THE REMARKABLE ROAD LEADING TO THE “CANNONBALL” FERRARI 365 GTB/4, #14271
On a pleasant Sunday morning in the late winter of 1958, Dick Henderson, an American Air Force serviceman stationed in Tripoli, Libya, came across a small classified ad for a “1928 Alfa Romeo” in the Wheelus Air Force Base newspaper in Tripoli, Libya.
Henderson already was a fan of European sports cars having purchased a 1956 Austin Healey in Libya. Finding the ad more than curious, Henderson contacted “Captain Webb” who owned the Alfa and they arranged to meet at a spot right there in Tripoli.
Henderson relates today, that he was immediately smitten with the Alfa Romeo. The Alfa was somewhat down at the heels and brush painted, but Henderson said the little spider was magical. It was powered by a compact six cylinder engine with double overhead cams, and a supercharger!
Surprisingly, the dash and all of the instruments remained. Further, tucked beneath each of the tatty seats there were slide out tool trays that still carried their spanners, etc. intact!
Henderson bought it on the spot, subsequently tinkered with the essentials, joined a local sports car club and even ran a few gymkhanas there in Libya with the Alfa! The fall of 1958 saw Henderson returning by ship to the US with his wife, their Austin Healey safely tucked away in the hold.
But the Air Force was not in the habit of sending multiple vehicles home with servicemen, so the Alfa Romeo sat forlornly in Libya. Finally Henderson was successful in arranging transport for the long sea journey home, but the Alfa had to ride as “deck cargo!”
Eventually, the car arrived in Newark, New Jersey. Henderson and his wife, being true driving enthusiasts, met the ship and immediately set off, the two of them driving the Alfa back to Madison, Indiana. Henderson related that the trip was uneventful albeit rather on the slow side.
He continued to use the car occasionally until 1961 when the supercharger became noisy. He and his family then moved on to Marion, Indiana and the Alfa was stored with his brother.
There it sat dormant until early in 1971 when the ace rare automobile locator and salesman extraordinaire, John Delamater learned of it.
John acquired the Alfa virtually as it had been in Libya complete with Libyan license plates!
Soon afterward John Delamater called me on a Sunday evening just the week after we had returned from the 24 Hours of Daytona.
(Delamater seemed to know that Sunday evenings might well provide a softer underbelly with prospects . . .) and regaled me with the attributes of this tired run down old Alfa Romeo.
At this point I should bring the time period into sharp focus. 1971 was still very much the beginnings of the entire hobby of saving these old European sports cars.
As an example, just the week previous to John’s telephone call to me, I had taken on consignment a 1932 Alfa Romeo 1750 supercharged Corsica bodied roadster. It was an impeccably restored car. The reserve was to be $5,800!
So there was John on the telephone, always smooth as silk, stitching me right into this very, very, needy old 1500 Alfa Romeo. But, I knew enough to be aware of the fact that there were very few supercharged Alfa Romeo 1500’s, let alone a possible factory team car.
As I listened to John, what I heard was this:
Very early car, possibly a factory racing 1500 SS Supercharged . . . spider, with the original 1500 cc six cylinder Supercharged . . . engine.
Intact transmission, the Alfa Romeo script slashed across the original grille, Supercharged . . .
Double overhead cams, all instruments, complete dash, original leather seats, Supercharged . . . and the mounting bracketry for the twin spares, that were, of course, not there! And finally those wonderful intact tool trays!
In amongst all the glittering features that John was relaying to me, he was also telling me full well, that the Alfa was lacking virtually all of the original coachwork, fenders, running boards, lamps, etc.
The cosmetic condition was described very accurately as was always the case with Delamater. I actually was picturing a picked over hulk of a chassis resting badly in a farmyard in Indiana, with flat tires, rust, etc.
But the car carried a factory SUPERCHARGER . . .!!
Finally, I said: “John, how much is this car?” “Let me just say, Kirk . . .” and he deftly sailed through the high points again . . .
It was always the same with John Delamater; at some point in most any dealing with him you just wanted to shout down the line:
“I’ll take it, here’s a signed check; fill it in for whatever you need!”
“Why, it’s just $2,000 Kirk, delivered to you.”
What the hell . . .
“That’ll be fine, John. . .” I said.
At that point our small company had, in addition to a boatload of insane European sports cars, lots of completely off the wall “stuff” for sale, including a true Thompson sub-machine gun, recently out of US government service, an antique sailing vessel, all manner of Ferrari and Maserati engines, an elderly Harley Davidson motorcycle with a wicker sidecar, a first series MV Agusta 600cc 4 cylinder bike, and finally a DO- Hal powered thirties sprint car, etc. etc.!
So, why not branch into the scrap automobile business, as well?
All very amusing to have acquired these bizarre baubles, but we had better buckle down to selling this merchandise. A great deal of time and money has been consumed racing the Ferrari 512.
Our side of the deal was that we were to provide all of hardware for the car. After Daytona the 512 would need a bunch of money thrown at it before we can take it to Sebring!
THE FERRARI 512 #1040 RETURNS HOME
Two weeks later the Alfa Romeo arrived on an open trailer at 63rd Street. It was a chilly, rainy, day and earlier that morning I had sent over a walloping check to Penske Racing for some of the parts to repair the damage our Ferrari 512 had sustained in the accident at Daytona.
Maybe not the best of days to take delivery of the poor old Alfa Romeo.
The car was just as John had described it, but in the chill rain, it looked so bedraggled, so tired, just utterly beyond hope.
I paid for the car with my personal money, and sent the driver on his way. I didn’t dare put that damn Alfa on the company books.
Most urgent at that point in time, was that we return our efforts to getting the Ferrari 512 ready for the rapidly approaching 12 Hours of Sebring taking place March 20, 1971.
MASSIVE FERRARI PARTS COSTS . . .
From our standpoint that meant Kirk F. White Motorcars had to come up with a fuck of a lot of money to replace all of the equipment that was destroyed, jury-rigged or worn out. And, we had to purchase and replace the substantial components that Luigi Chinetti had graciously given us following our huge “incident” at Daytona.
Boy, was there a lot to do to repair the Ferrari after Daytona. By the time the car got back to Newtown Square, in the slushy dregs of winter, the Penske race shop team was up to its ears with the Indianapolis and Trans Am cars.
The guys at the race shop couldn’t believe the Ferrari that rolled out of the transporter and into the harsh lighting of the shop. The car that returned home was almost laughable. It was a shambles.
Someone joked that maybe it should be put out at the curb with the rest of trash!
The final list of new parts that the car needed was vast. Both engines had to be gone over at Traco, and Berry plastics, our body panel supplier, was going to get a huge order for essentially what would amount to an entire body! Finally, we owed Luigi Chinetti more than a few pieces. The dollar amount on the parts alone was going to be a stunning number.
And, by golly, it was even worse than my wildest guess!
To complicate matters a bit more, unbeknownst to any of us at that time, Ferrari was bringing their own “new” 312P to Sebring, and they didn’t particularly care to have that upstart American “hot rod” Ferrari 512 dampening their debut in any fashion.
The flow of the parts through the pipeline from the Ferrari factory began to slow a bit, with the odd clog. Some items just never came and had to be fabricated. We had troubles with all forms of communication.
Nonetheless, the team went at the 512 with a totally committed vengeance. It was very satisfying for everyone involved with the effort to have seen that the Ferrari, even when heavily bandaged, had pretty much had its own way at Daytona.
It had been more than the measure of the Porsches, but no one expected Porsche to be sitting idly by as we all got ready for Sebring.
One of the big items would be the wing package for the vastly different aerodynamics of Sebring’s track layout. Don Cox and Mark designed the wing and Lujie Lesovsky built it.
Mark felt the Ferrari factory fuel injector air scoop may have favored the rear cylinder injector throats with a bit of air ram, while the front inlets may have been getting somewhat less of the intended effect. A simple fine wire screened “hat” was put in place, which also cleaned up the air flow a bit over the roof.
The car came together beautifully. It was going to be even better than it was for Daytona. At the same time the other Penske efforts in the form of the Trans Am, and Indianapolis efforts were rolling up pretty quickly, time wise.
Roger leased the track at Sebring March 5, 6 & 7 so that the team could really shake the car down on the circuit itself. David Hobbs came over from England, and everyone departed for Sebring Wednesday, March third.
RIDING THE RAILS . . .
I chose to get myself to Sebring for the weekend via an overnight Pullman train. At that period in my life I had no interest whatsoever in being transported anywhere via aircraft.
My mind at that time simply felt that the dangers of flying far outweighed any bit of time saved. I was essentially terrified of flying!
TEST WEEKEND, SEBRING, MARCH, 1971
The testing throughout Saturday was routine with lots of “in” for a small change, “out” for a read on how the particular tweak affected the car.
Hobbs was always very fast in the car. He’d just get in, drive it very quickly, and share his comments with Woody and Mark. Mark was very rapid but often wanted somewhat more complex changes.
Saturday night, it rained heavily all through the night.
At this juncture, I’ll turn you over largely to an account that I wrote in the
New York Automobile Show issue of our Newsletter in 1971.
A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE!
“It all began innocently enough at a dinner party in Wilmington a few weeks before the March test weekend.
Mark Donohue mentioned, in front of several people, that when we went to Sebring to test the Ferrari in early March, he wanted to give me a ride in the 512. I feigned great excitement in front of the others, hoping he’d get wrapped up in the testing forget about it.
I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up again.
We arrived at the Sebring circuit mid-day Friday, and all met at our spacious garage out at the end of the “old” warehouse straightaway. The facility was far from curious eyes, set well back in the old military base.
Early the following morning, Saturday, March 6, the team set about getting the Ferrari set for the race.
I got there very early that morning as the car set out upon the race track to test. Since Daytona, a great many changes had been incorporated into the car, the most evident one being a huge magnificent new wing built by Lujie Lesovsky.
All day the car ran beautifully. It ducked in periodically for a change here and a tweak there. Nice day, good running conditions.
All of us had a chance to watch Nanni Galli in the fresh Type 33 Alfa Romeo which was also there sounding healthy and running 2:36’s. Alfa developed the car to compete with the new Ferrari 312P, which, incidentally was nowhere to be seen that weekend.
Thankfully, no mention was made of “the ride.”
Saturday evening, Alec Ullman and his gracious wife hosted a wonderful dinner party. A few of us continued on to the notorious Razorback bar.
Sunday I awoke to the sound of heavy rain, further sensing that I may have been suffering just a touch from the ravages of “over refreshment.” By 10:00, the rain had stopped and I headed out to the track.
Sebring’s circuit has always been quick to produce big puddles, but with the sun and a stiff breeze, the track had largely dried. Mark went out to check the conditions and came back in to report a huge remaining puddle at the end of the long straight. Roger dispatched four or five people with large brooms to disperse the water.
A motion picture crew with all sorts of bracketry and rigging was scheduled to have Mark follow them around for a couple laps to get some footage.
Just before starting off with them, Mark came over to me and announced that we could go out for our “drive” right after the shooting!
My God! He’d remembered!
“No, no,” I said. “You’ve lost half the day to the rain” – “Don’t feel obligated. You’re busy”.
“No bother, mate,” he said, with that devilish little grin of his, and he set off with the movie types. I’m sure the air was thick with my terror!
“I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” I thought.
“I’m going to die in that bullet. My heart will give out.”
I considered fleeing: “They’re all busy and they won’t notice I’m gone.”
Instead, I stood there frozen and hoped they’d go on shooting the film until dark. They didn’t.
Suddenly, there was the Ferrari next to me and Mark gesturing to me to get in. Now you have to understand that even during an obscure test weekend like this, there are still 20 or 30 onlookers standing around.
Crying was out of the question, and I didn’t think I could fake a faint.
I opened the door and worked my way over the very wide sill and down into the area where the second seat should be. No seat though, just floor. There was almost no room for my feet as the pedal cluster on Mark’s side of the car took up virtually all the room in the narrow foot well.
The high point of the passenger accommodations was the two-inch oil lines running down the left side of the cockpit. I don’t think they were much over 160 degrees in temperature!
Mark fired the car and at 1500 RPM, the noise in the cockpit was incredible. He turned the car around and we started off.
As I mentioned, our garage was the last one at the end of the old warehouse straight, so we entered the course near the end of the new warehouse straight. As we entered the course, Mark let it out good and hard.
