Lap 18

 

I had company for my fall trip to Watkins Glen for the Grand Prix in 1970. Charlie and Jan decided to come along with me. To save a vacation day, we worked all day Friday and then drove through the night to arrive at the Glen shortly after dawn. This was a lot easier with two drivers. Since it was now cheaper to camp outside the circuit, we decided to try the outside of the last corner before the start finish straight. This was downhill from Big Bend and was a hard right turn. We found a spot about twenty yards north of the fence, pitched my tent and crawled in for a couple of hours of much needed sleep.

Just like on my first trip to the Grand Prix, we were awakened by the scream of Formula One engines at full song. By now, I was pretty familiar with that sound, but this year there was something different. Matra had come up with a new V12 engine for their Matra MS120 and it had an amazing sound completely different from the Ford Cosworth and BRMs.

We hurriedly crawled out of the tent and quickly made our way up to the fence. This was a good spot to watch from because not only could we see the cars coming down the hill from Big Bend around the corner and down the straight, we could also see cars coming into the pit lane and had a good view of the closer pit stalls. There was a lot more action in this corner than I had seen in the very fast Big Bend, and more than a couple cars left the track here in a cloud of dust.

Since this was the first time at Watkins Glen for Charlie and Jan, we decided to walk around the track and check out all the other viewing areas. After a while, we went back to the tent and packed a small cooler with beer and headed off for the outside of the esses. The start/finish straight ends in a right hand corner and the track snakes up a hill from there in a series of turns. This was known as the esses because of the S-like pattern the turns made. There was a large grandstand on the front straight at the bottom of the hill and we climbed to the top of it for a great view of the pit lane and the esses. We watched the rest of the practice session from this vantage point.

In my previous trips to the Glen, I had never been across the track from the pit lane because I was always on the inside of the circuit. I had been on the outside of the track for most of the 6 Hours earlier that year, but had never walked around the north side to see the pits. The view of the pit lane from the inside was obstructed by the pit stalls themselves, so there was not much you could see. This was my first time to watch the action in the pit lane. It was pretty cool to watch the mechanics swarm around the cars whenever they came into the pits.

It was also a different view of the esses. In the past, I had always watched the action here from the inside on a small set of bleachers at the top of the hill. The view from the grandstand at the bottom gave this series of turns a whole different perspective. I thought that being on the outside of the track was not too bad, and we still had access to the inside by means of tunnels under the track on both the east and west sides.

We started watching the afternoon qualifying from the south end of the circuit and worked our way around back up to Big Bend so Charlie and Jan got to see the whole track. I kept a lookout as we walked around the track, but saw no sign of the Fucowwees. Guess the lost tribe was lost again.

After qualifying was over, we made our way through a tunnel to the inside and headed for the garage. This, as I expected, was a beehive of activity as the teams were all busily preparing the cars for the next dayís race. The spectator aisle was packed with fans, but fighting the crowd was well worth it because you could get so close to the cars and watch the teams' mechanics work on them.

Some enterprising team members were making a little money on the side by selling souvenirs, like used tires and broken nose cones and wings. Andrea De Adamichís team was selling brake pads. They had posted a sign claiming the pads were as good as new because their driver did not ever use his brakes. In fact, they did appear to be in pretty decent shape and the teamís claim may not have been too far off. De Adamich was one of the slowest cars in the field and had not even managed to qualify for the race. He probably was not fast enough to warrant the use of his brakes.

That evening, the three of us joined some of our neighbors around a campfire. The campfire was very welcome because it was really cold. This was the coldest I had been at the Glen, but such weather is not unusual in upstate New York in October. Naturally, there was a lot conversation about the weather as we huddled around the fire seeking warmth, but eventually it turned to the race and speculation over who would prevail.

I had been reading the program and was amazed at all the new faces in the field. One of the new names sort of jumped out at me because I thought it sounded funny. When I was asked who I thought would win, I instantly said "Emerson Fittipaldi." Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, and Charlie even said "Who the heck is he?" Well, he was driving for my favorite team, Colin Chapmanís Gold Leaf Team Lotus, and even though this was only his fourth race in F1, he had finished fourth in his second event in Germany. On top of that, he had qualified 3rd that afternoon so I stood by my pick.

Amongst the other new names in the race were Reine Wisell, Derek Bell, Henri Pescarolo, Ronnie Peterson, Rolf Stommelen, Clay Regazzoni, Tim Schenken and Francois Cevert. There were a couple of brand new teams as well, including Yardley Team BRM, March Engineering and John Surtees, now with his own Team Surtees.

