Lap 34

 

In October, 1974, we returned once again to Watkins Glen for the United States Grand Prix. This time, Liz and I were joined by Jerry and Judy. Jerry and Judy were long time Chicagoland members. Jerry was very active in both the club and Midwestern Council. He rarely missed a race weekend and served as a corner worker, tech inspector, Chief Steward, chief of licensing and in many other capacities.

Judy had been running Central Control for the Midwestern Council when I started working corners. She was the person that Pat replaced in Central Control. Jerry and Judy had met at a Council race at Blackhawk and, after a couple of years, the two were married. Racetrack romances like that were common, Pat and Ray being another example.

Jerry regularly went up to Road America for the races, but instead of just watching the races like the rest of us; he usually worked the pit lane. While he came to Road America often, he preferred to get a room at a local motel rather than camp with us.

I vividly recall the first time he did camp with us. I had invited him to share my tent for the weekend. Jerry did not work the race this time, and instead sat in Canada Corner with us, drinking beer all day long. Back at Old Man Millerís field that night, I grilled some country-style pork ribs instead of our traditional brats and corn. I do not know what the heck I put in that barbeque sauce, but those were the best ribs I have ever made and I have cooked a ton of them since then. Jerry agreed, saying they were the best ribs he had ever eaten. Even many years later, he would mention those ribs and how they were the best he had ever had.

I really do wish I knew what the heck I did to make them so good, but I do not recall doing anything other than what I usually do. I suspect that the real reason they were so good is because we had probably over-served our selves that day, were starved by the time we ate, and still half or more in the bag.

Although Jerry did enjoy the ribs, he did not enjoy his night in my tent. I had pitched the tent on a slight slope without really noticing it. I rolled out my sleeping bag on what turned out to be the high side of the tent, while Jerry ended up on the low side. His sleeping bag was noticeably lower than mine, but we did not think twice about it - at least not until the thunderstorm hit.

I awoke from a sound, beer-assisted sleep due to an exceptionally loud clap of thunder and a commotion in the tent. There, in the flash of lightning, was Jerry, struggling to close the tent flap that we had left open. The screen portion of the entrance flap was zipped closed but the rain, which was coming down in sheets, was pouring right through the mesh into the tent. Jerry had unzipped the screen and was trying to grab the outer flap, which was thrashing around in the wind. He finally got a hold of it, but the zipper jammed as he hurriedly tried to close it. The screened flap was still half-open, and even the small protection it provided was gone as Jerry had opened it to get to the outer flap.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag and went to his assistance, only to get a soaking for my efforts as the rain came pouring in. We finally got the flap closed, but it was too late. The floor of Jerryís side of the tent had about three inches of standing water and the bottom of his sleeping bag was soaked. Mine, on the other hand, was still nice and dry. He moved his sleeping bag to higher ground next to mine, but to no avail. His bag acted like a wick and soon soaked all the way through. As you might imagine, Jerry did not have a restful night.

To add insult to injury, Jerry was so concerned about his sleeping bag that he forgot about his bag of clean, dry clothes, which he had put at the foot of his sleeping bag. By morning, this bag had soaked through as well, and all of his clothes were wet, including the ones he had worn the day before. This may have been the source of the term "not a happy camper," as Jerry certainly was not. Of course, he blamed me because I had pitched the tent on the slope, taken the high side and left the outer flap open.

I had not done so intentionally, and I was hurt by his unfounded allegations. I rightfully pointed out to him that it was my damn tent and I could sleep on any side I wanted. Besides, I was not a weatherman, so how the heck should I know it was going to rain. On the other hand, he HAD been a weatherman in the Air Force so he should have known it was going to rain and closed the flap. At the next race, Jerry checked into a motel. Those ribs were damn good, though.

Despite his unpleasant experience camping with me, Jerry and Judy and Liz and I became best of friends. They did not live too far from us, so we would spend many a non-race weekend Saturday night at one or anotherís home playing cards, sometimes until dawn.

We took Friday off to drive out to the Glen, as I usually did now. We arrived early in the evening and looked for a good place to camp. Recalling the denizens of the Bog stealing cars to burn last year, I suggested that we pay the little extra and camp inside the circuit. Jerry and Judy agreed and we found a nice shady spot along the old straight, just north of where the boot section rejoins the original track.

Since this was the first time at the Glen for Jerry and Judy, we spent most of Saturday showing them around the track. Jerry, who usually worked the pit lane at Road America, was very impressed with the Glenís pit lane arrangement, especially the seats on top of the pit stalls. These seats were reserved for the race, but anyone could sit in them on Saturday. The four of us spent a good part of the day there, watching the activity in the pit lane.