My initial reaction was: “this guy hates me and he’s a raving mad man!!”
“He’s not only going to kill me, he’s willing to take himself out as well!!”
“If I live, I’ve got to tell Roger that the man drives like a lunatic. He certainly doesn’t drive rationally!”
We tore through the turn at the end of the warehouse and down the short straight to the sharp right hander leading to the long straightaway.
“We’re not going to turn at all, I thought! He’s just going to go right off the course!”
At the last possible second the car absolutely wrenched to the right. But, now we had an added attraction, as there was water in the turn here and there. We’d hit little puddles and the car would slew about, this way, then that way.
I looked over at Mark expecting to see a look of grave concern on his face.
Nothing; instead I saw a professional at work in his “office”: totally blank expression, extraordinarily fast hand movements on the wheel, his right hand moving with precise swiftness up and down the shift gate.
In no time we were on the long straight. The acceleration force and noise were absolutely indescribable. As fast as Mark would hit one gear, he was up into the next.
The car reached a velocity I’d never experienced before. At 170 MPH, the very wide runway visually shrank down to a narrow tunnel of vision for me, with all else to either side completely blurred. It felt as if we were running down a ribbon just wide enough for the 512!
I braced my hands on the dash as I knew the straightaway didn’t go on forever. Sure enough, I was violently thrust forward as Mark hit the brakes hard for the right on the short straight. We decelerated so heavily that I felt my arms might fold up the dash!
My brains were scrambled and my vision blurred, but then I saw what Mark had seen.
THE WATER DISPERSION DERBY
Apparently the group that had been sent out to disperse the water had found that it was a lot easier and a lot more fun to do it with their cars rather than with the brooms.
After all, it was lunch hour and no fools would be out on the track.
So there they all were in rental cars, having a junior race of their own, in a tight circle at the end of the straight, hurling the water in every direction. The first thing I saw was Harold frantically waving his broom at us. Harold as the Grand Old Gentleman of Penske Racing must have been “Grand Marshall and Chief Flagman” for the Water Dispersion Derby!
Of course Mark had seen it long before I did, and we skirted around them and down the short straight.
More incredible braking, then we were hurled into the corner just prior to the pit straight.
I could instantly tell as we entered that turn that we were completely out of control.
Then No, he seemed to be alright.
Then No, he wasn’t!
Mark somehow gathered it up and we were miraculously out of it!
Often in the past, as a spectator, I had watched the racing at that corner. It always gave the appearance of being such a smooth graceful turn for the drivers.
Now we were on the pit straight, rocketing up through the gears again.
About this time the left side of my waist was about medium well done, rushing for overcooked, from the oil lines.
I yelled to Mark that the oil lines were cooking me.
Usually when you yell, your own brain will at least register that your words came out.
Possibly, I’d already been killed, I thought!
I looked ahead. Coming up was the deadly fast left hander at the end of the pit straight. I could see the red cones all set up, pointing the way.
Mark aimed 30 yards to the back side of those cones. “He’s going to do some trick thing” I thought . . .
It’s going to be alright, Kirk.
Terrific side thrust to my right and we’re through the turn and down the next short straight. Mark then whipped left again and into the village section with the S turns.
It was all so rapid and terrifying with the G forces pushing you back, then forward, right side, then left side.
I do remember thinking “Well, there goes the old walkover MG bridge, we’re going to smack it for sure,” then we hurtled down a straight to the hairpin.
Approaching the hairpin turn, I experienced the most violent braking and deceleration I have ever gone through and at that point I was certain I had folded the dash right up to the windshield leaning on it.
As we came out of the hairpin, I tapped him and pointed “in” as my side couldn’t take anymore of the oil line heat. So we shot up the warehouse straight through the chicane and back into the garage area.
I barely managed to hoist my overcooked self to a somewhat erect stance, desperately hoping that I reflected how much “fun” it had been!
Mark smiled broadly and thanked me for coming along!!
An unforgettable experience with one of the finest racing driver’s of all time!
I said it then, and I’ll say it again now. . .
“Thanks again, mate!”