Graham Hill had recovered from his injuries in last year's GP but was no longer with Colin Chapmanís Lotus team. He was now driving for Rob Walker, but was still in a Lotus 72. Jackie Stewart was back with Ken Tyrrell, but this time in Tyrrellís own chassis and a new name for the team, Tyrrell Racing Organization. There was only one American in the field and that was some fellow I had never heard of named Gus Hutchinson. Pete Lovely was back again, but was not able to qualify his aging Lotus 49B for the race.

On the pole for the race was Jacky Ickx for Scuderia Ferrari in a Ferrari 312B. Alongside him on the front row was the Wee Scot, Jackie Stewart, in the Tyrrell 001. My pick, Emerson, was third and Pedro Rodriquez in the Yardley Team BRM filled out the second row.

We spent a cold night shivering in our sleeping bags and woke race day morning to a surprise. There was over 2 inches of snow on the ground!! I could not believe it. I knew F1 teams had rain tires, but did they have snow tires? I heard a noise from the track and looked over to see a couple of snow plows clearing the track. Never in all the races I have been to before or since then have I seen them plow snow from the track.

I had inadvertently left my cooler outside the tent and when I went to get my usual morning Pepsi, I was much dismayed to find the cooler missing. Along with it were my Pepsi, my beer and the hamburger I had planned to grill for our lunch. The pop and beer were no problem because Charlie and Jan had plenty to share. Charlie, fortunately, was not one to skimp when it came to taking beer to a race. Jan had bacon and eggs in their cooler for breakfast, but it looked like concession stand food for lunch.

I took a scout around the area and, sure enough, there was my cooler lying empty behind one of the ubiquitous U-Haul trucks. As I walked up to it, I saw a guy busy frying hamburger over a campfire. I picked up the cooler and asked, "Does anyone want to lay claim to this cooler?" I say "Itís mine; some jerk stole it last night." No one said a word and the guy who was frying hamburger avoided looking at me completely. I said "I donít mind losing the beer and pop so much, but I had some hamburger in there for my dog. It had his medicine mixed in because that is the only way I can get him to swallow it."

At that announcement, more than a couple of the folks standing around turned and looked at the hamburger in the frying pan. I continued, "Well, if any one eats that stuff, they will not have to worry about heart worms" and with that, I walked off. After walking a few feet away, I turned and looked back in time to see the would-be chef dumping the hamburger from the pan into a trash barrel. I smiled and walked on back to our campsite with my empty cooler.

The sun was out and the snow was melting. Jan had the camp stove out and was frying up some bacon and eggs. Several other campers along the lane we had formed with our tents were cooking breakfast as well. Suddenly, some idiot comes roaring down the lane on a dirt bike. The rear wheel was skidding around in the wet snow, churning up mud and throwing it all over. Some of it landed in Janís frying pan. She managed to pluck it out with a spatula as Charlie and I told each other what we thought of the idiot. Then the guy comes roaring back the other way. This time, Jan had time to put a lid over our food.

There were cries of outrage all up and down the lane as the moron raced past, spraying mud in all directions, and more than a couple of snowballs were aimed in his direction. Things quieted down a bit and we began eat our breakfast when a few minutes later, the jerk came roaring past again, but we were ready and he was getting pelted with snowballs. There were some guys in another of those U-haul trucks a short distance down the lane from us. I saw them tie a rope to the bumper of the U-Haul. Then they stretched it across the lane and tied the other end to a pick up truck. The rope was now hanging about 3 feet off the ground.

Sure enough, our less-than-favorite biker began another pass back the way he had come. He never saw that rope and it jerked him off that bike in an instant. He landed on his butt in the mud and his bike tumbled end over end down the lane. He was apparently not hurt because he leaped to his feet in a rage and wanted a piece of whoever had strung out that rope, only to be smacked in the face with a snowball. Then he heard all the cheers from the campers up and down the lane. These were peppered with more than a few colorful adjectives as folks let the guy know what they thought of him. Realizing he would probably have to fight everyone there, he just retreated to his damaged motorbike. Catcalls, cheers and snowballs continued to rain down on him as he pushed his wounded mount away as quickly as he could.

After breakfast and the crazy biker incident, Charlie and I carried his cooler (the only one with beer still in it) over to the fence to get a good spot for the race. While we were excited about the coming race, there was a dark cloud over it. Jochen Rindt, whom I had seen win his first Grand Prix the year before, had a commanding lead in the World Championship, but he was not here.

