MMR Blog

My Word: Racing – The Way It Was

Posted on February 14, 2014 Comments (4)

Denise McCluggage

By Denise McCluggage (written in 1998)

“You asked what I remember most about those days,” Louise said. “It was the laughter.”

The sand was hard packed. We strolled with three dogs along a deserted stretch of beach on Casey Key just south of Tampa. We talked of the late ‘50s and the racing scene in Europe of which we had both been involved in our different ways. Louise King had been starring in The Seven Year Itch in Miami when she met Peter Collins, an attractive young Englishman on the Ferrari racing team. Within days they were engaged then married and off to Italy and the racing season.

Peter Collins

As a journalist I wrote about the races and as a driver I raced assorted cars—Alfas, OSCAs, Ferraris, Porsches—in assorted races. It was simpler then.

Laughter, yes. A photograph Louise had readied to mount in an artful montage on her wall was testimony. In it Mike Hawthorn, another talented Brit in the Ferrari stable and Peter’s mon ami mate, was arched backward with laughter throwing his open face to the sky, mouth open. The tweed cap, the pale blue racing pants. It was all so instantly familiar I could hear Mike’s uninhibited guffaw across the decades. And I could see Peter and Louise creased with smiles. It ached with memory.

Mike Hawthorn

And. The caring,” Louise added.

That was then. Like most major sports, motor racing has segued from game to industry. Megabucks have a way of settling seriousness over a scene. A great infusion of sponsorship money may well have saved motor racing, but it has imprisoned it, too.

It has even changed its color.

In those days race cars were painted the assigned national colors—red for Italy, blue for France, yellow for Belgium, white with blue for the United States, silver for Germany etc. (Actually, Germany’s assigned color was white but Neubauer, racing guru of Mercedes-Benz, knew how much paint weighed and decided that naked silver was white enough—and lighter.) These days racecars are the color of cigarette packages or whatever else those who pay the bills decree. Only Ferrari has clung to tradition and red.

As for money, in 1961, the year Phil Hill driving for Ferrari, became the first American to win the world driving championship he probably made something well less than $100,000. Now successful drivers most likely tote up some $2 million each race. Plus endorsements.

Let me take you back to earlier days and the ragged orbit of the racing world careening from Monaco to Rheims or Rouen to Silverstone to the Nurburgring and on. Time and places were interchangeable—we spoke of “after Sebring” or “before LeMans.” Our world coalesced around one place or another each weekend, shattered into individual parts then whirled back to a shared life again the next week.

Maybe it is for me the year of the Alfa. A bright blue Sprint Veloce with a snarky engine note. Or the year of the Porsche 356, the color of a wet river stone with an unheard-of electric sunroof and knock-off hubs. Or maybe of the Ferrari 250 GT, a dark blue Berlinetta with a sonorous authority that drew heads to second-story windows even before it could be seen flashing through toy mountain villages. Nothing does more for an echo than a V12 at full song.

And nothing in those days could be cooler than pressing along sharply in that very Ferrari with a crunched fender and the ghosts of racing numbers on its sides, hastening back to Modena and Scaglietti’s little Carrozzeria to get the car’s skin put right after a spot of trouble at the Nurburgring. (That alone shows how long ago it was. Scaglietti’s is now a full-blown factory.)

If it is the Alfa then I might be on the way back to Modena, Ferrari’s hometown, from Monaco. I had spent a few days with Peter and Louise on Mipooka their boat docked in the harbor. There they lived between races, much to the consternation of Enzo Ferrari. He preferred his drivers unmarried and living within his beck. That described Phil Hill. Every year Phil took delivery on a new Volkswagen Beetle, drove it to Modena and checked into the Albergo Reale (now a bank, emblematic of what has happened to racing.) As the season lengthened Phil pined for an American breakfast. I was taking him some Rice Krispies I had found in a Monaco grocery. There were no American breakfast cereals in Italy. Phil was exceedingly grateful. How he bridled when they referred to his cereal as “fagiolini” (little beans) at the Albergo breakfast room.

En route from Monaco I picked up a friendly dice. Often on the highway drivers of sports cars—which were not yet common among the every-day Fiats and Renaults—would pair off for some anonymous sport on the road. We whipped along together, not exactly racing, but exercising each other’s skills. Over one col then another. This time I do not remember the marque just that the car was red. He led. I led. When I blinked my intention to pull in for fuel the red car stopped just beyond the gas station and waited. Then we resumed our dance until the pull of differing destinations separated us. We never stopped to converse and rarely even waved; we just drove spiritedly in parallel play, like tots in a sandbox. That was the way it was then going to and from the races.

