Lap 22

 

But Road America was not the host of the USGP so as the summer of 1971 came to an end, my thoughts turned once again towards making my usual trek to Watkins Glen. I was also going to have company again since by this time Liz and I were dating steady. Nearly every weekend, we were on a rally or off to a race. Since Liz had already been camping with me at Road America and Blackhawk Farms, she was more than willing to join me for a weekend at the Glen. She had quickly become a race fan and eagerly looked forwards to the trip. At last I had found a girlfriend who seemed to love racing as much as I did!

As we made our plans, I recalled the freezing cold and snow we had the last year with Charlie and Jan, so I cautioned her to be sure to bring warm clothes. I was sure Liz would not care to drive all Friday night to get there so we decided to take both Friday and Monday off. Once again, I planned to camp on the outside of the track, which was less expensive.

There were big changes at the Glen this year. A new section of track had been added on the southwest side of the track. After leaving the carousel, the new section of track ran through the woods, down a hill, and into a valley. At the bottom of the hill was a left hand corner that took the cars south again into another carousel type corner that swung them back to the north on the west side of the valley. After a brief straight, another tight right-hander ran them back down into the valley and up the hill to rejoin the old circuit. This new section was quickly dubbed the "Boot," with the carousel at the south end being named the "Toe".

Big Bend was also no more. The entrance to this old section was now squared off by a couple of tight turns, and where Big Bend had been was now the new front straight with the new start/finish and pit lane. The pit lane was lined with small garages for the teams and had some reserved grandstand seating on the roof, which provided an excellent view of the teams in the pit lane.

The new track layout

When Liz and I arrived on Friday night Oct 1, 1971, I decided to camp near the new "Boot" section. We drove down the west access road and found a campsite across the access road from the new grandstands at the north end of the uphill section of the track in the heel of the boot. We set up camp, I fired up the grill and we had some dinner, and then visited with a few of our neighbors who had already had a chance to explore the new section of the track. After talking to them, I could not wait to check it out for myself the next day. But since we could not see much in the dark, wait I did.

Saturday morning, we exited the tent into a bright sunny day, proving once again that you can never know what kind of weather you are going to get in the Finger Lakes region in October. It was quite warm, and as the sun rose in the sky, so did the temperature. By noon, it was downright hot!! It was a far cry from the freezing weather and snow Charlie and Jan and I had endured the previous year. Liz had heeded my sage advice and brought plenty of warm clothing. In fact, all she had was warm sweaters and such. I was better prepared, having also brought along tee shirts and shorts.

By now, I had spent many weekends working corners at Midwestern Council races and remembered Carlís corollary "If you didnít bring it with you, you canít put it on." I had soon learned that this was good advice; however, it seems I had neglected to pass that wisdom on to Liz.

By the time I had stocked a small cooler with beer and ice and we set off to check out the new section of track, the poor girl was suffering. The temperatures had to be in the nineties and soon even I, in my lighter clothing, was sweating as we passed through a tunnel to the inside of the track. Deciding it would be best to watch the practice session from the shade, I led Liz through the valley and up the hill into the woods where we could watch the cars enter the new section. We were not the only ones who had this I idea, and by the time we got to the location I had picked out, the crowd was five deep at the fence.

I have to admit it was hot - it was equatorially hot!! I wisely decided to remain in the shade of the woods despite the crowd along the fence. The heat sure did make the cold beer taste good though. The F1 cars came out for practice and I was excited enough to forget about the heat. The crowd was fluid, and soon those next to the fence would leave to find a new venue and those behind them would move up and take their place.

I waited impatiently for enough people to move so that Liz and I could get next to the fence for a better view. Finally, it was our turn and we moved up next to the fence. I looked up the track and the first car I saw coming was my old favorite, Graham Hill, this year driving a Brabham-Cosworth BT34. I had told Liz all about Hill, his two world championships, the bad crash at the Glen two years before, and his blue helmet with the white stripes of the London Rowing Club. I pointed at him excitedly and said, "Look, here comes Graham Hill!" I turned to look at Liz, but she was not standing there beside me as I expected. To my horror, I saw her stretched out on the ground, flat on her back and out like a light!

Another spectator helped me move her away from the fence, deeper into the shade. I grabbed some ice from the cooler and applied it to her forehead, and to my relief she came to almost instantly. The ninety degree-plus temperatures, and the fact she only had sweaters and jeans to wear, had finally gotten to her, and she had fainted from the heat. I helped her sit up, gave her some more ice, and fanned her with the cooler lid. Someone asked if they should go get an ambulance, but Liz said no, she would be fine. Of course, we lost our long awaited spot at the fence. That had filled in the instant we moved Liz deeper into the shade.

We took it very easy the rest of that day, and stayed in the shade as much as we possibly could. When we got back to our campsite, Liz went into the tent to lie down. After making sure she was all right, and didnít need anything, I left the tent, grabbed a cold beer (it is important to take lots of fluids in hot weather) and sat in a lawn chair. As I sat there sipping my beer, I heard some cheering coming from a hill between the boot section of the track and the entrance to the new front straight. I checked on Liz once more, and since she seemed to be ok, I headed in the direction of the noise.

This area had been cleared of trees since the year before, I presume to allow more room for parking and camping. On the north side of the road that led to the auto tunnel under the track was a ridge. There were several people standing up there and I heard the sound of motorcycle engines. Scaling the ridge, I found there was a large depression in the middle of it. At the bottom was a large puddle of water left over from a recent rainfall. Several guys had brought dirt bikes with them and were gleefully riding them through what had now become a mud hole. Every time one of them would fall into the mud, the crowd around the top of the depression would cheer.

One of the riders obviously agreed that in heat like we had, it was necessary to consume lots of fluids. From the unsteady way he rode his bike, it was obvious that his fluid of choice was alcohol - and lots of it. He rode his bike down into the mud, lost it, and dumped himself into the mud. In his inebriated state, he could not get his bike out of the mud. As soon as he got it upright and tried to ride it out, down he would go again, much to the amusement of the crowd observing the spectacle. He finally gave up trying to ride out and tried to push his bike out. This also proved to be too much for him and he would still slip and fall down after a step or two.

Running the Bog

Finally, he apparently had had enough. He took the gas cap off his bike, spilled some gas, threw it on his bike and then, to my amazement, set it on fire! The crowd roared with delight at this. After that, whenever some hapless rider managed to fall in the muddy bottom of the depression, the crowd would yell, "If it doesnít move, burn it!!" Thus was born the infamous Watkins Glen Bog.

Word of the unexpected entertainment in the Bog soon spread, and all weekend long there was a crowd around it, chanting, "If it doesnít move, burn it!" This continued unabated even when the cars were on the track, including during the race.

Thankfully, race day brought cooler temperatures with it. Another scorcher like the day before might well have resulted in this being my last date with Liz. We decided to watch the race from the new grandstands in the Boot section. This gave us a great view of nearly all the new section. Although we could not see the Toe from there, it was close to where we were camped.

Fortunately, Liz was suffering no ill effects from her fainting spell the day before, and the cooler weather did wonders for her mood. She seemed to be quite excited at the prospects of seeing her first Formula One race. In addition to beer, this time I packed the cooler with some Booneís Farm Apple Wine. The theory was that by drinking wine instead of beer I would not have to go the john as often and thus would not miss as much of the race. Well, that was the theory anyway. I had taken a liking to Booneís Farm Apple Wine and when others would shudder when I told them what I was drinking, I would tell them, "A big swig of Booneís Farm Apple wine is just like taking a big bite out of a fresh apple!" I donít think many believed me, though.

We found a spot in the grandstands and settled in for the race. Jackie Stewart had taken all of the drama out of the championship this year by winning six races and had long since clinched his first world championship. I was pleased to see that there was a flock of American drivers entered - a total of five, in fact. Andretti was entered in a third Ferrari 312B2 for the famed Scuderia Ferrari. Mark Donahue, driving for Penske-White Racing, was in a McLaren M19A.

I had seen Donahue drive at Road America several times and he was the great Roger Penskeís number one hired gun. Donahue was sharing the car with David Hobbs because he had to fly back and forth between the Glen and Trenton, where a delayed USAC race was taking place the same weekend. Andretti decided not to bother with the GP and opted for the USAC race, so only two Ferraris were in the race, driven by Clay Regazzoni and the venerable Jacky Ickx.

Other Americans in the race were Skip Barber in a new March 711 with the strange looking oval shaped high front wing, Pete Lovely back again in an old Lotus 69, Sam Posey in a Surtees TS9 and Peter Revson, back after a seven year hiatus from F1. Revson was teamed with Stewart and Francois Cevert on the Elf Team Tyrrell driving a Tyrrell 001. Posey had to share his car with Gijs van Lennep with the fastest driver getting into the race. That turned out to be Posey.

The grid was a bit different than I had seen before: three-car rows alternated with two-car rows. Jackie Stewart was on the pole, with Emerson Fittipaldi alongside him and Denny Hulme on the outside of the front row. Regazzoni, fastest of the Ferraris, was on the inside of the second row with Cevert alongside him. Andretti had posted a qualifying time that would have had him sixth on the grid, but both he and Donahue decided to honor other commitments and raced at Trenton. That left Posey as the highest qualifying American to start the race, well back in 17th position on the grid.

Jacky Ickx in his Ferrari 312B

I nearly missed the start, because I had to run to the john to get rid of some Booneís Farm. Another theory shot down! We were all on our feet as the PA system announced the start, but we did not need loudspeakers to tell us the race had started. That incredible sound of Formula One engines easily reached us even at our more remote location. The excitement built when we heard the screaming engines grow louder as the cars headed into the carousel and then through the chute into our view. I was not surprised to see Stewart in the lead ahead of Hulme. Cevert had jumped up to third, followed by Regazzoni and Jo Siffert, who had started in Andrettiís forfeited 6th spot. I was surprised to see Fittipaldi all the way back in eighth, the victim of a poor start.

March 711

Seven laps into the race, Cevert was able to get past Hulme for second, and after another seven laps, he moved past Stewart into the lead. Stewart was suffering from bad over-steer. Hulme was having handling problems as well and began to drop back, being overtaken by Ickx, who had passed Siffert. I missed this development because I was off to the john again. Stewart eventually fell victim to Ickx and then to Siffertís BRM. Ickx stalked Cevert until lap 40 when he began to fall back as the result of a faulty alternator. This finally did him in and he retired on lap 49. This put Siffert into second place and Ronnie Peterson in the March 711 moved past Stewart into third. Howden Ganley, in the second BRM, also caught Stewart for fourth.

Francois Cevert in the Tyrrell 002

Cevert led every lap from lap 14 on to win, followed by Siffert, Peterson, Ganley and Stewart, with Regazzoni taking the sixth and final point. My old favorite, Graham Hill, managed to soldier in with a seventh place finish. This was Cevertís first Formula One victory and with the Mexican Grand Prix canceled, it was the last World Championship race of the season.

Cevert collects his Trophy at the Glen

After the race, we packed up my tent while we let traffic thin a bit. This did not help and the main roads were at a standstill. Using my best rally instincts, I struck off on the back roads and after what seemed like forever, finally made it to the New York Thruway. From there, I headed to Niagara Falls.

I must admit that sleeping in an air-conditioned room after a nice shower was a real treat for both of us. This had been my sixth trip to Watkins Glen and I had once seen temperatures in the low eighties, but that was not nearly as hot as this Saturday had been. Not even the 6 hour race I had attended in July had been close to being this hot. In fairness to me, everyone agreed that those were record highs for October. I just wish I had told Liz about Carlís corollary "If you didnít bring it with you, you canít put it on!"

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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