Barney Oldfield: King of Speed – Part 1

The Early Years

The Speed King of Swag

Barney Oldfield was a true American original. Barney Oldfield was a racer; he was also equal parts showman. Oldfield was there at the beginning of organized racing. At heart, he was a dirt-track man through and through. But, if you asked him, he was the “King of Speed.” He wasn’t just fast, he was cool.

The Bernd Eli (Oldfield) Years

Bernd Eli Oldfield was born on June 3, 1878, two years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. He had one older sister, Bertha Oldfield. Bernd Eli was born in a rural farming community in Ohio. Around his twelfth birthday, his family made a difficult decision to move to Toledo for a more city-oriented, industrialized existence. Growing tired of farm life, the Oldfield’s wanted to benefit from the conveniences of industry. And so, they moved Bernd and his older sister Bertha to Toledo, a thriving rail center.

Bernd dropped out of school between 12 and 15 years of age. Around 1893, Bernd Eli Oldfield took a job at a Toledo Hotel, the Monticello. In his later years, he would quip that his first job as a racer was operating the Monticello Hotel elevator. At Monticello, Bernd’s boss called him a sissy for his name; an insult which could not stand. To avoid coming to fisticuffs with his offending supervisor, Bernd Eli asserted “just call me Barney.” The name stuck. Even his parents began calling him Barney.

The Bicycle Years

Between 1893 and 1894, Barney became obsessed with bicycle racing, dropping out of school and working, in part, to save for his own bike. Unfortunately, what he purchased was too heavy to be raced. Like all speed fiends, he needed a better, faster, lighter machine. He eventually obtained a race-worthy bicycle. He entered his first race on May 30, 1894. He came in second. By the end of 1894, he had won some silver medals and a gold watch.

A young Barney Oldfield poses on a racing tandem bicycle.

In 1895, he attended the Ohio State Championship Races for cycling. This turned out to be a life changing event. There, he caught the eye of the Stearns Bicycle company. He also met a girl from nearby Canton and immediately proposed. She deferred; however, they did marry one year later. Barney later said this was but a teenage infatuation. The marriage ended quickly.

The Stearns Bicycle job involved some racing, but also it involved a lot of selling. Barney quickly learned how difficult it can be to survive on retail commission. Around this time, young Oldfield experimented in other endeavors. He went through a boxing phase, but was quickly known only for his glass jaw. He was soon headed toward motorsport partly by chance and partly by destiny.

The Motoring Connect

In 1899, his friend Tom Cooper won the Bicycle Championship of America. As a direct result of his success, Cooper then headed to Europe, where he encountered the motorized bicycle (an early form of the motorcycle). Meanwhile, the automobile quickly gained acceptance in America. Around this time, the great city to city automobile races of Europe were maturing; however, increasing speeds also caused significant and increasing dangers. Racing in the United States remained nomadic and primitive.

By 1900, Barney Oldfield’s own reputation was well-cemented; his bicycle racing exploits appeared in newspapers. According to tone article: “He is at present in Omaha, and is counted to be one of the fast men of this country.” In fact, both newspapers and bicycle advertisers touted his name at appearances throughout the summer of 1900.

Sometime in October 1900, Tom Cooper, his cycle racing buddy, brought a tandem motorized bicycle back from Europe with him. Then, serendipity stepped in. Tom Cooper decided to take the racer to a Detroit Track, Grosse Pointe. As it happened, the track was also Henry Ford’s local raceway. Cooper and Oldfield raced hard on the tandem single-cylinder that day; however, something much more important happened. A then-unknown Henry Ford, and a car of his own design, beat automotive giant Alex Winton’s race car on the track. It was on this day that Oldfield met Henry Ford.

Transition to a Driver

Barney Oldfield continued racing bicycles, notwithstanding a brief stint as a gold mine operator. By 1902, Barney had already headed back east. Newspaper articles establish that Barney Oldfield continued to race bicycles, powered or otherwise, through September 10, 1902. In the interim, Cooper wrote Oldfield and told him that they thought he should drive one of Henry Ford’s new prototypes.

Again, historian William F. Nolan’s account is crucial. Nolan wrote, “When Cooper joined Ford it was agreed that Tom would shoulder most of the financial burden, and that the plans, primary design and materials would be Ford’s responsibility.” A draftsman, C. Harold Wills, and a chief mechanic, Ed “Spider” Huff, also worked at the shop at 81 Park Place. Oldfield joined them in late September.

