As the renowned Southern sage, Ovid Bolus, once remarked: "Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess." That wisdom is especially applicable to long-distance motor racing, a sport that must rank with the most excessive human activities on record. Unlike such benign excesses as flagpole sitting or marathon dancing, long-distance motor racing is very noisy, very dirty, very complex and sometimes very dangerous. One need only visit such sacred shrines of the sport as Le Mans, Sebring or Daytona to get the picture. Take a look at the stands or the pits at, say, about three o'clock in the morning halfway through a 24-hour race. Spectators, crewmen and drivers alike wear expressions of sublime ennui, their ears beaten flat and their senses scrambled by the unremitting roar of big motors.
There are some few moments of spectacle—blown engines that bang like frag bombs, flaming wrecks that brighten the night like fireworks, or the case of the Corvette that vaulted the wall during last year's Daytona Continental and crashed on top of a camper whose owner (fortunately) had just gone out for a hamburger. But for the most part a long-distance endurance race is dead beer, stale cigarettes, gritty eyeballs and the endless orbit of flatulent machinery.
Until recently the practitioners of this masochistic art were perfect copies of their sport: sobersided, deadly serious men and women who droned on and on through the night about things as thrilling as valve seats, brake wear and snaffle settings. The trouble was they hadn't listened to Ovid Bolus. Their excesses were not excessive enough. Well, if you're wearing the right colored brakes and you've lubricated your valve seats thoroughly enough, pull up a snaffle and sit down. The times they are a-changin' on the enduro circuit, thanks to Ovid Bolus and his partner, Flem Snopes.
The venerable firm of Bolus & Snopes, Ltd. was much in evidence at Daytona International Speedway last week. The occasion was the 24 Hours of Daytona, the world's most enervating road race now that Sebring has bitten the dust. This event is the first of 11 such events internationally, the only one in the U.S., with all of them reaching for a thing known as the World Championship of Makes—in which a brand name, not a driver, emerges as the hero.
February 12, 1973
"Nuff said," growled one of the team's torque-wrench supervisors. "We're too durned literary already."
Not at all. In point of fact, the cockeyed wit and absurd wisdom of Bolus & Snopes have given endurance racing a dimension that too long has been missing from all motor sports: a sense of fun. In a sport that has grown nearly as serious as it is costly, in terms both of life and dollars, the Bolus & Snopes team provides a refreshing breeze of native humor—literate, ludicrous, antic and witty. It also provides good racing.
For the past two seasons the team has gone barnstorming for a modest outlay of $15,000. It was clearly money well spent. Last season former SCCA national champion Bob (Robert) Mitchell wheeled to his second straight Southeast division B-production title in a Bolus & Snopes "grabber blue" Shelby GT-350H (the H means that it's an ex-Hertz rental car). He scored three victories and only two of the debacles usually favored by the team.
The B & S endurance racer, the 1969 orange Camaro, finished 11th overall and first in the touring class of last season's shortened 6 Hours of Daytona, and the team placed second in its division at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Dismayed by these successes, B & S this year plans to campaign a Dodge Colt in IMSA's B.F. Goodrich Radial Challenge Series in addition to running the Camaro in endurance races.
And at last, international acclaim is just around the turn: the team recently received a communication from Le Mans. It was addressed to "Monsieur le Directeur, du Bolus & Snopes," and it was a Demande de Participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last year, when the team tried to enter, it was brushed off. This year Bolus & Snopes is toying with the idea of reciprocating, though the prospect of racing in France is inviting, if they can get the backing.
Mitchell, 31, who works as a physicist at the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., is a lean, dark, intense young man whose driving skills and technical talents more than compensate for the team's otherwise easygoing approach. At Daytona last week he was joined by another real racer, Steve Ross of Rochester, N.Y., a Trans-Am veteran who set up the B & S Camaro. Indeed, it was Ross' own car, partially sponsored by a northern kin group of Bolus & Snopes, an outfit named "The True Friends of Hernando De Soto." Thus the infection seems to be spreading, and all for the better.
B & S is the joint product of the fertile, indeed some might say febrile, brains of a pair of Mississippians from Faulkner country. Sam E. Scott, 35, the titular team manager, is a lawyer in Jackson, Miss. His partner, William Jeanes, 34, is the bearded scion of a family from the same town that made its fortune distributing diesel engines—a fact that had an obvious though convoluted influence on young Jeanes' development. "Bill and I studied history together at Millsaps College in Jackson," explains Sam Scott in his balding drawl. "We both were into racing and we both read a lot. Bill was always writing things and I was good at talking. One of the books that stuck in my mind was a tome titled Flush Times in Alabama and Mississippi, by a fellow named Joseph Glover Baldwin. There was a chapter in it about a famous old lawyer and confidence man named Ovid Bolus who operated in our neck of the swamp back during the 1830s and '40s. Ovid Bolus, Esq., Attorney at Law and Solicitor in Chancery, that was his title. Old Ovid, he specialized in cheating Indians—not individually but by the tribe."
