Lap 14

 

Having enjoyed my fall trips to Watkins Glen, I decided to check it out in summer. Each July, the Glen hosted a round of the World Championship of Makes. This series featured different classes of sports cars and included the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of its championship. The Watkins Glen race was also an endurance race or "enduro" and was called the "6 Hours of Watkins Glen". I was looking forwards to seeing the big Sports Prototypes run again. This was the top class in the series and featured Porsches and Ferraris. I had not seen cars like this race since my trip to Sebring.

I did not even bother to ask Kathy, although I was still dating her. I knew she would not be interested in going to another race, especially one that far away. I just figured it would be another solo run. But to my amazement, Tuna and his girlfriend, Kendra, said they would like to meet me at the track. They were planning a vacation trip to New England, so a diversion to the Glen would be no problem.

I gave Tuna a map of the track and put an X on the spot for us to meet. I had decided to camp on the outside of the track on this trip because the Glen had raised the prices for camping on the inside. I picked a spot on the outside of Big Bend, and we agreed to meet there at 10 am on Saturday morning. That would give both of us plenty of time to get there.

Once again, I left for Watkins Glen on Friday evening after work and drove through the night. Now a Glen veteran, I did not feel the need to be at the track before the gates opened, so I stopped at a rest area in Pennsylvania and slept for a couple of hours. I was still able to get to the track by nine in the morning. I picked out a campsite near Big Bend, pitched my new tent and then headed for the meeting place.

To be honest, I was not entirely sure Tuna and Kendra would show up, so I was somewhat surprised when I saw Tuna standing head and shoulders above the crowd. Now Tuna is a big guy, but he is not that tall. The mystery was solved as I got closer and saw that he was standing on a stump to get a better view of the cars that had come out for practice. He was pretty excited to see me and jumped down from the stump and gave me a big hug. This was followed by another more pleasant hug from Kendra. I chastised Tuna for not letting Kendra stand on the stump for the better view.

It turns out that they were worried that we would not find each other in the crowd. They had not expected so many people to be there, and I have to admit the crowd was every bit as large as it was for the GPís I had attended. Tuna had gotten up on the stump not to get a better view, but to make it easier for me to find him. The fact that the cars had just come out for practice was a coincidence, he said. I do not blame them for being worried about us not hooking up because the plan was for them to sleep with me in my tent, plus I had the grill and all the food with me. I had had enough of the Glenís concession stand food and this time brought my own with enough for the two of them.

After the practice, I showed them where the tent was and Tuna went and moved his car next to it. We filled a smaller cooler with beer and headed off for a tour of the track. There was a new building in the infield right where the Fucowwee encampment had been. This turned out to be a garage for the race teams. There were garage doors down both sides of the building and the inside was divided by chain link fence to keep each teamís area private. For a nominal fee, spectators could enter the building and walk along the central aisle to watch the teams working on their cars. I thought this was pretty cool and wound up spending a fair amount of time in there.

Only the big teams in the World Championship of Makes were given space in the garage. This meant the Sports Prototypes. The lesser teams and other classes had to make do with tents and canopies. One of these teams was that of Freddy Baker from Mound, Minnesota. I had seen Freddy race at Road America. He drove a Porsche 906LE, which was not a Sports Prototype, but in the next class down. These were still very fast cars, just not in the same class as the Sports Prototypes.

We came across Freddy unloading his car from the trailer. They had just arrived at the track after breaking down on the way from Minnesota. There was a small crowd formed around him, not because Freddy was famous or that popular, but because of his co-driver. This was none other than Dick Smothers of the great comedy team, the Smothers Brothers. He was standing there in his driverís suit, watching Freddy and the crew unload their car. Brother Tommy and his girl friend were standing next to him. Tommyís girlfriend could have drawn a crowd of her own, she was a knockout.