Now, as the story goes, they showed up with Ford’s new racers at Grosse Pointe, but they would not run. Henry Ford became upset and quit the venture. He sold the 999 and Red Devil cars to Tom Cooper on October 13, 1902. Ford’s basic premise was that he could not have his name associated with a failure at the race track.

The Celery King of Kalamazoo.

Oldfield figured out pretty quickly that (at least to him) racing was as much about self-promotion as outright speed. Sure, he had speed, but he needed a hype man. He went straight to Glenn Stuart, the Kalamazoo celery king. Glenn Stuart had a small farm, from which he grew it to such magnitude that it put Kalamazoo on the map.

Meanwhile, the 1903 Paris to Madrid fiasco and the relatively successful 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup, in Ireland, were taking place. Barney Oldfield, would eventually drive a car that he called the “Green Dragon.” As of the summer of 1903, the yet-to-be-named Green Dragon was being raced at the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup; the Peerless racer would eventually be rebuilt for Oldfield.

Oldfield Off to the Races

On May 30, 1903, Oldfield was scheduled in a match race against a man named Charles Ridgeway in a Peerless. Oldfield won the first two, of three, heats. The payoff from the match was substantial. It was enough for Barney to pay off his parents’ entire mortgage. This was really his first truly significant automobile win.

Just a few days later, on June 20, 1903, in Indianapolis, Oldfield broke a world record when he drove an automobile one mile in 59 and three-fifths seconds. This feat was covered in newspapers all over the nation. Barney netted $1,200.00, a huge sum in those days, for breaking the record. Barney Oldfield was off to the races, as it were.

Within days, he back on the track trying to break the record that he had just set. Throughout his lengthy racing career, Barney Oldfield was more focused on breaking the next record than being a true racer. That should not denigrate his skill; however, it does speak to his motivations as a man.

At this point, Barney was still racing the “Red Devil” while Tom Cooper was rocking the “999” variant. Newspapers echo frequent allegations of 80 horsepower in each of these beasts. By the summer of 1903, Barney Oldfield was a household name. He would fight to keep it that way, for the rest of his life. Oldfield, if nothing else, was dedicated to his own fame.

1935 Grosser Bergpreis von Deutschland

1935 Grossglockner Hillclimb

I am currently reading Split Seconds, the autobiography of Raymond Mays.  Raymond Mays was the driving force behind E.R.A., and later B.R.M.  English Racing Automobiles was a pre-war venture from 1934 to 1939.  British Racing Automobiles was a separate firm which operated after the second world war.

While reading Split Seconds, I came across an account of an interesting race: The 1935 Grosser Bergpreis von Deutschland.  Also known as the 1935 Grossglockner, the race exemplifies the epic hillclimbs of the era.

Section of the Grossglockner hillclimb road.

A Travelogue from Raymond Mays’ Perspective

Mays left Berne, Switzerland after racing in a voiturette undercard race for the 1935 Swiss Grand Prix.  Before he left, there was some hard work to be done on his E.R.A.  Nevertheless, he was on his way before too long.  Ken Richardson, a recent addition to E.R.A. carried out the mechanics work.

The drive to the race, itself, was imposing.  According to Mays:

“At crack of dawn one morning we set off from Berne and climbed thousands of feet in the shadow of that grand mountain, the Finsteraarhorn, 14,000 feet high.  Here we watched the sub rise over the Alps . . .”

Raymond Mays, Peter Berthon, and Ken Richardson were soon traversing the hillclimb course in style, with a Bentley.  They drove the Bentley up and down the course over and over.  It was difficult to learn the course.  According to Raymond, it was about 7.5 miles long (12 km.), with a vertical rise of 2,440 feet, and around 14o corners.

“The start is in a narrow country road between high hedges, and then . . . a left-hand bend commences the climb proper.  Thereafter, corners of every description continue in rapid succession to the top of the hill. . . . Turns follow each other in such profusion that one only just has time to warp the wheel over from one full lock to the other. . . . The last half of the climb is flanked by densely packed trees and deep ravines.  There have been many accidents, I was told, on these upper reaches, sometimes resulting in drivers being hurled down the mountainside.”

