This is the third in an off-season series of columns dealing with wonderful motorsports journalism.
In the early 1970s, two books were published where star auto racers of the day teamed up with established authors to produce some absolutely great literature. The first, published in 1972, had Peter Manso working with Jackie Stewart to write Faster! A Racer's Diary, which was about the 1970 F1 season. The other one was Speed with Style, the 1974 autobiography of Peter Revson by Revson and Leon Mandell, the editor of Autoweek magazine. Today, we'll look at Faster!
Manso is a controversial author who has published numerous books, among them biographies of Marlon Brando and Norman Mailer. He started his literary career writing about Formula One racing - Vroom! Conversations with the Grand Prix champions was his first book, in 1970, to be followed two years later by Faster!
Manso, a former college professor, had Stewart write everything down at end of day for a whole year, off-season as well as on, and then he edited the manuscript into a wonderful read. It was wonderful because of the journalism but the 1970 season was actually one of the worst years of Stewart's life as two of his best friends, Jochen Rindt and Piers Courage, were killed.
The year 1970 was noteworthy for a number of reasons: As well as Rindt and Courage, Bruce McLaren was killed testing a Can-Am car at Goodwood in England. Flexing their muscles for one of the first times, the Grand Prix drivers voted not to race in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring because they were worried about safety, forcing organizers to move it to the Hockenheimring. The one and only time a word champion was crowned postumously happened that year when nobody, but Jackie Ixkz in particular, could score enough points to catch Rindt, who was killed at Monza with four races still left on the schedule.
Here are some excerpts.
Stewart, after winning the world championship in 1969, was very nearly left without a ride after Dunlop suddenly pulled out of racing.
A tremendous shock. Dunlop, a company with whom we'd had the most intense personal association over the years, was pulling the rug from under our feet and at so late a date. On October 3, when almost every other team was more or less set for the coming season, when nearly all finances had been allocated from the tire and fuel companies, when practically everyone had gotten his house in order, we were put into deep jeopardy. It was incredible. We had taken the world championship, sewn it up tight with an almost unprecedented string of wins, and now it looked as if we might be out of business for the coming season.
It seems that a panic measure had been triggered by a $1 million loss in Dunlop's United Kingdom division the year before, and they were out to cut costs to the bone. Still, it was astonishing that they would consider dropping racing entirely. They had been on the scene since the invention of the pneumatic tire, one of the first companies to enter racing, and with this impetus alone, they had spread their operation into a vast number of other fields.
Back in England, though, it seems they just turned around and said, "We don't want to do racing, it doesn't do us any good," when, in fact, they had everything to gain from continuing. When I was in Playboy, for example, beneath my face, on my overalls, there was a Dunlop decal that reached six million people. . . Dunlop couldn't have bought that kind of exposure for half a million dollars, maybe not for twice that amount. Still, they felt that cuts were in order and they thought these should be in the area of racing (this decision was later reversed, albeit temporarily).
On the difficulties of being a journalist.
I went to a local sports car race (in Buenos Aires) as a journalist for one of the magazines and probably for the first time it became clear that writing, even covering a sporting event, is damn difficult. Trying to put it all together, organizing the piece, just knowing where to begin and setting it up so there's continuity, a flow, and having to do this under a deadline - why, the pressures are enormous. The temptation was simply to throw the thing together and let the magazine's editors rewrite it, but I didn't want that. I wanted to do it as well as I could, polish it as much as possible, and so I kept at it and finally got it in at the last minute, a messy looking thing with all kinds of corrections written in and running up the margins. Am I happy with it? No, not really. It's more open-ended than driving, much more, and I was bothered by having made all kinds of little sacrifices just to get everything in.
Why driving an F1 car requires total concentration.
Mario Andretti hasn't come over (to Monaco) since he's concentrating on Indianapolis, but otherwise the entries are pretty much the same as in Spain. Chris (Amon) made the second-fastest time, though he went off the road and into the barrier at Mirabeau when he got mad at Pedo (Rodriguez) for blocking him all the way around to the Casino. Very smart. He took his eyes off the road while shaking his fist at Pedro and promptly stuffed it.
Stewart loves to drop names. His later autobiography was loaded with them, but he was showing this side of him in Faster!
Eventually I left with Roman - Roman Polanski. He's a good friend. I had bought a rather fancy movie cameras with an 8-1 zoom lens, slow motion, slow and fast zoom, just about every modern device, and now like some frenzied gnome he goes dashing around the pits taking all kinds of footage, which doubtless kept the columnists happy. He's talking about making a racing movie, and claimed he needed the practice, so we made a project of it. After taking Mark McCormack to the seats I'd reserved for him on the square, I drove Roman over some of the faster parts of the circuit, where he got some good shots from the right angles. What he's going to do with all this, and when, I have no idea. Knowing Roman, though, I'm sure something will come of it.
And later . . .
After dinner, we all went to an ELF party. Helen and I were leaving early, since we'd been invited to the palace by Prince Rainer for drinks at ten. Prince Rainer and his wife greeted us and I was particularly impressed with Princess Grace, an incredibly beautiful woman who seems ageless, still retains an American accent, and is immune from affectation, yet stately. . .
