We had an impromptu drivers’ meeting on the pre-grid conducted by Stirling and Phil. They explained that this was a parade or procession and that there were too many cars for the course. Stirling said he and Phil would lead off, side by side, and the rest were to follow. When the flag dropped, however, quite a few forgot the instructions and started to dice. I had borrowed the Speedster for Gurney from a Gary Fahl of Sunnyvale, CA. I was standing at Start/Finish when Dan came back walking along the side of the course, helmet in hand. It turned out that he had tried to pass both Stirling and Phil in a corner that would only fit two cars. The Fahl Porsche was somewhat worse for the wear. Fahl was furious, yelling at me that his concours car was destroyed. Destroyed was an exaggeration, however. After the event, I was able to get Vasek Polak to restore it without charge and Fahl was mollified. At any rate, the rest of the reunion went off without incident. I don’t think many in the audience realized what a truly amazing sight they had just witnessed.
Racing personalities weren’t the only famous faces that could be seen that weekend. Tristan Rogers, star of the daytime soap, General Hospital, Chris Atkins of Blue Lagoon, Perry King, Kent McCord and Robert Carradine are a few that I can recall. Our very own Mr. Monterey Historics, Steve Earle, was racing in his 1953 Aston Martin.
The rest of the day went well and that evening, it was parties, parties, parties. John Von Neumann hosted a dinner at his home featuring lobster. He entertained many of his friends who had been his Porsche/VW dealers in the old days including Jay Chamberlain, Vasek Polak, Pete Lovely, Jack McAfee and George Follmer. I was fortunate to have been included.
The only problem I had involved Innes Ireland. I had arranged for a complimentary room in the headquarters hotel. Later, I was informed that Ireland had charged many hundreds of dollars for liquor and the hotel management was quite upset. Of course, by then, Ireland had returned to England. So I left this one for the Chamber to sort out.
On Sunday, Race Seven was for older sports cars. The cars were due to line up at pre-grid, but an official hustled me over to their paddock. All of the drivers were suited up but sitting on the concrete beside their cars. Vasek Polak had entered his 1937 BMW 328 for John Von Neumann to drive. When I got there I was told that the entrants wouldn’t compete against a replica and that the BMW was, in fact, a replica. I talked with Vasek about it and he admitted it was a replica, But, he said, “It’s an exact replica.” I had to pull the car and the drivers climbed into their cars. Vasek was very angry with me for the rest of the day. (We remained close friends until his death.)
In order to generate pre-race publicity, I had invited Road & Track Editor John Dinkel to come and race my 1956 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. In addition, my friend Kent McCord was to drive my Devin SS. But when we three met in the paddock, it turned out that the 6-ft, 3-in McCord wouldn’t fit in the Devin. So I came up with an easy fix. “The two of you can just swap cars.” After his race, Dinkel remarked in the magazine, “I sure have a much better appreciation of what the ‘old-timers’ had to put up with when they raced in the fifties an sixties. My helmet is off to all of them.” He had found that racing the Devin was hard work.
The big event on Sunday was, of course, the Vintage Formula One. Dan Gurney was a favorite in the same Eagle that he had won the 1967 Formula One race at Spa, Belgium. Gurney had accomplished wins in Formula One, Indy Cars, NASCAR, Trans-Am, Can-Am and sports cars, a record equaled only by Mario Andretti. Another favorite was three-time Indy winner Bobby Unser driving a 1973 Eagle, the same car in which he had won the Indy 500 that year. They were challenged by a host of other top talents, not the least of which was Stirling Moss in a Formula One Lotus. Other former Formula One Lotus Team members Innes Ireland, Jay Chamberlain and Pete Lovely joined Moss in Loti (plural of Lotus). There were other Indy drivers on hand led by two-time winner Rodger Ward in my 1967 Phoenix-winning Indy Gilbert and Sam Hanks. Bob Bondurant had a ride in a 1967 Ferrari alongside George Follmer in a 1971 Tyrrell and Ronnie Bucknum in a Cooper. World Champion Phil Hill piloted a Talbot-Lago once driven by Juan Fangio. Afterwards, Phil said, “I did what I could with the suds left in the old car.”
Notwithstanding the competition, Bob Bondurant won in the Ferrari. Perhaps due to teaching at his school he had more recent seat time than the others. All of the Formula One entries had been padlocked a short distance away from the course in a parking lot. The street from the course to the lot was not part of the course and consequently under the jurisdiction of the Palm Springs Police. After the race, all of the cars left the course onto the street, led by Bondurant. The street was lined by police, keeping a large crowd of spectators at bay.
All of a sudden, a pre-teen boy pushed between two officer, and out onto the street and collided with the Bondurant Ferrari. The boy had been left unattended by his mother, who had gone shopping. We brought the boy into the paddock and, just to make sure, had him examined by paramedics. At that point, his mother returned and, even though the paramedics said it was not necessary, demanded they take him to the hospital where shortly after arrival, he was discharged without treatment.
As I discovered later, however, his mother was a student at a law school. A week or so later and much to my surprise, I received a letter from her asking me to supply her with the name of our insurance agency and that she was seeking damages. I assembled a small committee of lawyers headed by (now-judge) Joe Di Loreto. I was advised to do nothing. In the ordinary course of events, in order to pursue the matter, she would have to file suit within one year of the event. She knew this from law school, I guess. So, hoping to get a large settlement with threatening letters—which continued—she waited until one year minus one day to file. But, as it turned out, the incident involving her son occurred on a city street where the Palm Springs police were in charge. In the case of a municipality, California law requires suit to be filed within six months! So the matter ended with a whimper.
When all was said and done, everyone, except the law-school mother, was happy. The City was happy because every hotel and motel within twenty miles of Palm Springs was sold out. The Chamber was happy because the event was a sell-out. After noon or so on Sunday, the Chamber ticket takers ran out of tickets—they had sold all 25,000 they had printed—so they just opened the gates and let everyone in. And the members did a land-office business. Our big-name entrants were happy because they had an opportunity to hob-knob with friends plus have an expense-paid vacation at a famous resort. Even though they had only one day to race, most of our vintage entrants were happy to have been involved in what turned out to be a world-class happening.
We even ended up making a small profit from the entry fees. So we threw a big, hosted Christmas party at Mary Davis’ Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, emptied the treasury and closed the account. The effort had taken most of a year out of my life and my wife told me that if I ever promoted another race, she would leave me. A Mexican fellow introduced himself to me at the party and told me that he was involved in racing in his home country. He asked if I remembered the early-fifties Mexican Road Races and I replied that I did. Then he suggested we promote a vintage re-creation. But that’s another story.
[Source: Art Evans]