According to Glover, Bolus was a great raconteur, practitioner of an art that like so many others was once strong in the South but seems to be dying along with all the fine traditions. Bolus was a grand villain in the Faulknerian mold, a true rascal. "Well, Bill Jeanes and I were sitting around my backyard one Sunday afternoon, drinking too many martinis by far, when we decided to start a racing team. What better boss for a racing team could you choose than Ovid Bolus? But the name, just by itself, looked a bit naked. We both had great affection for the ampersand—it looks so nice and convoluted, unlike those buildings you see in New York or Chicago. So we had to come up with another name and since we lived in Jackson, which was Faulkner's backyard, we settled on Flem Snopes. He was the cleverest of the Snopeses, mean and nasty. His daddy was the barn burner."
The ongoing saga of Bolus & Snopes was born that afternoon and is commemorated, according to Jeanes, by a "suitably engraved bronze olive" that now stands in Scott's backyard, marking the spot for posterity and all martini drinkers to come. Scott also had been impressed by an account in the Glover book of a libel suit involving a mule named Dick Johnson, a typically 19th century squabble that divided a whole town into what Sam calls "assites and anti-assites." Clearly Dick Johnson had to be the team mascot. And just as clearly he had to disappear in order to evoke concern among the faithful. Dick, who—according to the publication known as The Newsletter of Bolus & Snopes—had once out raced a tornado until it caught him while he was fording the Sunflower River in Leflore County, Miss., was last seen overtaking a national guard truck convoy on the road to a racetrack in the Middle West. What became of him afterward is anyone's guess, although the blimp, Graf Bolus, conducted a lengthy search in the months that followed. (At one point a kindly housewife in St. Louis "mistakenly harbored the infamous mule, Rutherford B., in her garage under the impression that it was Dick Johnson," but spectroscopic examination of tail-hair cuttings proved her wrong, no matter how kindly intentioned. The search goes on.)
Another B & S invention is the steamboat Robert E. Snopes, which is moored at a landing in Hannibal, Mo., laden with beer, car parts and a harpoon gun; anyone seeking a ride to New Orleans had better come prepared with a loaded poker deck and a derringer. And alternate transportation. Any complaints regarding service should be forwarded, preferably with a cash donation, to the Bolus & Snopes Tower, Jackson, Miss.
"We've had a great response from the fans," says Scott. "People write us all the time asking for decals and posters of Dick Johnson or the Graf Bolus, and they always include a letter that tries to be funnier than we are, which isn't all that difficult. But I really think that racing should be fun. The best kind of a laugh is the laugh that comes at your own expense, provided that it's tempered by a concern with quality and competitiveness. All we want around here is adequacy, a rare component in America these days. Adequacy and a few laughs."
Well if any one spirit dominates the Bolus & Snopes operation it is an esprit de derri√®re, and nobody can say that the team failed to fulfill it at Daytona last week. If the "mark of adequacy" is anything to live down to, Bolus & Snopes went even lower. Drivers Mitchell, Houser and Ross managed to qualify the Camaro in the 21st position on a grid that included 51 cars.
The pole position was won at 129.995 mph in a snarling little Gulf Mirage driven by England's Derek Bell and Mike Hailwood. Close behind lay the Matra-Simca of Fran√ßois Cevert, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, then another Mirage and then an ancient, predominantly French-manned Lola Hardly the sort of field to send the fans into raptures. Oh, there was Mark Donohue and George Follmer in a nifty new prototype Porsche Carrera even more niftily prepared by the Penske team, and another three-liter Carrera in the hands of Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood, both of them accomplished young road racers. There were Corvettes to please the Stingray studs and there were four Ferrari GTB4s out of the Luigi Chinetti North American racing stable.
But all of them were serious, oh so serious. When the green flag flapped, the Mirages leaped out and led the field. Not for long. Mechanical problems of the customarily obscure and mumbled nature that befalls these machines ultimately made both Mirages fade. Then the Matra had its brief day. It, too, finally broke. The small-car folks were up next, with Donohue leading for quite a while and making people wonder, in the wake of his recent Winston 500 win, if he wasn't just going to drive off with all the money everywhere this year. After a long, nighttime duel with the other Carrera, Donohue's engine went spang—or at least one of his pistons burned—and the race victory finally went to Gregg and Haywood. Donohue was in fairly good company, since two of the four Ferraris also failed along with all but 19 cars in the field.
Meanwhile, Bolus & Snopes ambled mulishly on. "The battle plan is to run slow but sure for the first few hours," said Sam Scott, "and then quit." Indeed, as the race entered its ninth hour the B & S Camaro slowed and finally stopped altogether, much in the manner of a beloved beast of burden that has lived its life to the fullest and then flat-out died. The official reason for the retirement was the failure of an oil pump, but don't you dare believe it.
"Last year we only had to run six hours to win our class here," snarled Jeanes after the retirement, "and this year we just plumb refused to run any longer than an eight-hour day. We're honest working stiffs and we got a union behind us after all."
Ah yes, the joys of excess. The way it turned out it could have been the dullest 24 hours in Daytona memory. The serious teams all went at it seriously. But in the end most of them failed. Okay, so Bolus & Snopes failed, too. But at least they had fun doing it. Or as Ovid Bolus put it as he staggered off toward Mississippi: "We shall return. If we ever get around to it."