McLarens versus the “Bloody Shit-Box” or How I Hitched a Ride to the 1969 Road America CanAm at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
by Harry Kennison
Harry Kennison is a fan with a camera and a gift for telling good stories. This is the first in a series of stories of the sixties and seventies. We hope you enjoy them.
Summer 1969. History will remember it as the summer of Woodstock (although it’s been said that if you remember Woodstock, you probably weren’t there). It was the summer I graduated from Michigan State University. It was the summer I moved from Michigan to Colorado. It was also the summer I got married to my college sweetheart (yes, she’s the same girl that endured a weekend in a tent in a sleet storm at the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen the year before.) And it was the summer I met a character by the name of Rich Galloway, who invited me to be on his pit crew for an honest-to-God, ground-pounding CanAm race at Elkhart Lake’s Road America. In other words, it was the best summer of my life, bar none.
Before I delve into the trials and tribulations of that weekend I’ll never forget, a few words about the aforementioned Rich Galloway and how I came to know him might be in order. Having just graduated from Michigan State, I moved to my parents’ new home on Lookout Mountain west of Golden, Colorado and began to think about a summer job or something to do until I was drafted into the Army. If that wasn’t enough pressure on this 21-year old, I was also about to be married.
My mother mentioned that there was a “famous race driver” who lived in the house just above theirs, but she didn’t know his name. I walked by the mail boxes and saw “R. B. Galloway” on the one that matched the street address for the house above my folks’. The name was familiar, but not what I’d call famous. At first I couldn’t quite place it, and then I remembered, “Wasn’t there a Galloway driving a fly-yellow McLaren at the Mosport CanAm season opener I’d attended in June?” Checking the Mosport program, which somehow managed to make its way to Colorado with the rest of my footlocker of worldly goods, confirmed that there was indeed an entrant/driver by the name of “Rich Galloway” from Golden, Colorado.
Another neighbor, A. G. Mason, introduced me to Rich a few days later. Looking like something out of central casting for a Western, Galloway was a few years older than me and stood about 5′ 7″ tall. He had a roly-poly body with rosy cheeks and a big handlebar mustache. All he needed was a full white beard and a sleigh and he could have been in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Although I believe he was originally from Minnesota, Rich sported a pair of worn jeans, cowboy boots and his signature black cowboy hat. He was as laid back as his appearance implied. But he never seemed too concerned about the bucks it took to field not only a CanAm car, but also one of those new F-5000 Lola’s in that open-wheeled Continental series I’d heard about. The rumor around the neighborhood was that his dad had something to do with the invention of Scotch® Tape which, I guess, could allow you to retire before you ever had to start any 8-5 day job like the rest of us schmucks. Rich was truly a highly likeable free spirit and remains so to this day.
After several beers and a lot of racing tall tales out on Rich’s deck overlooking the lights of Denver, a couple of things happened. First, he asked me if I’d like to come to his next CanAm race at Elkhart Lake as a member of his pit crew. As Buddy Palumbo, the hero in B. S. Levy’s “Last Open Road” novels is fond of saying, “Natch!” Rich also said that my former college roommate, “Snipe” Mitter, could come along as well.
The second thing that happened was old A. G. was so impressed with my enthusiasm for racing, that he offered me a job down at the telephone company. His logic was that if I could get half as excited about phones, as I was about racing, I’d just might have a bright future in the phone business. I don’t think I ever got that excited about phones as I was about racing, but I did manage to stick around for 31 years until I semi-retired in 2001.
So after getting married on Tuesday evening, August 19th, this newly-wed was off the Elkhart Lake via Michigan just nine days later-one can never let a marriage get in the way of a racing opportunity I always say. My old roommate, Snipe, picked me up at the airport and the next morning we were roaring off to Wisconsin in his new British Racing Green Triumph TR-6.
We arrived on late Friday afternoon and after picking up our pit passes at Road America’s old farmhouse down by the main gates, we met up with Galloway and his crew in the garages next door. Rich’s team manager, “the Indian,” and his chief (and only) mechanic, Ron Goldleaf had trailered the McLaren M6B-427 aluminum Chevy from their Denver-based shop to Elkhart Lake arriving the day before and were working through their checklist prior to Saturday’s practice and qualifying.
Their McLaren was perched on jack stands in the garage right next the fabled Ferrari 612P 6.2 liter, 4-cam, 48 valve V-12 driven by Chris Amon and sporting a new high wing. I later discovered in Pete Lyons’ bible on the CanAm simply titled, “CanAm”, that Enzo Ferrari had quipped at the 612P’s Italian press introduction that most of his Ferrari engines had pistons the size of wine glasses, but this one had pistons the size of wine bottles. Mitter and I stood slack-jawed in its presence not knowing whether to bow down and pray to this red god, or commit an unnatural act on it. We settled on the former. However, our reverence toward this auto racing icon was not shared by Amon’s two mechanics, Roger Bailey and Doane Spencer. At one point that evening we overheard Roger expressing his frustration to Doane with the comment, “Well if we come back again next year, I hope we don’t bring this Bloody Shit-box with us!” Bloody Shit-box or not, we thought it was pretty damn cool.
