One problem we had to address was setting up the course. In order to do so, we had to work with local authorities. Vasek and I had planned something over two miles. But it went by the Post Office. The local Postmaster objected, noting the Post Office was open on Saturday. So we had to shrink the course to avoid the Post Office.
Our original plan had a long straight using Taquitz-McCallum, a wide, divided road going from the center of town to the airport. The police chief objected, so more shrinkage. We ended up with little more than a large block. I thought many would be disappointed, but Stirling Moss later remarked, “This is not about racing, it’s about the people and the cars.”
Next we had to define the course with barriers to protect not only the participants, but also the spectators. Since we were on city streets, there were curbs. A curb is an anathema for racing because if a car hits one sideways, it rolls. In the old days, we used hay bales, but we decided that these would not be adequate as well as costing a lot of money. Luckily, one of the prospective entrants was a contractor. He had a number of New Jersey barriers (those long, moveable concrete blocks) that he donated. That gave us a start, but there weren’t enough of them.
“This is not about racing, it’s about the people and the cars.”
Remembering that my friend, John Fitch, was the designer of those barrels seen everywhere on freeways, I called him for advice. He told me that a barrel filled with water was almost as good as his famous Inertial Barriers. He also mentioned that some barrels used for food can be used only one time for that purpose. So we called around and eventually found a source of large plastic pickle barrels. I think they were only 25¢ each, so we bought a bunch and placed them at strategic places around the course. The day before the race, the Palm Springs Fire Department filled the barrels.
One of the members of the Chamber committee was the person in the City of Palm Springs responsible for insurance. She was assigned to obtain adequate liability coverage for the event. But for one reason or another, she fell down on the job. One month before the event, we didn’t have insurance. The president of VARA became very upset thinking he might be personally liable, so he resigned. Nevertheless, other VARA members worked the race including Sy Lauretz, the Race Steward.
The upshot, insofar as insurance went, was that we never got a special policy. As it turned out, however, there was no specific exclusion of racing in the city policy, so, since our event was an official city happening, we were covered. As it turned out, there was a claim, but more about that later.
Course control was done by the Long Beach MG Club in the old days, so we were fortunate to get it for the same function. And a number of those originally involved participated too. Alan Fordney was the announcer, Arnie Cane was the starter, Bill Pollack was the “Reunion Chairman,” and Dick Guldstrand the Celebrity Coordinator.
As the weekend approached, we were faced with disaster. A huge storm blanketed the West Coast and it rained in Palm Springs all Thanksgiving week. Since rain in Palm Springs is rare, we hadn’t set a rain date or even thought about it. Even so, the course was set up with everyone getting wet. Lo and behold, Saturday dawned with a blue sky and warm weather. And it continued into Sunday. On Monday, rain returned.
The storm did cause a few problems. Pete Lovely had agreed to bring his Formula One Lotus from Tacoma, Washington. He set out towing a trailer, but got bogged down in snow. Without chains, he couldn’t continue. But Pete, himself, made it by flying. Fortunately, a neighbor of mine, David Springett, had a spare Lotus 18 he offered for Pete. Actually, Springett had three Loti (plural of Lotus), so I had appropriate mounts for Innes Ireland and Jay Chamberlain too.
The storm also caused difficulties for many traveling south towards Palm Springs. There were numerous accidents and blockages on the freeway. Nevertheless, by Friday, there wasn’t a hotel room to be had in the area and people were staying in nearby Indio and Banning. The Chamber and the City were happy campers.
Probably due to the publicity we had in motorsports media for the months prior to Thanksgiving, there were a large number of vintage entrants. There were so many, in fact, that we could allow them to run only one day: Saturday or Sunday. They were used to racing each day and there was some grumbling amongst the troops. At the end of the day on Saturday, I spied a few loading up and pulling out. I asked about this and the reply was, “Well, I had my run and now I’m going home.” When I pointed out the large number of racing greats that would be in Sunday’s main event, they didn’t seem interested. Obviously some had come just to race. I was taken aback that these vintage racers were indifferent regarding the history of the sport.
The big event on Saturday was the Fabulous Fifties Reunion. This was supposed to be a parade of more than 50 drivers who had raced during the fifties, hopefully in the same or similar cars. Again, very few of them had appropriate cars, so I set about borrowing from vintage entrants. Most appropriate, of course, was Ron Kellogg’s Ferrari Testa Rossa for John Von Neumann, who had raced at almost every fifties Palm Springs including the very first in April 1950.
John showed up on Saturday before the Reunion event. I took him to Ron Kellogg’s paddock and introduced them. John said he wanted to re-familiarize himself with the car so Ron gave him the key and John drove off. The time for the event rolled around and no John, so the group took off without him. Hours later, John returned with wide grin (unusual for him) on his face. He thanked Ron and went home.
Quite a few more than 50 showed up. Some of the notables in cars that they drove in the fifties (or same make and model) were Stirling Moss in a C-Type Jaguar, Phil Hill in an XK120, Mary Davis in an MG, Pete Lovely in a 550 Porsche, Ronnie Bucknum in an Austin-Healey, Andy Porterfield in my Devin SS, Bill Stroppe in a Kurtis, Bob Drake in a D-Type Jaguar, Denise McCluggage in an Alfa Romeo, Dan Gurney in a Porsche Speedster, Dick Guldstrand in a Corvette, Bill Pollack in an Allard, Bill Murphy in a Kurtis, Skip Hudson in a Porsche, Lew Spencer in a Morgan, Max Balchowsky in an Ole Yeller, Bob Estes in a Bugatti, Al Moss in his TC that he had driven from Arizona, Scooter Patrick in a Porsche, Paul O’Shea in a 300SL, Jack McAfee in a 550 Porsche, Jim Hall in a Lotus and many more names you will recognize.