Getting into the races these days requires a major effort. In Japan (not part of the scene then) the right to buy tickets is granted by lottery. I doubt that I would even qualify for press credentials now. Then it was easy. There were so few of us covering races. And there were no press conferences. No after-race gatherings where everyone dutifully writes down the same quotes. (And no winner’s podium either where the top three stand at appropriately varied heights and spray the world with champagne.)

Drivers were accessible then. They sat on the pit wall, strolled about the paddock. No motor homes to duck into. No helicopters to whirlybird them off to their private jets. If you had a question you posed it to the drivers in the pits, at the hotel, over dinner. They were your friends. They were there, sharing space and talk.

And laughter.

Language might have been a partial barrier. Now English is the lingua franca of the racing world. Then you learned smatterings of all the languages. By the time Phil Hill’s stint in Europe ended he not only spoke passable French and an excellent Italian but he could even send his Ferrari mechanics into gales of laughter with Modenese, the French-Italian melange that is the local dialect.

There’s that laughter again.

Sometimes the drivers seemed like fraternity brothers after finals, an observation I am sure cannot be made of the current crop. I suspect today’s drivers are totally immune to high jinks. Not then. I recall the year at Rheims when Harry Schell’s tiny little Vespa car (yes, car) proved too great a temptation to the pranksters. First it was driven into the hotel lobby. An early-retiring Harry was sent for to view the joke. He declined to come down. Somehow enough willing hands were found to wrestle the mini-car up the curving stairway and into the salon at the summit. A vase of flowers was set atop it. This time Harry did come out, robe-wrapped, to sleepily shake his rumpled head over his colleagues’ handiwork. (The next day the car had to be taken apart to get it back to ground level.)

I also remember bicycles placed high in trees and mild food fights in tolerant restaurants. And symphonies played by rubbing the rims of wine glasses. (I recall Phil Hill meticulously tuning the glasses by sipping here and there.)

The modern Formula 1 race car probably has more in common with a rocket than the Formula 1 cars of the ‘50’s. Now computers control most of the vital functions, including declutching. Shifting is done with a button on the steering wheel. Telemetry tells more what an engine and chassis are doing than the most sensitive drivers could discern. Today the greater G-forces and higher speeds make driving a race car quite different from what it was then. Today’s drivers score no points for being adept at stirring about with a gear shift. That’s as useful as flicking a buggy whip. What is demanded of today’s drivers is both so little and so much more.

In those days drivers were not the racing specialists they are today. Formula 1 was the elite, as it is now, but factory drivers drove everything else, too—the long-distance sports car races and sometimes even rallies. And most of them did the Mille Miglia and the ten-day rally-race hybrid called the Tour de France. The driving championship was determined in the open-wheeled single-seaters of Formula 1. Factory championships were back then determined only in prototype sports cars. Examples: Ferrari Testa Rossa, D-type Jaguar, Maserati 300S—machines that increase the heart rate of modern collectors. Porsche wasn’t a contender for overall victories in those days because its engine at 1.5 liters was half the size of the big guns. Its hegemony came later.

Some team drivers did only the sports cars while waiting for the chance at Formula 1. Before Phil Hill got his drive on Ferrari’s Formula 1 team he had become a frequent winner for Ferrari in the long races, like the 12-hours of Sebring and the 24-hours of Le Mans. He teamed sometimes with Olivier Gendebien and sometimes with Peter Collins.

That’s another change from the old days. Pairs won the long races then, now the list of drivers on a single car at Le Mans or Sebring or Daytona (not existing in the ‘50s) can be as long as a college team roster. Always at least three now. When there were only two it was easier to keep track of things.

Perhaps I have made the point that in those days the racing community was truly a community with all that implies—brotherly closeness for some like Peter and Mike. And Harry Schell and Portago. Friends, perhaps; friendly quite likely. Truly caring at best; civil to each other at least. I cannot recall the open animosity then that seems to exist today. Back then, Fon Portago used an odd term—“unkind”—in describing driver comportment. He told me: “You are not unkind to someone on the race course because they can be unkind in return.”

It can be said with certainly that unkindnesses have occurred in modern day racing. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were more than rivals. Senna actually used his car as a weapon against Prost in a Grand Prix in Japan and removing them both from the race. And Schumacher and Damon Hill have had their problems. Schumacher lost his chance at a third championship when he abruptly turned in on Jacques Villeneuve at Spain in 1997 but, instead of deterring the Canadian, Schumacher ended up stuck in a gravel pit.

No laughter here, at least not the sort born of good humor.

On the same Casey Key beach where Louise and I spoke of the laughter of the old days she fell into conversation on another afternoon with neighboring dog walkers. They had a residence in Monte Carlo. Louise told of her time in Monte Carlo on Mipooka. “I was married to Peter Collins, the racing driver. We lived there,” she explained. As coincidence would have it the Monte Carlo pair knew of Peter Collins and the August before had been at the Nurburgring for a vintage car event. They had participated in an impromptu memorial program at the site on the ‘Ring where Peter had been killed.

The old days had laughter and caring, yes, but they had death as well. It was almost common in those days. The crashes. The funerals. Drivers raced with that awareness always with them—unmentioned, but hard to ignore.

Today’s drivers began their careers and proceeded without that spectre. It was simply absent from the scene. So much so that Ayrton Senna, the extraordinary champion from Brazil, was deeply shocked when Austrian Roland Ratzenberger was killed in practice for the Grand Prix of San Marino in 1994. The possibility of dying in a race car seemed to come as a startling novelty to him. So affected by the revelation was Senna that he sought out Prost to apologize for his past behavior which he now recognized as life-threatening. Ironically Senna himself was killed the next day in the race. These were the first fatalities in twelve years in Formula 1.

The crash at the Nurburgring that killed Peter Collins was in August 1958. He and Louise had been married eighteen months and since their first date in Miami had been apart only the one day when Peter and Mike Hawthorn went to practice for the Mille Miglia. That’s what Louise remembers. That and the laughter.

Peter Collins and friend

Those were the days.


5 Cars by John Vogt

Posted on February 14, 2014 Comments (0)

John Vogt, principal at High Marques Motor Cars in Morristown, NJ is this week’s contributor to our “Five Cars” feature. His selections, while purely personal, are based on his many years of buying and selling exotic cars as well as his experience serving as a coach to clients who are growing their car collections. 

Number One – The top of my all time list is the Porsche 997 GT3 and the GT3 RS. I drove a GT3 RS and a new McLaren back-to-back at Monticello Motorsports Club and the Porsche spanked the McLaren! It's the finest tool in the toolbox. On the racetrack, it does everything it’s supposed to do at half the price (of the McLaren.) It takes a beating and says, “Give me more…”

Porsche GT3

Number Two – The Ford GT is my number two pick. It’s really a Saleen that pays homage to the GT40s of old. It's an amazing piece of machinery with quality and drivability that’s off the charts. Plus it has lots of upside potential so you can, basically, drive it for free.

Ford GT

Number Three – I call the BMW Z8 a Cobra in a tuxedo. It’s proving to be an appreciating asset as well as being a great car to drive. It’s not a racecar. Rather it’s a great back roads car with a rip snorting V8 that lets you fly under the radar.

BMW Z8

Number Four –In my personal garage, I have a Porsche 993. But any one of the cars from that model, whether it’s the C4S, C2S or 993 Turbo, will be a great drive and an appreciating asset. These are the last of the hand built Porsches with the great air-cooled engine sound. By the way, the Turbo has astounding power without all of the electronic nannies in today’s cars. When you drive it, you feel like your going faster than you actually are—a wonderful experience.

Porsche 993

Number Five –You have to have something Italian in your dream garage. It’s like a beautiful Italian woman slapping you, and you say, “Do it again!”

For me, the Ferrari 458 is the best Italian car out there today. It almost has Honda-like maintenance (almost), an F1 transmission that, finally, works well. It’s rattle free, beautiful and nearly (nearly) bulletproof. Ferrari really got it right.

Ferrari 458


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on February 7, 2014 Comments (0)

This week’s images are from the recent Cavallino Classic Sports Sunday at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach and were shot by our Florida Correspondent Leslie Allen.

MarAlago Overshot

Buano

Aston

Denise McCluggage Sets the Tone for Thinking While Driving.

Thanks to FCA – New England, Aston Martin Owners Club and the Alfa Owners of New England clubs for getting the word out to members about The Centered Driver Workshop. The event was sold out. Read our wrap-up.

Racing…

F1 - Caught with their Parts Down, Red Bull… First to Blush: The teams all had their first run out of the box at Jerez. Mercedes looks good, Ferrari looks indifferent, and Renault appears to have all kinds of problems. Stay tuned, early days yet.