On our previous misadventures to Elkhart Lake, we’d spent our evenings drinking in the campground located just across from the main gates, occasionally offering some poor sod a free beer if he’d drive his mini-bike through a bonfire. You’d be surprised at how many takers we had. But this year was different as we were part of Galloway’s pit crew, or gophers to be more exact. So we stayed at the garage until well after 10pm bleeding brakes, polishing wheels and doing whatever odd job or errand “The Indian” and Ron Goldleaf had for us. Meanwhile, Rich had retired to Siebken’s bar to rub shoulders with the greats and near greats of motor sports.
Qualifying on Saturday turned out to be dual between the two McLaren M8B’s of Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren, and the much modified M6B-429’er Ford entered by Holman & Moody for Mario Andretti (it was actually bored out to 494 cubic inches or 8.1 liters and pumped out a conservative 720 horsepower-Mario said that he could break the wheels loose in any gear anywhere on the track—“Holy-cow Batman!”). In pre-race testing Andretti had actually turned a lap that would have piped the McLarens for the pole, but the 69 Indy winner could do no better than third on the grid during official qualifying. Peter Revson slotted into the fourth spot in his Lola T-163 but was alas nearly 6 seconds behind Hulme’s pole time and almost 4 seconds behind Andretti. Chuck Parsons in another Lola shared the third row of the grid with Canadian department store heir, George Eaton, in his red McLaren M-12. Galloway struggled in qualifying with a sticky throttle linkage and could do no better than 26th on the grid.
Race day dawned sunny and humid with a slight mist burning off the Kettle Moraine countryside. This was quickly replaced by the heavenly smoke emanating from the local Jaycees’ Bratwurst stands that were spread around the rolling 4-mile track that is Road America. (Author’s note: If you haven’t had a Bratwurst at Road America, you haven’t had a Bratwurst. Period.) Over 55,000 fans turned out for a day of sun, brats, beer and ground-shaking thunder. What a way to wrap up a summer.
Normally at this time in a race weekend, I would be organizing my Kodachrome & Ectachrome supply, double-checking f-stops, ASA and focal distances at the end of the Moraine Sweep, Canada Corner, Hurry Downs, Thunder Valley or any number of incredible shooting spots around the track. But this year I found myself on the starting grid, Pentax slung around my neck, surrounded by some of the fastest cars in the world. There was Bruce and Denny sharing last minute thoughts as Stirling Moss listened in—“Do you want to lead or is it my turn?”; the Ferrari Team posing for me behind their “Bloody Shit-box”; and Jim Hall offering final instructions to a disillusioned and highly discouraged John Surtees—they didn’t call him England’s angry, young man for nothing! I had definitely died and gone to heaven.
As the cars began to form up on the grid the third spot, where Andretti should have been, remained ominously vacant. As I continued to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, I heard what could only be described as rolling thunder approaching from behind. When I turned, there was Mario rumbling past the pit lane wall to take his place on the grid. I quickly raised my camera and grabbed a shot (which you see here). Turns out part of the rumbling we heard was actually a failed CV joint which forced Mario to retire in the pit lane. So much for team McLaren’s closest competition.
Hulme took the early lead with Bruce tucked in right behind. After four laps they saw Chris Amon in the Ferrari had snuck into third which is when the McLaren drivers decided to play a little game with their fellow New Zealand countryman. Denny dropped back to third while Amon slotted in behind McLaren. Needless to say the sound of this 28-cylinder, three-car freight train cutting through the Wisconsin woods was glorious indeed. After ten or so laps, Denny grew tired of playing and easily re-passed the Ferrari. After that the two McLarens disappeared into the proverbial sunset.
Meanwhile, back in the pits, we watched as Galloway was frantically gesturing that something was wrong with his car and it was the Indian’s guess that he’d be in the pits on the next lap. In preparation for the stop, I was told to get a five–gallon bucket of water and when Rich stopped, I was to pour it slowly over the radiator so the big aluminum Chevy wouldn’t overheat. This I did while the Indian, Ron and Snipe lifted up the back deck to peer into the engine bay. With no immediate cure, the Indian sent Rich back out. But to no avail as Rich pulled into the pits a couple of laps later with what turned out to be a broken rocker arm.
After the race which Bruce McLaren won handily with Denny Hulme right on his boss’s exhaust pipes, I went up to console a tired and sweaty Rich on his disappointing DNF and tell him “thank you,” as Snipe and I would be driving back that evening. Typical Galloway. He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in and said, “You know where all that water you were pouring over the radiator during the pit stop went? Well, when I accelerated out of the pits, it ended up in my crotch. Nearly scalded my you-know-whats off.”
So on that note Snipe and I packed up his TR-6 and headed back to our every-day lives; me to my wife of 10 days and a job at the phone company and Snipe to Michigan State where he would resume his career as a student (When you pull #366 in the military draft lottery, you can afford to be a student for as long as you want). This wouldn’t be the last race I’d go to with Rich Galloway, but it was definitely THE BEST.