English: Grossglockner is Austria’s highest mo...
English: Grossglockner is Austria’s highest mountain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mays account is fascinating.  The racing resulted in only a third place for Raymond Mays.  His book indicates his engine was down on power.  However, Mays also felt unsettled for the race.

An Unsettling Phone Call

A clanging phone had awaken him in the middle of the night.

“You are Raymond Mays?” A voice said.

“Yes, and what the hell do you mean by waking me up at this time of night?” A sleepy Raymond retorted.

The voice continued, undeterred.  “You are now in Germany, not England, and certain of your conversations during the last few days have been  overheard.  You are advised to leave German straight away.”

Mays responded.  “I don’t know who you are or what you are talking about.”

The answer hit Raymond like a pile of bricks.  “I am speaking from Gestapo H.Q. at Coblenz and you had better take notice of what I saw.”

Mays slammed down the receiver.  He found it difficult to sleep for the rest of the night.  He was quite happy once the race was over and he was able to get back to England.


-Travis Turner of, written as part of a forthcoming project on English Racing Automobiles (E.R.A.).

Monaco, 1967: Bandini’s Fiery Crash

Dealing with Death in Sport

Death in sport is not easy for me, as a writer, to deal with. But, for some races, death is the story. It’s unavoidable. I do not desire to be exploitative, but rather to speak honestly about the tragedy. Certainly, the loss of any life—be it a spectator or driver—is truly regrettable. Is death in motorsport a stain? Or, is it inevitable result of forward progress? There are no easy answers, only acknowledgments of what has come before.

Lorenzo Bandini

Lorenzo Bandini died three days after the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. He had lived to race. Speaking of his path to racing, he once said, “I always wanted to be a driver, but I had to wait and wait. It was like being madly in love with a beautiful girl and holding one’s emotions in check, without being able to explain it to her.”

Born in North Africa in December 1936, his parents settled in Florence, Italy three years later. His father died when Lorenzo was fifteen years old. He went to work as an apprentice at a local garage.

Five years later, at age 20, Lorenzo Bandini opened his own shop. Late in 1957, he raced a Fiat 1100 borrowed from a generous customer. He ran in a Hill Climb at Emilia, Italy and was fifteenth in his class. Undeterred, he borrowed a better Fiat 1100 from his old boss. He scored a third place and was offered a Fiat V8. He did even better with the bigger engine. In 1958, he purchased his own Volpini Formula Junior open-wheeled car to race with. He was considered a natural at the wheel by contemporaries and critics.

Mimmo Dei, patron of Scuderia Centro-Sud, gave Bandini his first shot at Formula 1 at the 1961 Pau GP. In 1962, the Scuderia Centro-Sud disbanded. Enzo Ferrari signed Bandini; however, at first, he confined Bandini to sports car work.

Mimmo Dei came to the proverbial rescue in 1963. Dei had just purchased Graham Hill’s winning BRM. For the first part of 1963, Lorenzo drove the BRM in Formula 1 races. Later, he became Ferrari’s number two driver on the Formula 1 squad. He was behind the late John Surtees through the end of 1966. By 1967, Bandini had become Ferrari’s number one driver, ahead of Chris Amon.

Coming Up to Speed at the 1967 Monaco GP

May 1967. The South of France. The cars of this era were squishy. Getting around Monaco took more art than science. They drove by the seat of their pants, feeling the changes in grip corner by corner. Aerodynamic grip was nowhere to be found; the driver was limited to the small contact patches between his tires and Monaco’s historic streets.

There were 22 entires for 16 places on the starting grid. Of those 16 places, 11 were already guaranteed to works teams that had been in existence for at least three years.

Of note, Jackie Stewart was in a V8 BRM, but also had the option of driving an H16 BRM. Mike Spence was in a H16 BRM. John Surtees had access to two virtually identical Honda V12 cars. Jack Brabham did require his spare car, as his new reversed port engine blew up during the first practice session. Dennis Hulme had his reliable 1966 Repco-Brabham, with side exhausts.


Bandini held the previous Monaco race lap record at 1:29.8, set in 1966. However, in light of recent design improvements, speeds were expected be even faster for the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix.

The first practice was on Thursday afternoon and speeds started off slow on the oily street circuit. All the cars set about practicing right away, except for Clark and Hill. Their cars had been held up and were not yet delivered. The first laps were around 1:35.0 as each team began to dial in their cars.

