Several weeks ago, I wrote a column/tribute about Myles Brandt, Mosport International Raceway’s operations manager. (If you missed it, click here.) While Mosport celebrated 50 years of racing this season, Brandt observed 40 years of employment there. He'd started in 1970, cutting grass after school.
In newspapers, there is a finite amount of space. You can only squeeze so many words and a picture onto half a page of newsprint, which is usually the amount of space allocated to my column.
And, as it usually takes me several hundred words just to limber up my fingers, the people who edit my stuff sometimes have to whack out big chunks of what I’ve written in order to make it fit on the page.
They do a good job. I have no complaints. But every now and again they have to leave out some stuff that I think is pretty interesting.
One of the bits they had to edit out of my Myles Brandt piece was a question I’d asked about who was the fastest driver he’d ever seen? Not the best (Eppie Wietzes and Ron Fellows topped that list); the fastest.
I was really surprised at his answer, because Brandt had seen them all going back to the beginning of his employment – Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ronnie Peterson.
And the man Jody Scheckter called the “fastest racing driver who ever lived,” Gilles Villeneuve.
Said Brandt: Danny Ongais and Davy Jones.
Both those men were racers in the absolutely true sense. They raced anything and everything they could get their hands on. In Ongais’s case (his nickname, by the way, was ‘on the gas’), he raced sports cars, Indy cars, F1 cars, drag-racing cars and motorcycles.
In 1996, at age 54, he agreed to substitute for Scott Brayton, who’d been killed in practice, in that year’s Indy 500 and he finished seventh. (In 1981, he’d very nearly been killed there himself.)
Davy Jones (no, he was not a member of the Monkees) drove in Formula 3, Formula Atlantic, IMSA sports cars, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche, Indy cars, NASCAR – you name it and Jones has probably been in it at one time or another.
Anyway, they’d both raced at Mosport and they certainly made an impression on Brandt. When I asked him who was the fastest racing driver he'd ever seen, this is what he said:
“Danny Ongais drove in Formula 5000 (in the mid-70s) and they were here testing one day and I was cutting grass on a tractor on the outside of Corner 8 and every lap I’d see this Ongais guy going by and I’d heard about him, never met him at the time, but every lap I’d look up and think, ‘Holy God, he’s goin’ fast. And every lap he’d be comin’ and I’d think, ‘He’s not going to make it,' and the next lap around he made it and the next lap around he made it.
“Finally, he didn’t make it. Right in front of me, he hit the tire wall at the end of the back straight. He was just a guy who was always on the limit.
“And the other guy was Davy Jones. He was scary fast. Every time you see a car that’s under control but twitching, you know that the guy can’t go any faster without crashing. That was Jones.”
There was other stuff in that column they had to leave out of the paper but this was probably the most interesting.