Sebring Logo

Sebring 12 Hours: Tudor Sports Car Series the next Big Bore Race. Very much like Daytona, this is a terrible race to watch on TV. BTW, Kudos to the announce team at Daytona and hopefully at Sebring. They make it hugely better. Bravo!

A Street is not a Road… and Neither is an Oval

Miglia Logo

The first European racing courses were laid out on roads, not always paved or even graveled, generally between towns. As roads got better, the dangers of racing multiplied for both the thrill seeking drivers and the thrill seeking spectators who crowded the roads to get closer to the action. At some point, the roads became loops and the races became laps. Then some form of barriers kept the spectators from crowding the cars, even if little prevented the cars from crowding the spectators. It could be assumed that Europeans wanted to get closer to the action because they got to see so little of it. Events like the Mille Miglia allowed whole towns to see the cars go by once and if you were car mad that could be frustrating. Crowding a car at the apex of a turn became the equivalent of teasing a bull to charge your cape just to see how close you could bring your hip to pointy horn. The disaster at Le Mans in ‘55 heightened awareness among promoters that spectators needed better protection or they might stay away. Little was done about driver safety until the ‘70s because they were more easily replaced.

Damn Few Died In Bed by Andy Dunlop

Early on, American racing history took a different turn. Small ovals, some banked and others banked and made of wood, allowed spectators to see all the cars all the time and although single-seater racing was equally deadly, spectators were generally safe and because it paid well, drivers were more easily replaced. (See our review of Damn Few Died in Bed in the Racemaker Press Book Reviews.)

After WWII, as speeds around the racing world increased and the sport of motor racing became more popular, more purpose-built facilities materialized and some weekend racers became full time racers. Racing on abandoned wartime airfields was a perfect English solution as these locations were paved, had existing infrastructure, and could make for quite safe racing. With a few notable exceptions such as Monza, the French, Germans, and Italians continued to race on closed off roads at Le Mans, The Targa Florio and the Nurburgring. Compare what these guys are doing at the Nurburgring in The Speed Merchants with any three minutes of the 24 hours of Daytona. Buy this video and relive.

The continued popularity of the streets of Monaco, which is not a particularly good race track, has always appealed to promoters happy to disrupt metropoli across America with promises of huge crowds of consumers in exchange for a free track and local TV coverage. In reality Street circuits, (as compared with road courses) such as Baltimore, Toronto, Long Beach and Three Rivers only look Like Monaco from 30,000 feet or higher up. Down on the ground, the bumpy cement barrier bound lanes and twenty foot high catch fences make every corner exit look like a prison break.

Then there are the neither fish nor fowl “road course” tracks like Daytona, Indy, Fontana, and numerous other ovals. These have all paved unimaginative flat turns deep in their bowls and produce, at best, tedium. Bring back road courses like Lime Rock, Watkins Glen, and Laguna Seca.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Peter Bourassa


Jag


Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Posted on February 6, 2014 Comments (0)

Paul Chenard

Halifax Nova Scotia Automotive Artist, Paul Chenard, learned that Denise McCluggage would be in Lawrence MA for The Centered Driver Workshop one week before her scheduled appearance on January 28th. Paul is a huge Denise McCluggage fan and he decided that he must be there and asked if he could come. At that point, Michael Ricciardi owner of European Motorsports was flat out trying to create what is now called The Loft out of what was simply a crowded storage space above his showroom and shop. When Paul learned that the windows had been plastered over he suggested he paint a racing scene on two of the panels. Paul made two sketches which he sent Michael for approval, then loaded his vehicle and left home in a snowstorm to be here in time to complete his work. This is how he did it.

The scene depicts the final few feet of what photographer Jesse Alexander called “Fangio’s Great Race”. Driving for Maserati in the 1957 German GP at the Nurburgring, his team employed a different strategy from the Ferraris of Hawthorne and Collins. The plan would require the Maserati to start with less fuel, build a lead, and then stop on the twelfth lap to refuel. But a bungled 39 second pit stop allowed the two Ferraris to get by. Now you can watch a video of this race narrated by Alain de Cadenet and judge for yourself.


5 Cars

Posted on February 6, 2014 Comments (0)

By Adrianne Ross

Adrianne Ross is the Editor of the PCA North East Region’s monthly magazine the Nor’Easter, and a frequent contributor to the MMR Newsletter. Here Adrianne shatters the myth that Porsche owners have little interest in other cars. Her position offers her the opportunity to drive many new cars and she has offered to share with us her thoughts on her favorites. We think you may be surprised and a tad envious.