Lorenzo Bandini set a 1:30.4 in the Thursday afternoon practice. At the end of practice, Bandini was happy with his car; however, the other Ferrari driver—Chris Amon—complained of throttle response issues. Jackie Stewart, piloting a BRM, was the only driver to dip below 1:30.0.

The next practice took place on Friday morning, where a sense of urgency pervaded the paddock. Everyone quickly got down to business. Clark, finally able to test his recently arrived Lotus, was first quick in his Lotus-Climax V8.

In this Friday morning practice, Bandini was only able to get down to about 1:33.0 before opening up the throttle too soon around the Mirabeau hairpin. He broke his front suspension, as a result of hitting the course wall. John Surtees set the fastest time in his Honda V12 at 1:28.4.

It rained on Saturday morning. Therefore, many thought that no faster times would be set at the next practice on Saturday afternoon. However, wind plus intervening support races sufficiently dried and rubbered in the track to allow the Formula 1 racers to set more fast times. Bandini certainly had some work ahead of him for the final qualifying practice.

Bandini was quite successful in his attempt to improve his race grid position. With his front end suspension fixed, Bandini set a blistering Monaco lap of 1:28.3. However, Jack Brabham was even faster; he set a lap at 1:27.6. Brabham and Bandini made up the front row of the Monaco grid for the race. Behind them it was Surtees and Hulme on the second row. Clark and Stewart rounded out the third row.


The Monaco Grand Prix is an elegant paradox. The course is unyielding and confining. The cars that race it are fiery beasts aching to be free. At a course like Monza, the car and track act in synthetic harmony to slingshot cars out of the curva parabolica. However, at Monaco, the car and track become diametrically opposed forces. Perfect concentration is the only solution to the paradox.

The weather was beautiful for the ’67 Monaco GP. The cars formed on the grid and revved their engines as they waited for the flag to drop. Tires screeched as the cars launched into action. The crowd watched Lorenzo Bandini lead the field into the first corner. Jack Brabham got a slow start away from his number one grid position. Brabham’s brand new Repco engine broke a connecting rod, which punched a hole in the block. Still operating on seven cylinders, Jack’s Repco sprayed oil all over the track.

At the end of the first lap, Bandini led Hulme, Stewart, Surtees, and Gurney. In the pits, Brabham was surprised to learn that his engine was terminal.

By the end of lap 2, both Dennis Hulme and Jackie Stewart had passed Lorenzo Bandini. Cement dust was laid down over the spilled oil as the cars continued to matriculate at full speed. This was a marginal solution, at best, and the track remained extremely slippery, particularly from the hairpin through the tunnel. By the end of the fourth lap, Dan Gurney had also edged past Bandini’s scarlet Ferrari; however, Lorenzo retook this position on the next lap when Gurney’s Eagle-Westlake lost function of its fuel pump.

Stewart and his BRM overtook Hulme and his Repco-Brabham for the lead by the end of lap 6. By the end of lap 15, Bandini was back in second place, because Stewart broke his crown wheel and pinion. Surtees’ V12 growled as he stayed on the heels of Bandini’s Ferrari.

By lap 20, it looked like Dennis Hulme was running away with the race. He was leading by 20 seconds over Lorenzo. According to Denis Jenkinson, on lap 42, “Bandini was now beginning to get his second wind and he slowly reduced the gap between the leading Brabham and his Ferrari down to 7 seconds, but Hulme was equal to the challenge and held his lead to about 8 seconds and it became a trial of strength with the rugged New Zealander coming out on top.”

At 50 laps, half distance, the order was Hulme (Brabham-Repco V8), Bandini (Ferrari V12), McLaren (McLaren-BRM V8), Amon (Ferrari V12), and Hill (Lotus-BRM V8). The rest of the field was either out or lapped.

The stalemate between Hulme and Rodriguez continued for 15 laps, with neither driver able to make headway against the other. Around lap 70, according to Jenkinson, “Hulme’s superior physical condition [was] obviously coming out on top and poor Bandini was beginning to flag and he began to show signs of tiredness and lack of concentration, occasionally being untidy and ragged on some of the corners.”

Then on lap 82, disaster. Bandini flew through the tunnel, down the hill, and into the chicane. Again, according to Jenkinson’s first-hand contemporary description, “the Ferrari struck the wooden barriers and was immediately out of control. It mounted the straw bales on the outside of the corner, a wheel was broken off, and the car landed upside down in the middle of the road with the driver trapped underneath.”

