SPORTS ILLUSTRATED staffers have done some odd things in their time—Tex Maule was once a trapeze artist, Ray Cave was a carhop at a drive-in in Washington, D,C., Andrew Crichton was a baker in Greenland—but as far as we can tell. Senior Editor Scot Leavitt is the only one of us who has raced sports cars in the Far East.
Leavitt had been a LIFE correspondent in Washington and Dallas and the head of the magazine's national affairs staff in New York when he was transferred in 1957 to Hong Kong to be chief correspondent for its bureau there. His beat for the next five years was the entire Far East and there was a lot going on—the shelling of Quemoy and Matsu from the Chinese mainland, the Tibetan border disputes that sent refugees pouring across the Himalayas into India, the warming up of the Indochina war. Back in Hong Kong between assignments, he purchased a TR-3, modified it, and before long was taking part in sprints, hill climbs and, finally, races.
In the 1960 Grand Prix of Macao ("A beautiful circuit like Monaco that runs through part of the town and out along the shore") he cracked up going into a turn too fast. "I realized I was gaining on another car and was trying to figure out which one it was," he recalls, "and I took my mind off what I was doing."
There were other near-misses in those years. Once the brakes of a Land Rover in which he was riding failed on a road near Darjeeling, and Leavitt and the Land Rover rolled backward "off a Himalaya." In Laos, his Jeep passed safely over a land mine that blew up the vehicle just behind.
March 31, 1974
"Practically the best thing that happened to me in the Far East," he says, "was when the Queen of Thailand told me I sat very nicely, Thai-style." The occasion was an interview with King Bhumibal and Queen Sirikit in their palace in Bangkok. As protocol demanded, journalists sat on the floor to be on a level below that of the royal couple. Scot tucked his feet beneath him so deftly that he was singled out for the royal accolade.
Leavitt came to SI in 1973 after serving as copy editor of LIFE. Currently, he is editing a variety of subjects—pro basketball, harness racing, PEOPLE, rowing and chess among them. He has given up auto racing, but not competition. "I'm awfully sedentary now, but I do play one particular game. I made it up," he says. The game is conducted on Manhattan sidewalks during Leavitt's twice-daily trek between the TIME-LIFE Building and Grand Central Station. The opponent is another pedestrian, usually unwitting. When he is about to overtake you, the object is to cut off his line of advance by leading him into a pick, such as a lamppost. When he is coming toward you, you fake him into hesitating over whether to go left or right. Either ploy, when successful, will force him to stop, or at least to lose ground.
Developing his stutter-step on Madison Avenue one evening, Leavitt tried to fake out a man in a camel's hair coat. Camel's hair turned out to be Kyle Rote, and the fake didn't work. Scot is now working on a new technique.