One of the most hard and fast rules in all of racing was NO SMOKING in the pit lane, so I was a bit surprised to look down from my seat on top of the pit stall to see James Hunt calmly smoking a cigarette while sitting on the left rear tire of his Hesketh 308 right there in the pit lane. But nobody said anything to him, so I guess there are exceptions to that rule.

After F1 qualifying ended, Jerry and I were behind the pit stalls, waiting for Liz and Judy who had headed for the restroom. They had greatly improved the rest rooms by this time, and actually had some flushers for the folks paying the big bucks for the reserved pit seats.

While we were waiting, Jerry leaned up against a green Mercedes that happened to be parked there. Suddenly, this guy in a driverís suit walked up and yelled at him, "Get the hell off my car!" Somewhat startled, Jerry jumped away from the car and mumbled an apology. The guy just glared at him, climbed in his car and drove away. Jerry looked at me and said, "Who the heck was that?" I said, "That was Hans Stuck" and he said, "Well, then thatís the first time I have ever talked with an F1 driver."

I suppose we could forgive Stuck his rudeness considering that, out of the 30 cars entered in the race, he had posted the 2nd slowest time and did not qualify for the race. His time put him in 28th place and only the top 27 cars were allowed to start the race that year. Only Ian Ashley had turned in a slower time. Jean-Pierre Beltoise had crashed in the morning practice, cracking a bone in his foot, so he did not post a qualifying time.

The "Silly Season" - the off-season time when drivers change teams (or maybe teams change drivers) - had been in full force prior to the 1974 season. Most notably, Emerson Fittipaldi left Lotus to join Marlboro Team Texaco. The change seemed to suit him, as he was leading the championship chase when the series arrived at the Glen. Jochen Mass had replaced Revson at Yardley McLaren, and the Shadows were now being piloted by Jean Pierre Jarrier and Tom Pryce. Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depaliller had replaced Stewart and Cevert at Tyrrell, while Jacky Ickx had replaced Fittipaldi at Lotus.

Peter Revson had left Yardley Team McLaren to join the UOP Shadow team. Sadly Revsonís time with the team was short lived. Early in the season, he was testing in preparation for the South African Grand Prix at the Kyalami circuit. As he entered Barbecue Bend, a very high-speed section of the track, a titanium bolt in his left front suspension failed. He crashed into a guardrail at high speed and was killed instantly. At that time, the Kyalami track had little or no runoff area in this corner, and no catch fencing.

Peter Revson
February 17, 1939 to March 22, 1974

Qualifying proved to be quite interesting. Pole position went to Carlos Reutemann in a Brabham BT44, while an impressive James Hunt had put his Hesketh 308 second on the grid. Mario Andretti was back in F1 driving for Velís Parnelli Jones Racing in a Parnelli VPJ4, and surprised a lot of people by putting the new car third on the grid

Back at our campsite that evening, we were sitting around a campfire enjoying the night and few beers. Out of the darkness, a guy wearing a rubber mask and a long trench coat stepped into the light of our fire. We stopped our conversation and stared at him. He did not say anything - he just stood there, so finally I said hello. He then threw open his trench coat, exposing himself to Liz and Judy. He was not completely naked, but had some sort of a mesh jock strap on. While that did not reveal everything, it showed enough. I am not sure what kind of reaction he expected to get, but when the girls saw him reveal himself, they both instantly burst into laughter. The flasher closed up his coat and slipped quickly away into the darkness, followed by peals of laughter from Liz and Judy.

After that excitement, my companions decided to go to bed. I was not ready for that yet, so I took a walk through the tunnel and made my way to the Bog to see what was happening. I was somewhat surprised to find no one there. There were a couple of smoldering hulks down in the Bog, but no one was around. I was about to return when I heard cheering and saw a large fire a short way up the road. Curious, I headed in that direction and found a mob surrounding a car that was upside down and on fire. Some of the crowd would jump on the car and dance among the flames. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Dancing in the flames

After a short while, I heard a guy yell, "Thereís a Mustang! Lets burn a Mustang!" after which he threw a rock the size of a baseball at a nearby Mustang. The rest of the mob took up the cheer, "Letís burn a Mustang!" and began pelting the car with rocks, breaking windows and denting it up pretty well. Then a bunch of them rolled the Mustang over on its roof and set fire to it.

Not content to steal a car and drive it to the Bog, the mob must have decided it would just be more efficient to burn the cars where they were. I looked around, but did not see any track security or police anywhere. They must have known what was going on, but chose to ignore it. Now I was even happier with our decision to camp inside the track, away from this madness.

As I watched, they attacked another car. "Thereís a Pinto! Letís burn a Pinto!" Once they had that ablaze, they turned their attention to a bigger target. "Thereís a Winnebago! Lets burn a Winnebago!" someone shouted and bounced a rock off the side of the motor home. At that, the door to the Winnebago flew open, a man stepped out and fired a shotgun into the air. That got the mobís attention, and in the quiet that followed, I heard the man shout, "One more rock hits this motor home and I empty the gun into the crowd and I do not care how many of you F___ers I kill!"