Stewart periodically talks about the old days.
Invariably, someone will say that the sport is nowadays too professional and the drivers care too much for money. It's almost habitual, this charge; in fact, it often takes the form of reminiscence, someone fondly recalling "the good old days" when drivers spent their time drinking, partying and screwing. This, plainly, wasn't the case. The playboys weren't the great drivers, the ones who consistently won. At best, they were the number twos. The Caracciolas, Nuvolaris and Fangios were all serious men committed to a goal, perhaps even compulsively, and they were entirely professional in their approach, even then. Sure, some of them played around, but never to the point where it interfered with their driving. It was a question of priorities, just as it is today, and no matter how good they were, they knew they had to work at it. Nobody stays good unless he wants to.
On knowing when it's time.
Servoz-Gavin has told Ken (Tyrrell) he's quitting. Two days ago, before practice, I came across him doing yoga exercises inside the transporter, trying to calm his nerves. Afterwards, he told me it was no good. He knows it, so it's smart of him to retire. At the very least, he can now devote himself fully to his women. Ken, on the other hand, has to find a replacement.
So later . . .
Spent the day at Crystal Palace with Ken, scouting a replacement for Servoz-Gavin. We've considered Fittipaldi, Tim Schenken, Gethin and Reggazoni but it turns out that both Fittipaldi and Reggazoni are tied elsewhere. We watched a number of people drive and I think Francois Cevert is the likely lad. He's aggressive and young, and although he hasn't had much experience in Formula cars - maybe twenty races, all told, in Formula II and III - both Ken and I feel he's going to be good.
On getting no respect.
Just before the start (of the Belgian GP at Spa), Ronnie Peterson had some trouble with the police. When he was coming over from his hotel, driving down the outside lane of traffic, he was stopped, thought the policeman waved him on, and accidentally ran over the guy's foot. The cop pinched him, of course, and Ronnie wound up in the can. Louis Stanley was able to get the Belgian minister of state to arrange for his release, but they came and collected him immediately after the race. He's still inside and must stay overnight to face charges in the morning. According to Rob Walker, Colin Crabbe, the sponsor of Peterson's car, demanded an explanation and was told if he asked any more questions he'd wind up in jail too.
Jim Clark, a friend, was dead. Piers Courage had been killed. Bruce McLaren, too. Now Jochen Rindt.
I can't explain it, but the realization just came. I don't know how, but there was a point when I knew he was dead. After all the running back and forth, all the clear thinking to get things organized, all of a sudden it just stopped. And I knew. I was standing in the pit lane and I let go of my crash helmet and started walking up and down inside the pits. I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt caged, I had happened too often. It affected me too much and I was trying desperately to control myself, pace myself, keep from coming apart.
Ken came over and said, "Right, hurry up and get in the car. There's only fifteen minutes left and I want you to get a good time before the session stops."
I started to cry. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop the crying, so I went out. And as soon as I got going, it stopped. I was all right. I ran four laps and came in on the checker and my last lap was the fastest I had ever done Monza and the fastest I was to do that weekend.
On being conservative.
In the ten years I've been racing, I've never really known a driver to have a breakdown. The only emotionally unstable person I've met is Phil Hill, who seemed in a constant state of anxiety but was nevertheless able to hold himself together. This was his nature, nothing induced by the racing, and even today, when he's no longer driving, he's this way. I've seen Jacky Ixkz once or twice in fits of rage so extreme that he was almost crying, but these, too, are exceptions. Ordinarily, he doesn't show his emotions. Neither do Reggazoni, Hulme, Brabham and many of the others, including even Rodriguez and Siffert. Perhaps someday, a psychiatrist will explain why, but in the meantime, accept the simple observation that they all have the gift of self-discipline. They have to.
The life of a Grand Prix driver . . .
Arrived here in Mexico City, dog-tired, and now, at 1:30 in the morning, in the room next door, there's a couple going at it with loud, prolonged and near unbelievable squeals of pleasure. I've got to find out who's in there.
I know most of the staff here at the Camino Real (in Mexico City) and this morning I asked the room clerk about the firecracker next door. "I think I know her," I lied, "But I can't place her. Perhaps you can help me."
He gave me her name.
"She's with an airline, isn't she?"
"No, senor, She is with the international press group now meeting upstairs."
So up I went. At the door of the conference room, there was a list of everyone attending and sure enough, her name was on it. My curiosity was killing me and I asked someone to point her out but he didn't know her. An English writer friend of mine, Ted Simon, had started scouting around, but when he couldn't find her we figured she might not have arrived yet and we positioned ourselves by the door. By now, there were at least half a dozen of us involved, each guessing at what this creature must look like, every few minutes elaborating on it.
From the reception clerk, I got a letterhead note pad, forged a message, knocked on her door and pretended I'd mistakenly received one of her messages. Everyone had put me up to it. Ted and his girlfriend, Jo, Francois, the contessa, everybody and Christ, what a disappointment. The woman was between forty and forty-five, overweight, acned and I wished I'd never seen her.
Faster! A Racer's Diary, by Peter Manso and Jackie Stewart, was published in 1972 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, N.Y., and by Doubleday Canada Ltd., Toronto.
- NORRIS McDONALD