Lap 17

 

The last weekend of August, 1970, we were back at Road America for the Can-Am. We fully expected to see another race dominated by McLaren but it would be different this year. Sadly, Bruce McLaren would not be there. He had lost his life in June in a testing accident at Goodwood in England. Bruce was once quoted as saying, "To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with oneís ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone." Well, he had certainly measured up.

Bruce McLaren
August 30, 1937 to June 2, 1970

Teddy Mayer had taken over the running of the team. Denny Hulme was still there and in a demonstration of the strength of the team McLaren had built, not only were they able to hold it together but were able to keep on winning. They had won 18 straight races and all of the five previous races that year. My man, Dan Gurney, had joined the team and won the first two races of the season. However, he had to bow out of the team due to some sponsorship conflict. I was very disappointed at this because I had hoped to see him win at Road America in the new McLaren M8D. He was replaced by Peter Gethin.

All in all, there were 12 McLarens of various models in the field. Carl Haas entered the latest Lola, a T-220, for Peter Revson. There were 11 other Lolaís present. There was even a Ferrari 512-S entered by the North American Racing Team for Pedro Rodriquez. This car was built for endurance racing and was frankly outclassed in the sprint style racing of the Can-Am. BRM had built their first Can-Am car, a P-154, to be driven by George Eaton.

 

The author "resting" on the hillside in Canada corner with Bunky in the blue shirt, Ernie, Karen, and Jack

As expected, Denny Hulme took the pole in his 465ci aluminum Chevy powered machine at 2:10.6, 110.260 mph. His pole qualifying time was a full four seconds slower than last yearís, largely due to the FIA ban on the high wings. The cars still had wings but they were affixed directly to the chassis. While they still provided significant down force, they produced far less than the high winged versions that acted directly on the suspension.

When the dust settled from qualifying, we were surprised to see it would not be an all orange McLaren front row. Hulme was on the pole, but Peter Revson had put his Lola on the outside of the front row. Lothar Motschenbacher had his ex-works M8B third on the grid and David Hobbs, who had taken over Jerry Titusí vacant seat, had his McLaren M12 in fourth. Peter Gethin had only managed to get sixth spot on the grid. This was the first time we had seen a works McLaren that far down the field at the start. I was prejudiced, of course, but I was sure that if Gurney was still with the team, it would have been an all orange McLaren front row as usual. Still, I was surprised Gethin was that far back.

In addition to the Can-Am qualifying, Saturdayís entertainment included a non-championship 80-mile Formula B race. This turned out to be a one-two for Fred Opertís drivers, Mike Eyerly and Alan Lader, who were the class of the field, while Opert himself finished 5th.

The Formula B race notwithstanding, the talk amongst us as we headed back to Old Man Millerís Field was the poor qualifying effort of the second works McLaren in the hands of Gethin. I cautioned my friends not to write him off as he had won the very competitive British F5000 the year before in 1969, as well as having won the pole position and led several laps at last years RA F5000 race until electrical gremlins caught up with him. On top of that, he had been given Bruce McLarenís seat on the McLaren F1 team. Someone thought the guy could drive.

Along the south side of Old Man Millerís field was an electric fence separating the camping area from his dairy cow pasture. This was there more to keep the cows in the pasture than it was to keep us campers out. I remember a guy from the group camped near us crawled under the fence and headed down the hill towards the cows. One of his buddies asked another where he was going. "I think he is going to try and slip into a Jersey," was the reply. That was more than I wanted to know, so I went back to setting up my tent.

We usually camped along the south side of the field, pitching our tents along the electric fence. Old Man Miller kept the fence charged on race weekends despite the potential problems it posed for the campers. One night a guy camped near us went behind the tents to take a leak. He learned the fence was charged when he peed on it, and his shrieks informed the rest of us. The thing was, you could not see the fence very well in the dark, so this type of accident happened more than once. Fortunately, none of our group ever had the misfortune of peeing on the fence, but then Bunky found a new way to test it.

It was not uncommon for Bunky to barf; in fact it was a rare race weekend when he didnít. This normally occurred early in the morning, so Tom was usually the only one around to see it, unless my brother Greg was there. Greg used to follow Bunky around with a camera in the morning, hoping to capture such an event on film. This was not as easy as one may think since Bunky would often barf before dawn - or at least before Greg was up. Greg even took to getting up earlier so he would not miss it. Then one morning, it all came together for him. There was Bunky, doing the technicolor hurl, and Greg was there with his camera. Greg gleefully snapped away only to discover later he had forgotten to put film in the camera.

Since a Bunky barf was usually an early morning event, those seated around the campfire that night were somewhat startled when Bunky, appearing to be in some distress, jumped up and ran back behind the tents. I know I was startled by his sudden arrival since I was already back there being very careful of my aim. Bunky skidded to a stop and bent over just as the contents of his stomach erupted from his mouth in a steady stream, right onto the top strand of the electric fence now only a couple of inches away from his mouth.

He instantly let out a hideous shriek as the electric current from the fence played across his tonsils. You would think he would have jumped back away from the fence, or at least turn away from it, but not our Bunky. He just launched a second volley, closely followed by another shriek as the current hit him again. This was repeated two more times as Bunky would barf and shriek and barf and shriek again before he finally emptied his stomach.

At the first shriek, the others instantly knew what was happening and came running. We watched in amazement as Bunky repeatedly tortured himself by barfing on the fence. After all, Bunky was the only one of us that grew up on a farm and should have known better than any of us what would happen. We all felt bad for him, but he was not really injured and it was just too damn funny, so we laughed and teased Bunky about it the rest of the night. This was the stuff of legends, and we have laughed about it a hundred times at least since then.

The next morning, we made our way back down the hill in Canada Corner. Predictably, Bunky was not feeling well and had already emptied his stomach again that morning. All of our jokes about his encounter with the electric fence were not helping him either. We got to the track a little later than usual, and our favorite spots half way down the hill were taken. We liked to sit half way down the hill because it shortened the climb to the john and lessened the chance of having an empty beer can bounce off the back of your head. We decided to take our chances and settled for a spot just up from the trail at the bottom of the hill. I opened a beer and we settled in to wait for the on-track activities to begin.

During the morning warm, up we saw George Eaton motor slowly by a couple of times with a sick sounding engine in the new BRM P-154. That was the last we saw of him for the day as Eaton finally parked the BRM with terminal engine problems. Gethin, on the other hand, appeared to be flying through the corner. I pointed this out to every one and said, "I told you so!"

If nothing else, Bunky was resilient. Later that morning, he came down the hill with a box from the concession stand. In the box were two brats with mustard and sauerkraut, which he proceeded to wolf down, chasing them with a beer. My stomach felt a little queasy just watching him eat those brats and kraut. The brats alone would not bother me but combined with the sauerkraut I knew it was more than I could handle that early in the day. I could not understand how his badly abused stomach could take it.

Later that day, a young guy wearing a red and white polka dot baseball cap and a colorful Mexican serape approached us. He had a distressed look on his face and seemed to be looking for someone. His rather unsteady gait indicated that he had probably contributed a substantial amount of empties to the pile along the fence. He came up and asked, "Have any of you seen my horse? Iíve lost my horse." Bunky said, "No, we havenít seen a horse around here all day." Jimmy, always the concerned one asked, "What is your horseís name?" "Her name is Daisy" he replied. I said, "Well, if we see Daisy we will hold her for you." He said thanks and staggered off to continue his quest by asking the group sitting next to us if they had seen Daisy.

A little while later, he came by again and asked if we had seen his horse. We said we were sorry but we still had not seen any horse. But Tom, who had been on a trek up the hill to answer the call of nature the first time the guy came by said, "I think I saw a horse up by the johns." "Really? You did?" the guy exclaimed. "I am pretty sure it was a horse," said Tom. "It had a blanket just like the one youíre wearing under its saddle." "My God, that must have been Daisy alright!" and off he went scrambling up the hill on his hands and knees as fast as he could go.

About an hour later he came running by us again. Jimmy called to him, "Hey, did you find your horse?" He yelled back, "No, but some folks up that way said they thought she was down there," pointing to the west end of the spectator area and running off in that direction. Minutes later he was walking dejectedly back towards us. Bunky said, "Hey, we saw your horse go running by here in the other direction just after you went by." I said, "Are you sure that was a horse, Bunky? It looked like a donkey to me." Jimmy said, "For crying out loud, Terry, Bunky grew up on a farm. He should recognize a horse when he sees one." I replied, "He should, but he is also the only one of us that has barfed on an electric fence." Jimmy nodded his head, "Good point" he conceded. At any rate, the guy ran off in the direction Bunky had indicated. This went on all afternoon with people reporting Daisy sightings to the poor guy sending him in one direction after another.

When the race started, for the first time we saw a car other than a McLaren come through Canada Corner first. It was Revson in his Carl Hass Lola T-220. This was short-lived as on the next lap the two McLarenís of Hulme and Gethin came through in first and second. I proudly told everyone, "I told you so!" On lap four, Gethin came past ahead of Hulme and I was feeling pretty smug.

Around lap twelve Hulme apparently felt Gethin had had enough fun and went back into the lead. Around lap 25 we heard that Motschenbacher had had a big crash in the carousel but was ok. A few laps later, the PA announcer excitedly informed us that Hulme had spun in corner five and stalled his engine. The McLarenís had a big enough lead that the corner workers were able to give Hulme a push start and he rejoined in second place. Only Bob Brown in the ex-Gurney McLeagle M6B was still on the lead lap behind the two McLarens.

Since Hulme was the team leader, team orders went into effect and Gethin was told to slow down by team leader, Teddy Mayer. Gethin complied, let Hulme into the lead and the two crossed the finish line, giving the photographers a nice one/two formation finish. To Mayerís surprise, Gethin was declared the winner because push starts were illegal under the Can Am rules and Hulme was disqualified.

This was not much of a set back for Hulme, and he went on to win six races total and the championship. Gurney had won two and Gethin one. I just wonder what would have happened had Gurney been able to stay with the team all year. The racing ended for the day and we headed for home, never to know if the guy and his horse Daisy were happily reunited. Personally, I doubt it.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

Back ] Up ] Next ]