I had seen Dick race before in a Formula 5000 car at Road America and he was fairly quick. He had teamed up with Freddy to co-drive some of the endurance races that year. I found it interesting that he just stood there watching, not offering to help Freddy and the crew at all. As Freddy was lying on his back under the trailer unhooking one of the tie-downs, Dick said, "By the way Fred, the brakes were getting a little soft near the end of the last race." I guess he felt he had to say something in driver talk because of the crowd around them. I, however, found it curious that he would wait to tell Freddy about a problem with the car till they were unloading it for the next race.

Freddy stopped what he was doing for a second and, with just a trace of disgust in his voice, replied, "I know, we changed the master cylinder after the race." I think he would have liked to have said something else, but remembered the money Dick was bringing to the team. Besides, the car was entered by Dick Smothers Racing so I guess, technically, Dick was the boss. Instead of saying anything further, Freddy just went back to work while Dick, in his immaculately clean driverís suit, signed some autographs.

Later that weekend, I was standing in line to get into the new garage when Tommyís drop dead gorgeous girl friend cut into the front of the line. The security guard stopped her from entering the garage and she yelled at him, "Donít you know who I am! I am Tom Smothers girlfriend!" Unfazed the guard replied, "I donít care whose girl friend you are. You do not get in there without a pass or a ticket." She stormed off in a huff and those of us in line applauded the security guard, who had a big grin on his face.

As I showed Tuna and Kendra around the track, I kept an eye out for the Fucowweeís big top and bus. Since the new garage was occupying the area they usually had staked out, they had to be somewhere else. But we never did come across them, much to Tunaís disappointment. I had told them about the Fucowwees and Fanny the Flasher. Tuna had been very much looking forwards to seeing her perform. I do not think Kendra was disappointed at all.

The World Championship of Makes series had been dominated that year by John Wyerís brace of Porsche 917s in their celestial blue and orange Gulf Oil livery. Wyer had the defending champions, Jo Siffert and Brian Redman, teamed up in the number 1 car, while Pedro Rodriquez and Leo Kinnunen shared the number 2 machine. The Rodriquez/Kinnunen duo had won 4 of the 8 races held that year.

While Siffert and Redman claimed the pole position, qualifying delivered somewhat of an upset when Mario Andretti, in his Ferrari, managed to split the two Gulf cars on the grid by grabbing the outside of the front row and forcing the Rodriguez/Kinnunen car to the second row.

The huge race day crowd, estimated at about 75,000, roared with delight as Andretti came by on the first lap in the lead. He managed to hold off the more powerful Gulf Porsches for several laps, but eventually both of them overtook him. Rodriquez and Siffert had developed quite a rivalry over the course of the season and this nearly came to a head in the second hour of the race.

The Start of the 1970 Watkins Glen 6 Hours
#1 Jo Siffer, #92 Mario Andretti, #91 Jacky Ickx, #35 Gerhard Larrousee, #32 Kurt Ahrens

Siffert was leading and Rodriguez was harassing him on every lap. Finally, right in front of us in Big Bend, Rodriguez dove to the inside of Siffertís 917 and hit his right front wheel. For a moment, it seemed that both Porsches would crash, but Rodriguez made it past. Siffert had to pit to change the damaged wheel. That pretty much gave the race to the Mexican driver and his co-driver Kinnunen. The Ferrari of Andretti and Giunti came home a distant third, while Denny Hulme and Vic Elford finished fourth in another Porsche 917.

The winners - Rodriguez and Kinnunen

After the race, we decided not to fight the traffic and to camp at the track for another night. Besides, I had seen enough of Niagara Falls. The next morning was weird because the place was nearly deserted. There were a few others who had stayed the extra night, but not many. After camping amongst tens of thousands of people, it was strange to see the place empty.

We packed up and drove into town. I wanted to show Kendra the Watkins Glen gorge. We parked their car at the bottom and drove mine to the top of the gorge. After a leisurely hike down the gorge, we used Tunaís car to retrieve mine. They set off for the rest of their vacation, and I headed for Chicago.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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