The video is disturbing. One commentary that I came across even suggested that the helicopter’s downwash only worsened the deathly flames.

Dennis Hulme went on to win the race. But, there was little cause for celebration. The 31 year old Bandini had been extricated from the car alive. He would live three more excruciating days before succumbing to his burns and injuries.


–Travis Turner of

The 1967 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch

The 1967 Race of Champions

It was not a championship event.  It did not pay points.  That doesn’t mean that the race was not important.

Dan Gurney won the race, but it was a hard-earned victory.  “We are a small outfit. with meager backing , and spread pretty thin at this point.  Any kind of setback will be felt keenly.  For instance, if we lose an engine, one car probably won’t race” Dan Gurney had said earlier that year.

The 1967 Race of Champions, raced at Brands Hatch, was the European introduction of the 1967 season.  Following a day of practice that saw rain, sleet, and even some snow, the Race of Champions took place on March 12, 1967, with a novel format.

Specifically. there were two heats, each of 10 laps, that reshuffled the grid, as effective repeat qualifying sessions.  The main race, was set for 40 laps.

Scuderia Ferrari, as I noted in my previous post, were absent for the 1967 South African GP.  Thus, this was the debut of the new creation of Maranello.  In fact, Ferrari were rolling three deep with screaming V-12 engines.  However, their new star driver, Chris Amon, injured himself on the way to the track.  He declared himself unfit to drive.

Thus, Bandini and Scarfotti, were to chase the other V-12 engines all weekend.  It was a weekend of V-12 power in each session and every heat.  But, the best part of this race is the nostalgic video that I unearthed on YouTube.  So, I will let the video, below, do the heavy-lifting of communicating the feel of the race.


After the race, Dan Gurney reported, “It was very exciting to see that both Richie and I were able to out-accelerate anything on the starting grid, including the Honda, which has been regarded as the ‘dragster’ of the Grand Prix cars.”  This was important victory for Dan Gurney Weslake V12, albeit on a track that favored V-12 characteristics.  The achilles heal of Dan’s Eagle, in its earlier configuration, was its weight.  This is where, later in the season, the Lotus 49 would excel.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa

The 1967 Season Opener: A War of Attrition.

The 1967 Formula 1 rules dictated 3.0 liter engines.  The cars looked like cigars on wheels.  There were no wings yet (those would not arrive until 1968).  The cars, largely free of sponsorship advertising, were absolutely elegant.  Among the three liter cars, there was a lot of variation.  Some teams ran four cylinders.  Others ran as many as 16 cylinders.  The first championship-points race of 1967 was at Kyalami, a track near Johannesburg in South Africa.  It took place in early January.  Monaco, the next race, was several months away.  In fact, in the middle of a rebuilding state, Ferrari did not even make the race.

1967 F1: The Teams and Drivers

The Brabham team has two cars for Jack Brabham, the team owner, and Dennis Hulme.  The well-prepared cars were unchanged from their form at the final grand prix of 1966 in Mexico.

Cooper also brought two cars to the 1967 South African GP.  The cars were driven by Rindt and Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s car was formerly John Surtees’ mount; however, Surtees raced for Honda in 1967.

Importantly, Team Lotus was about to drop a car with a Ford-Cosworth engine that would change the face of Formula 1 for the next 15 years.  However, neither the engine nor its special monocoque chassis were ready for the first race of the season.  Thus, they showed up with two cars rocking older H16 B.R.M. engines.

As mentioned above, Honda had employed John Surtees to race for their relatively new F1 team.  Surtees was working closely with the team to improve some temperamental  handling issues.

Jackie Stewart and Mike Spence were driving new 16 cylinder engines for B.R.M.  Stewart, now considered a legendary F1 figure, was just then achieving number one driver status for the team.

Finally, aside from the privateers, Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers (AAR) team completed the field.  Possibly the most beautiful of an already elegant era of car, the Gurney Weslake V12 would eventually push 415 horsepower at 10,000 revolutions per minute; however, the V12 was not quite race-ready.  Gurney, instead, put a Coventry-Climax four-banger in his gorgeous chassis.

Thursday Test and Tune:  Grand Prix of South Africa

You are correct to notice a lot of variation between the engine and chassis combinations of the different teams.  There were inline, V, and even H cylinder configurations with cylinders ranging from 4 and 8 to 12 and even 16 cylinders.   The variance in sound must have been amazing; at least, as compared to the homogeneity of todays F1 field.

