrolet.

"It is really a blend of New Zealand's McLaren and American hot-rodding," Bruce said. "The engine heads and castings are Chevrolet; everything else is adapted, all from American hot-rod parts.

"We even have," he said with the faintest trace of a smile, "Mickey Thompson manifolds on these engines."

The result is a winner that would be, says McLaren, "quite comfortable on the streets—although it does go a bit fast for that sort of thing and gets only 4½ miles to the gallon of gas." As a final thrust at the competition, the cars have, on the rocker-arm covers, small pink nameplates saying "Flower Power."

"We thought it was a nice touch," said McLaren.

But if McLaren and Hulme caught the rest of the sports car world with cars not nearly as good, they at least caught the best of them. The Canadian track was crawling with them—from America's international star, Gurney, to such swift ones as Mike Spence and John Surtees of Grand Prix fame; Ludovico Scarfiotti, famous enough to be fired by Ferrari; and Mark Donohue, who is considered the brightest comer of all the young U.S. drivers.

Further competition, such as it was, came from the hard, realistic world of track racing. There was Andretti, the national driving champion. On Friday, while Mario was standing at trackside looking broodingly at his lavender Ford, another Indy man came mincing up and said, "I thay there, dahling, how is youah motor cah?" It was, of course, Roger McCluskey, who can't quite get over the notion that road racing is unbearably effete.

But nobody was out-toughing Flower Power. Hulme qualified his car first on the starting grid, McLaren alongside. Gurney took the third spot in a Lola-Ford, and the rest of the notables came along behind. McCluskey had made it only to the 11th starting position, and at the very end of the lineup was Andretti. He was wise enough to throw a blanket over all that lavender and watch the race from the press trailer.

McLaren had discovered a leaky fuel cell just before post time. By the time he had replaced it and was parked at the gas tank saying, "fill 'er up," the race was starting. He screeched out 55 seconds behind the leader, and then—in a race within a race—chewed up the entire non-Kiwi balance of the field. By midpoint Hulme was running calmly in front, Gurney was hanging on in second, and back there somewhere McLaren was gaining almost 1½ seconds a lap on them—roaring along, steering easily with one hand and waving the other one steadily at the cars in front of him to get the hell out of the way. They all did, and when McLaren pulled up behind Gurney on lap 67, it was all over. The McLaren Chevy screamed past him in a burst of hot orange and green, and Gurney, who intensely dislikes being passed, gave vigorous chase. Two laps later his clutch collapsed.

Then, about the time Canada's evening chill was closing in, came the final shot of drama. With 1½ laps to go, Hulme was supposed to be playing cool, but he hates that sort of thing and was screaming down the back straight at 168 miles an hour. He would have been going faster, but "I had been having trouble with the steering for the last several laps." ("Have you seen the forearms on that guy?" said McLaren. "He absolutely cranks that car into turns with one mighty move. When I first gave him the car he took one look at the gearshift and said, 'You'd better strengthen that thing or I'll have it out by the bloody roots.' ")

In an instant Hulme blasted through a sand trap and sent hundreds of people and a few moose scurrying into the woods for safety, then came by the main stands in a sort of churning ball of smoke, holding up one hand and waving to his crewmen, who had all gone bone white. He vanished into the woods while nobody breathed and finally showed up again from the other direction to take the checkered flag. He calmly whipped into the pits and climbed out of the rolling wreckage. Owner McLaren eased by, comfortably in second place, and nodded at the pit serenely.

The win gave Flower Power a virtual lock on the Canadian-American cup title. True, Hulme and McLaren could conceivably lose the next three events. But, between them they have more than $59,000 of the purse already and they want the rest of it, including scores of thousands that will be paid on a point basis at the end.

"Lose the next three races?" said Hulme. He smiled widely. "Not very likely."

PHOTOHULME MUSCLES HIS SUPERBLY PREPARED McLAREN CHEVY AROUND MOSPORT BEND PHOTOHULME SMILINGLY ACCEPTS VICTORY WREATH WITH CAR BUILDER McLAREN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)