1973 24 Hours of Daytona – Race Profile and Photo Gallery Page Five
“The Sunshine State” failed to live up to its name and weather for the first day of practice and qualifying on Thursday produced heavy rains. The handful of spectators taking shelter in the covered grandstands could see cars on the track throwing up rooster tails of spray. The rains kept speeds down as drivers negotiated the very slick track that was covered in standing water in some areas of the infield. The top qualifier that day was Henri Pescarolo in his V-12 Matra with a speed of 124.034 mph. For many of the other cars that day it was a washout with most not averaging 100 mph and the slowest came in at 72 mph. Recording a second-best time on that rainy day was Englishman Mike Hailwood driving one of the two John Wyer Gulf Mirages. His co-driver would be John Watson.
Among the first-day qualifiers was Richie Panch driving a Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Richie was the son of stock car legend Marvin Panch who had retired from racing and was working on his son’s pit crew. While international racing rules back then stipulated that a driver had to be 21-years-old Richie took the wheel of the Camaro at age 17. In fact he was a senior at Daytona’s Mainland High School and would graduate in June of that year. One more thing, his official entry form listed his age at 21. Seems the folks at the Speedway got a case of amnesia when dealing with a son of one of their NASCAR legends.
More rain was predicted for the second and last day (Friday) of practice and qualifying. The Gulf Mirage folks were able to get Derek Bell’s car out before the rains came and he captured the pole at 129.335 mph. The better weather and higher speeds on a damp track produced a couple of incidents. Bob Grossman driving the #21 NART Ferrari 365 GTB/4 kissed the wall going down the main straight losing the car’s hood. Damage was minimal and the car started in 17th position.
The other incident involved the Reinhold Joest Porsche 908/03 which caught fire in the infield. It was quite a dramatic moment captured by newspaper photos which showed Joest running from the car as flames leapt from the cockpit and front of the car. The following day the local Daytona newspaper reported that the car had been withdrawn but there it was on race day at the back of the grid in 47th position. Seems that the damage was relegated to the cockpit of the car and the quick action of the corner workers saved the day. However, it must have been a long night for the Joest mechanics as they removed and replaced burned-out wiring.