Shakedown Problems

Yet, the first practice of the 1967 F1 season started rather quietly.  In fact, not everyone had even arrived yet.  Many of those that had arrived were having problems.  For example, John Surtees had already blown both engines before the first official practice.  When practice started, the mechanics were busy with repairs.  And, much like the 2017 Formula 1 season, the Honda engine (and chassis) were both beleaguered with problems.

Other teams were also having problems.  Graham Hill’s fuel tank was split open.  Jim Clark could not run simply because his helmet had ended up in Nairobi.  Dennis Hulme could not initially run due to a fault valve adjustment requiring the engine to be torn apart in his Repco-Brabham V8.

Compared to the subsequent test sessions and race, the Thursday practice was relatively cool.  The clouds also helped to keep down the track surface temperature.  Nevertheless, Jochen Rindt’s Cooper-Maserati had fuel vaporization problems.  Finally, with time, on Thursday, more and more engines came to life and the 1967 Formula 1 season was finally underway.

Early Speed in Practice

Jackie Stewart was the first driver to do any meaningful running.  He was driving a works B.R.M., which had an updated crankshaft.  The Lotus team, which were using B.R.M. engines for this race, did not have the new trick crankshaft.

Jack Brabham was quick from the outset.  Pedro Rodriguez, a Mexican driver racing for Cooper-Maserati, was also really fast from his first laps.  This was impressive because it was his first time to the track in an era long before endless simulator hours.  Not only that, but this was also his first time driving in the Cooper-Maserati.

Mike Spence, driving for B.R.M. lapped the fairly short nine turn track in 1:32.2. Rodriguez upped the ante with a blistering lap at 1:29.4.  Not to be outdone, Jack Brabham lapped the track even faster (1:29.1).  To put this in perspective, Brabham was lapping 4.3 seconds faster than the prodigal Jimmy Clark.

Gurney struggled throughout the session.  According to multiple reports, a spectator who had gotten into the pits managed to dislodge a small pebble from a tire and inadvertently knock it into the engine through an open spark plug port.  In any event, the American chassis was slow due to misfires.

As temperatures heated up, the cars encountered more problems and the drivers struggled to drive as fast as they had during the first practice.

Friday Heats Up

The ambient temperature was 85 degrees.  However, the track was a tire-melting 140 degrees.  Engine internals were also running abnormally high due to the combination of high temperatures and low cooling from the thin high-altitude air.

Fuel vaporization was now affecting most of the cars to some degree or another.    Hulme’s Brabam was quite strongly affected by the problem.  Surtees’ freshly repaired Honda was still not running very well.  Rindt (Cooper-Maserati), Gurney (Eagle-Climax), and Clark (Lotus-BRM) made the biggest gains, as compared to their times from the day before.

Final Practice on Saturday

On Saturday, Jack Brabham went nearly as quickly as he had on Thursday, in spite of ever-increasing overall temperatures.  However, even he could not improve on his ultimately quickest lap from Thursday.  This is important in these days because the grid was set by your practice time.  In other words, practice was, in essence, qualifying.

And so, the grid was set.  Jack Brabham had the pole position from his lap of 1:28.3.  Dennis Hulme, in the other Repco-Brabham V8 was also on the front row (1:28.9).  Jimmy Clark (1:29.0) and Pedro Rodriquez (1:29.1) made up the second row.  J. Love in a 2.7 liter Cooper Climax was in third, next to John Surtees in the Honda V12.  After them, it was Rindt, Charlton, Stewart, Anderson, Gurney, Bonnier, Spence, Tingle, Hill, Siffert, Botha, and Courage.

No Rest for the Mechanics on Sunday

Sunday was supposed to be a rest day.  However, as racing mechanics are acutely aware, a rest day typically benefits greater the driver than the wrencher.  Having encountered numerous problems on short runs, the entire field was at work making moderate to serious cooling modifications to their respective cars.  Some teams fit extra fuel radiators.  Other teams re-routed fuel or water lines outside the chassis, to expose them to the air.  Repco-Brabham even fitted containers to pack dry ice around key engine components.