The mob remained silent for a few seconds, then someone shouted, "Thereís a Camaro! Let's burn a Camaro!" and off they went, away from the Winnebago. If nothing else, the mob was flexible. I shook my head in disbelief at what I had just seen and headed back to the safety of the inside of the track and our tent.

The next morning, I did see some security people patrolling the area around the Bog. There were only a few of them, but they were equipped with helmets and nightsticks. They looked like they meant business, but it did not seem to help. The mob would just go to where there were no security guards and burn another car. It appeared to me to be too little, too late. I felt sorry for all of those who had fallen victim to the mob and lost their cars.

The morning after

I was looking forward to the race because this had been one of the more competitive seasons in memory, with seven different winners so far. The Championship was still up for grabs, and Sundayís race would determine the new World Champion. The Championship was still a three horse race with Fittipaldi in the lead with 55 points. Clay Regazzoni, driving for Scuderia Ferrari was the primary challenger with 52 points and Jody Scheckter was the outsider with 45 points.

I also had a new team to root for in the race since Roger Penske had joined the series with his own car, a Penske PC1, driven by Mark Donahue, whom Penske had talked out of retirement. Donahue, along with Andretti, gave me two American drivers and teams to cheer on. My old favorite, Graham Hill, was still competing with his own Embassy Racing Team and was equipped with a Lola T370. Unfortunately, he was not doing well and had only qualified 24th.

Since he was starting third on the grid, I had high hopes for Mario. But he had electrical problems at the start in the new Parnelli, and came by in last place after receiving a push start on the grid. He stayed out for four laps before being called in by the Stewards and disqualified for receiving the push start.

Reutemann had the lead, followed by Hunt, Pace, Niki Lauda, Scheckter, and Fittipaldi. Regazzoni was right behind Emmo in the opening laps, but his championship hopes were soon slipping away as poor handling had him moving back down the field. All Fittipaldi had to do was stay close to Scheckter and he would have his second World Championship.

James Hunt in the Hesketh 308

On lap ten, Austrian Helmut Koinigg crashed his Surtees TS16 headlong into the guardrail in the toe of the boot. The crash was caused by a deflating tire. Apparently, the Armco was not secured properly, and the car actually went between the upper and lower rails. Koinigg was decapitated, the second year in a row that there was a fatal accident at the Glen in F1. I do know one thing for sure. I am grateful I was not working the corner for either of those brutal incidents. I cannot imagine being the first one on the scene and finding a dismembered driver. When word of the crash reached the pit lane, John Surtees withdrew his other car, driven by Jose Dolhem, from the race.

Reutemann continued to lead with Hunt and Pace second and third. Then came Lauda and Scheckter, shadowed by Fittipaldi. Regazzoni went into the pits for new tires, hoping that would cure his handling woes. He rejoined, but found his Ferrari to be no better. He went on to finish the race, but all hope of a championship was gone. Since he was well down the field in 11th place and out of the points paying positions, he would be unlikely to win the Championship even if Fittipaldi retired.

At mid race, Lauda also began to experience handling problems and was soon passed by Scheckter and Fittipaldi. He finally retired on lap 39 with a broken suspension. Fittipaldiís championship was secured when Scheckter retired on lap 45 with a fuel leak. Hunt also ran into trouble in the closing laps and Pace got past him into second with four laps to go. This gave Brabham a one-two finish with Reutemann first and Pace second. Hunt held on for third. Fittipaldi collected three championship-clinching points with a fourth place finish. The points paying positions were rounded out by John Watson in another Brabham BT44, and Patrick Depaliller.

Carlos Reutemann in the Brabham BT44

It was sad to see Denny Hulme blow an engine on lap 4 in what was to be his last Grand Prix. Mark Donahue also retired with suspension problems after 27 laps. Graham Hill managed to soldier home in 8th place.

The Denizens of the Bog finally went too far when, during the race, they stole a Brazilian tour bus and drove it into the Bog and burned it. Security or not, they managed it somehow. Track officials and police had no choice but to finally clamp down on these idiots. Security was increased, with riot police being brought in and the Bog was eventually filled in and turned it into more usable campground.

This was also to be our last trip to Watkins Glen. By October of 1975, Liz was eight months pregnant and in no mood or condition to go camping at the Glen again. The United States Grand Prix remained at the Glen through 1980. In 1981, it moved to Las Vegas and was held in the parking lots surrounding Caesarís Place. The event bounced around at a couple of other venues like Phoenix, and then went into a hiatus for several years. I did not see another Grand prix until September 2000, when the series returned to the United States at Indianapolis.

The Bog Today

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen