SCD: Tell me about Formula 1.
CJ: In respect to F1, when I went looking for a team I could join, there were three available looking for partnerships; the March Team, Team Surtees, and Mo Nunn with Ensign. Providing Bernie and the boys would even let you in, it wasn’t that easy. He [Bernie] liked the fact that I was branching out and had used people like Regazzoni and some others and I was granted an entry. I decided to go with Mo Nunn. We just fit each other, better than I would have been certainly with March where I would’ve been somebody to run errands. Surtees was a bit different in terms of personalities; it was just different personalities there, nothing against them though.
I learned a lot more from Mo Nunn than he ever did from me. My strong point was finding sponsorship and a certain amount of organization. For some reason I could spot a driver and I had a good feel for drivers. Mike and Andrew would say to go off and look at this F3 race and take note to a certain driver. One I noticed when he was in F3 was Nelson Piquet. We tested him just before the German GP in ’78. Derek Daly was driving for us then, but he wouldn’t sign a long term contract. So we stood him down, and we tested Piquet at Silverstone and he did six laps which was enough for us to take him to Germany for the next race. I remember he had an upset stomach all weekend long, but it didn’t slow him down. We also had a German driver, Harald Ertl, in the second car who was competent and who had good sponsorship. But we were a small team that tried not to do money deals if we could help it. We were asked after the race if we were going to keep Piquet, and we said no because Derek wanted to come back. And we needed Derek as he had more experience, he had been F2 champion, and we needed points to stay in the top 10 which Derek got us later in the season. Bernie picked up Nelson, and two years later Nelson was runner up in the World Championship, and the year after that World Champion.
He [Nelson] gave me his wreath which I have in a nice case from his first World Championship, and after the race at the German GP that he drove for us, I took the steering wheel off the car, I knew he was going to be good!
SCD: You ran Danny Ongais in one of your cars during your time in F1 did you not?
CJ: He [Ongais] probably shouldn’t have been in Formula One, he just wasn’t comfortable in my opinion, but Bernie gave us quite a bit of money and said, “You’re going to love him.” I am not complaining about it, as I knew Danny for sometime, in fact his first F5000 car was our ex-Lola T300. I gave it to him in trade for the number 4 Eagle Formula 1 chassis that had been driven by everybody with Dan’s F1 engine. John Collins and I rebuilt it.
SCD: You also ran Brett Lunger.
CJ: Brett was living with us in California and we ran him for a one shot deal. Rather liked him; he’s an interesting guy by the way, his time in Vietnam and his approach to racing. He’s a very good guy.
SCD: Which did you enjoy more being involved with at the time, F5000 or F1?
CJ: Well, both. My goal was F1, it really was. Ever since I read that book by Monkhouse, even when I had some success in drag racing I wanted to get into road racing. Formula One was between a dream and a reality.
SCD: Have you been to any of the F5000 Revival Series events, and if so what are your thoughts and feelings on this series?
CJ: I have not seen one, but my intentions are to go as a couple of my cars are still running and I’ve had several people contact me about them. I have to be careful how I say this, but I’ve always had mixed feelings about how some cars are represented. I’ve owned a lot of different cars. I owned one of the five Ferraris built for the 1953 Mille Miglia and John Collins was working for me. We rebuilt it as precisely as we could, even to the tone of the paint. I always felt that the car should represent, as near as possible, exactly the way they came out of the factory.
We did that with a couple Maseratis, one was Sam Posey’s first race car he ever owned and he managed to blow it up by lunch time and it never ran again. He and I got to know each other rather well over the years and I ended up with the car and rebuilt it to its original condition.
My reservation about vintage racing is that quite often I know the real story of the car as opposed to what is presented and claimed to be. So, you know, I’ve always had a little bit of a jaundiced look.
I have been to some vintage races though and have enjoyed them, and I would love to go to the F5000 races just to see how hard knocking they really are here on this side of the Atlantic. In Europe, they go at it a little harder from the ones I’ve seen and there seems to be a different approach there to rebuilding cars. Having said all that, this whole thing of vintage racing is a Godsend to cars that would normally just waste away. The Regazzoni car is apparently someplace in Europe and I’d like to find out if it still exists and where it is. His son Gian Marie would like to own it if it’s findable I think.
SCD: What is one of the funnier stories that you recall from your days in F1?
CJ: We were in Spain with Regazzoni the week before the Grand Prix; I think it was ’77. And Morris [Mo Nunn] was just delighted to have him, as at the end of the ’76 season I mentioned that we should get him to drive our car. Mo said, “He’ll never come with us.” And I said, “Well, let me talk to him, he drove for me before and he might.” We were doing tire testing and we got to a point where Morris kept perfect records, he never missed a lap and Clay came in and seemed to be stuck on a 1:16.5. Morris said he wanted Clay to go out and do four laps after he had made a change and then bring it back in. So Clay goes out and is told to drive the car at the limit and he runs two laps and they’re both right at 1:16.5. The next two laps are something like 1:16.33. So Morris has a big smile on his face and Clay comes in and Clay shook his head and said, “No Morris.” Morris said look, here are the times you ran, two laps at 1:16.5 and the last two at 1:16.3. Clay said “Oh Morris, two for you and two for me.” That’s what you got in a guy like Regazzoni; they can just do things like that.
SCD: You had an encounter with James Hunt that was interesting.
CJ: James had a room, and I think it was in Spain as well, one or two years after the story I told you about Clay. His hotel room was 412 and my room was 312. I had just got back from dinner or where ever we had been and I noticed that the door to my room was open a crack. I walked into my room, and it was indeed my room, and Hunt’s in there with two women in bed, O.K. We knew each other, so I said, “I think you’re in my bed.” Hunt looks around and reaches over to the table next to the bed and tosses me the keys and says, “Here, you can have my room.” So I slept in his room that night.
SCD: Chuck, I’d like to thank you for taking time to talk with me today, and I would like to thank you for all the effort you put into your involvement in motorsports over the years, as you truly have some incredible accomplishments to be proud of.
CJ: Hey, I got to live my dream and I’m very thankful for it.
[Source: Will Silk; photo credit: Chuck Jones]