The 1967 Grand Prix of South Africa Race Report

The Grand Prix Start

The race took place on Monday, January 2, 1967.  Hulme got the best start from the second position on the front row and jumped ahead of Jack Brabham.  Just after the flag dropped, the engines roared to life and took off: Hulme, Brabham, Surtees, Rodriguez, Clark, and Rindt.

On the third lap, Jack Brabham had a quick spin and dropped from second to fourth.  This moved Jochen Rindt up to third.  Pedro Rodriguez was fifth, chasing Brabham.  On the same lap, Jackie Stewart’s B.R.M. H16  blew up in grand fashion spewing oil all over the track.  In one fact, one report from 1967 suggested that no grand prix had ever resulted in more total oil spilled onto the track.  Whether true or not, nobody can know.  However, on the third lap, there was already enough oil to send Rindt off the track.  He rejoined several places back.

By the south lap, Denny Hulme was showing his dominance.  Hulme continued to lead the field followed by Surtees, Brabaham, Clark, and Rindt.  There was a hard-charging battle for seventh place between Love and Gurney.

1967 Grand Prix of South  Africa: Midrace

Hulme was efficiently pulling away from John Surtees in the Honda.  It would seem that the Honda started better than it could sustain over a race distance.  In fact, Surtees’ Honda was falling into the clutches of the chasing cars: Brabham, Rodriguez, and Rindt.

On the eighteenth lap, Rodriguez passed Brabham.  However, he quickly lost his second gear shortly after the pass.  This left him fighting from his back foot for the remainder of the race.  As a result of losing second gear, he was reposed by Brabham.  Jochen Rindt also made it by Rodriguez.

Further back, the midfield battles continued.  J. Siffert had passed Love and Gurney, but then lost a fuel pump.  He eventually got it fixed and headed back out; however, the damage had already been done.  Around this time, Bonnier went out with a dropped valve.

On the twenty-first lap, Brabham shot past Surtees to take second place.  A few laps later, on lap 24 ,J. Rindt passed John Surtees for third place.  At half-distance, the four-bangers of Love and Gurney had also passed by Surtees’ Honda.

Halfway to Victory

At the halfway point, Hulme led Brabham by 28.6 seconds.  Love, Gurney, and Brabham battled for third, fourth, and fifth; the group trailed Brabham by 25 seconds.  Pedro Rodriguez was in sixth place.  In fact, at the halfway mark, he was the last car on the lead lap.  However, the heat and altitude were tolling the cars.  All four H16 cylinder cars had already dropped out.  More cars were soon to follow.

Trailing Hulme, Brabham’s car started to misfire.  He stopped in the pits.  His crew packed dry-ice around his fuel pump, in an effort to cool the engine.  But, by the time he returned, he was a lap down in eighth place.  Thus. Love slotted into second; Gurney went into third.

On lap 44, Gurney’s beautiful blue Eagle went out with a broken left-rear wishbone.  So, even in his problematic Honda, Surtees was racing in third, chasing the second place Love.  Pedro Rodriguez, for all his Formula 1 inexperience, was in fourth.

Finally, on lap 54, Rodriguez roared past Surtees.  Brabham was up to sixth, but only by way of more retirements in front of him, including the privateer Courage.

Racing to the Finish

With 21 laps remaining, Hulme was looking good for the win.  But, suddenly, he slammed his right foot-pedal to the floor.  His brakes were gone.  He dove into the pits like a bomber swooping toward its target, slowed down, and yelled to his crew to get brake fluid ready.  On the next lap, he stopped and his crew filled up his brake fluid.  But, it was of no avail.  His brakes were shot.  More than that, the probable winner was then in fourth.

At that point, Love, in the oldest and least powerful car, was in the lead.  Good ol’ Pedro was down 20 seconds.  He chased Love as hard as he could; however, he was unable to meaningfully close the gap.

In those days, pit stops for fuel were avoided at all costs.  To this end, Love had fitted a reserve fuel tank to his car.  But, there was problem with this ad hoc modification.  The fuel pump was not picking up the final three gallons of fuel.  There was no choice.  Love stopped for fuel.  Rodriguez shot by into the lead.  When Love got going again, he was 30 seconds down.

Thus, having lost his crucial second gear early in the race, Pedro Rodriguez won the 1967 Kyalami Grand Prix against all odds in a battle of attrition against the elements.  Love crossed the line in second place.  Surtees finished in third and burst a tire just after crossing the line.  Hulme finished, dejected, in fourth place.