While some of the best cars on my list are Pcars, sadly the top of the list… isn’t.

And so, here in black and white, is my top 5 list of the best drives I’ve known.

Five – is the Ferrari 599 GTO. Yup 5. It’s half a million dollars worth of completely stunning, and completely unreasonable. This one is in the top 5 (representing almost all Ferraris on my list). I’m not really a Ferrari girl (but I’m learning). I’ve driven a few, and when I’ve said to Fcar enthusiasts, “I don’t like the shift.” They tell me it’s supposed to feel that way. This car is all animal… feral animal. It’s fast, it makes an amazing noise, and if you’re not grown up enough to deal with it, don’t get in one.

Ferrari GTO

Ferrari GTO 2

Four – the Lamborghini Gallard. This car makes it on aesthetics almost alone. It’s a crazy pretty car. The Lambos on a racetrack make for an unparalleled picture. It’s raw, the seats feel like one layer of leather over carbon fiber, and it’s planted and fast. I wouldn’t throw one out of my garage.

Lambo Gallard

Three Porsche Panamera. Go to your dealer and drive one. I guarantee you’ve never felt anything like it. It’s not a 911, and it’s not a GT3, and it’s not meant to be, but every model goes over 150MPH—in a sedate sedan. It’s comfortable, elegant, sophisticated, and I could sit in California traffic all day in this thing. You can drive it with 2 broken arms and legs; it’s that smooth. I never wanted to leave.

Porsche Panamera

Two the Porsche Cayenne. I took my Cayman into the dealer to have recall work done and I got this as the loaner. When I got back to Porsche, I started talking about buying one. The 2013 model of this car brings over the cockpit of the Panamera, with a big screen for directions, and enough buttons to make you feel like you’re in an airplane. I like buttons. I like them to heat my seat, cool my seat, navigate through traffic, and the big red one that says “sport.” This thing moves. Plus it tows 7500 pounds. That’s more than enough for one race car and an open trailer.

Porsche Cayenne

One – The McLaren MP4-12C. The happiest car in the world. They smile, have you ever noticed? Now, what I like about how this car drives was a recent argument with a friend, so I’ll lay it out, then you can know which side you’ll take.

McLaren

Him: “The car is too computerized; it’s not raw enough.” (He’s a Ferrari guy… you can tell.)

Me: The McLaren’s response to the driver feels like an extension of the driver. It’s not me and the car, it’s us, like a Borg, “We are one.” A flick of my pinky raised a response from the front tires, and it took me a solid 10 minutes (much to my passengers chagrin) for me to figure out how to brake without giving us both whiplash. In the end I hovered my foot above the pedal, and just imagined braking, and the McLaren responded; with a grace and style I’ve never experienced. The interior is comfortable. It’s not cushy, but it’s not stiff. It’s well equipped with nav, and a radio with more than one option, and it’s big enough to suit my 6’3” passenger. The scissor doors garnished a good deal of attention at the gas station, and the way they open is sublime. Nope—I’m not telling. It’ll sound weird, and it’s something you just have to experience.

On the highway, I burned through gears with lightning speed. It felt like lightning too, you didn’t know exactly what happened, but you were completely electrified. “I don’t have enough bail money on me for this!” my passenger warned. My mind flashed to the stack of credit cards in my wallet, but I relented.

I drove it in automatic through some small Massachusetts towns, because I wanted to focus on the car, and not shifting for slow traffic. Which leads me to one of the best experiences in the car. At a sustained 25 miles an hour through town, it had shifted, (I think), into 4th. As I braked for the lights 50 feet away, the car downshifted. That’s what it’s supposed to do, right? But on each down shift, 3…2…1… it blipped — RAWR! Shift. Rawr! Shift. rawr. Shift. Three engineered, completely unnecessary, wonderfully acoustically aesthetic, nerve tingling blips, at 15 miles an hour. Each one perfectly smooth, with just enough bump to let you know it happened.

You should have seen the grin on my face.

A very long time ago I went to my first autocross. “How fast did you go?” people asked. And I said I didn’t know but it felt FAST. I just wasn’t paying attention to that aspect.

When I told this story about the McLaren, someone asked if I got a lot of looks, or stares at the car. You know what? I have no idea. I was so engrossed in the experience of this car that I didn’t notice, and that’s never happened to me on the street before.

Supercars are built for speed, and experience. Some people want a raw, unadulterated, undomesticated experience. I’ve discovered I like the engineered, refined, cultivated experience. Someone at McLaren got it exactly right… just for me.