Jochen Rindt in the Lotus 72

Rindtís first win of the season in Monaco was primarily due to attrition and Jack Brabham crashing out of the lead in the last corner on the last lap. Rindt went on to win the Dutch Grand Prix, but his victory there was overshadowed by the death of his close friend, Piers Courage. This took a lot out of Jochen but he soldiered on, winning the French, British and German GPs. In fact, he had won every race he finished. He was set to clinch the World Championship when they got to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix and by this time, he had decided to retire at the end of the season and open a sports clothing store.

At Monza, a half hour into the Saturday practice, his Lotus 72 veered left under heavy breaking for the Parabolica and dived under the Armco barrier. It then bounced back onto the track with its front end missing. Rindt was still alive as the marshals lifted him from the wreckage, but he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in Milan.

Colin Chapman, out of respect for his fallen driver, withdrew the rest of his team, now including Fittipaldi, from the Italian GP and did not compete in the Canadian GP held two weeks later. He was back at the Glen to defend Rindtís position and the Constructorsí title. He fielded Lotus 72s for Fittipaldi, who was now the team leader, and Reine Wisell, who had replaced John Miles. Jacky Ickx, who had the pole, could still surpass Rindtís point total and win the World Championship. He trailed Rindt by only 17 points with two races to go. That meant he had to collect the maximum of 18 points and could do this only by winning both this race and the Mexican Grand Prix to follow. A daunting task, but it was possible.

By race time, most of the snow had melted and it was a sunny but cool day. From our vantage point, we could see the back half of the grid and I was pretty excited about seeing my first standing start. The cars rolled off on a warm up lap and the tension began to build as they completed the lap and took their places on the grid. We could not see the starter, but it was obvious that the start was near since we could hear the revs come up as the field anticipated the green flag. Then, in a screaming roar and clouds of tire smoke, they were off. It appeared that everyone had made a clean start. The sound of the engines faded while they ran up the esses and down the back straight.

Soon, the scream of the engines began to get louder and we turned our attention up the hill towards Big Bend. First over the crest of the hill was Jackie Stewart, closely followed by Rodriquez, Ickx, and Regazzoni. Behind them came Amon, Surtees, Oliver and finally, Fittipaldi. My choice was off to a slow start. Surtees soon disappeared with mechanical trouble and Oliver followed on lap 15. On lap 16, Ickx overtook Rodriquez and a lap later, Regazzoni was also ahead of the Mexican. Amon was fifth and Fittipaldi was up to sixth. Stewart was well clear of Ickx, and Regazzoni was 5 seconds behind his teammate when we saw him pit to change a tire. On lap 48, Amon also had to pit to change a tire, moving Fittipaldi to fourth. On lap 57, Jacky Ickx went to the pits with a fuel leak. His World Championship hopes were gone.

I was pleased to see Fittipaldiís teammate, Reine Wisell, in the other Gold Leaf Team Lotus moving up from his ninth place starting spot. Nearing the three quarter point of the race, it began to look to me like it would be a repeat of 1968 when Stewart led all 108 laps. Then we saw him come coasting silently down the hill on lap 82 and into the pits. There he retired with a terminal oil leak.

Pedro Rodriguez inherited the lead and was some 20 seconds ahead of Emmo, who was now a solid second, and his teammate Reine Wisell was up to third. With only seven laps to go, Rodriguez coasted into the pits, out of fuel and out of the lead. I cheered and clapped my hands when Fittipaldi swept past into the lead. He took the checker for his first win in Formula One and clinched the World Championship for his deceased teammate. I thought about how fitting it was that a win by his own Gold Leaf Team Lotus would clinch the championship for Jochen Rindt. Karl Jochen Rindt became motor racingís first, and hopefully last, posthumous World Champion.

Jocehn Rindt
April 18, 1942 to September 5, 1970

Rodriguez had managed to rejoin the race after a splash of fuel and finished second while Wisellís F1 debut ended with an impressive third place finish. Jacky Ickx managed to repair his fuel leak in time to finish fourth, followed by Amon and Derek Bell to fill out the points paying positions.

It had been a great race and everyone was pretty impressed that I had picked a virtual unknown as the winner. Well, they knew his name now and Emmo went on to win 13 more Grand Prix and two World Championships. He also won the Indy 500 twice, first in 1989 and again in 1993, and was the CART Champ Car World Series Champion in 1989. He was one of the best drivers in the world and a huge fan favorite. I know I have always liked him.

Charlie and Jan and I packed up the tent and our car and slowly made our way across the muddy campground to the exit road. In accordance with my established tradition, we drove to Niagara Falls and got a motel room that night. The next day, I showed them around the falls. I was becoming a pretty good tour guide to this famous natural wonder.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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