(. . . Many years later, someone who knew Mark well, told me that the few times that Mark had someone along in a true racing car, he didn’t cut them much slack . . .)
After my incredible ride, I weakly observed the remaining testing, keeping in mind that mid-afternoon I would have to get on over to the tiny Sebring train station to catch the overnight train back up to Philadelphia.
Of course everyone on the team thought the whole business of my having to take the train was the silliest thing they’d ever heard of.
Someone drove me over to the station and as we arrived I watched the last of my train pulling away. It had arrived in Sebring a touch early, and seeing no passengers at the tiny depot, had rolled right on through!
I’d have to wait and get the next one tomorrow. Back to the track I went, and everyone had a howling good hoot at my expense.
Roger had the Lear Jet at the track, and said they were going back to Philadelphia that night and they’d make room. “Just come on back with us,” he said.
“No, no,” I said, I had plenty to keep me busy; I’d just catch up on things and take tomorrow’s train.
Then, the whole idea of getting Kirk into the airplane became a game. Everyone poked verbal fun at me from every imaginable angle. Wally Dupron, Roger’s pilot was sent to get the Lear and bring it over to the garage.
Yeah, you read that right. Things were loose enough in those days that Wally went over, fired the airplane and taxied over, actually driving the plane down the streets of the old barracks complex right up to the door of our garage warehouse!
Wally was the only one who was decent to me about the whole thing. He took the time to assure me that we would have a very safe, very easy, flight home.
Roger was well known for his rocket launch departures from Sebring where air traffic control in those days was a bit on the loose side.
The Lear was a model 23, which had originally been designed as a fighter plane for the Swedish Air Force. The Swedes had essentially turned it down as a bit too wicked to handle! Wally showed me the inside of the plane, hoping to quell my fears a bit. When I stepped inside it felt like I had stepped into the casing of a Howitzer shell!
Finally, around 4:00 in the afternoon, I folded; I’d come along on the jet.
The ride was beautiful, safe and easy, in spite of a quite young Greg Penske taunting me a bit about how dangerous it would be during the takeoff.
It worked. I began to fly with some degree of confidence from then on.
The Ferrari returned to Newtown square, and was then groomed to a fare thee well. When it was all ready, everyone was really thrilled with the way the car was set up. The Penske/White Ferrari 512 was just as good as it could be.
I returned to Sebring late Tuesday March 16 knowing our Ferrari would be there Wednesday morning.
Wednesday dawned bright and cool. Our small Philadelphia group of friends gathered in the lobby of the historic Kenilworth Lodge.
I didn’t quite know what to do or where to go since in all of the years prior, I had come to Sebring by train for the race day purely as a spectator, and taken a taxi to the track.
I was simply a fan then, albeit an enthusiastic one, sneaking my way into the Paddock area, working my way up behind the major team pits. It was mesmerizing and I loved it! Finally I would return to the station by cab late at night to catch another train north.
The car and the team were due to be there today, but I hadn’t heard a word from anyone. I asked for directions to the downtown tech inspection area, and then from the tech area to the track and then from the track back to the Kenilworth!
I’d never been a team “Principal” prior to the race at Daytona. At that event, all of the preamble, etc. was right there at the track or at one of the hotels on the beach. And, of course I’d lived in Daytona in the late fifties so I was much more familiar with the layout.
The Sebring event was scattered all over hell’s half acre.
We went from fruitlessly waiting in the colorful downtown tech area, to driving to the race track, quietly asking which deserted pit was the one for the Penske people, then further inquiring as to where the team garage might be. At least our garage was to be the same one we had for the test weekend.
Having gained all that info, we spent the entire day of Wednesday driving from one location to another. Not too many questions were raised to me as to where the team might be, as almost no one knew who I was!
Thursday morning the same silliness started as we aimlessly wandered to all the same locations.
Midday, while we were being eyed as potential vagrants around the quaint tech area in town, Roger suddenly appeared.
Alone . . .!!
POSSIBLY A “NEW” DRIVER FOR THE FERRARI!!
It seemed that very late Tuesday night Mark had fired the transporter driver and decided to drive the rig to Sebring himself!
Yep, our lead driver, Mr. “Unfair Advantage” (as his book was titled), had decided to double up as the team transport driver. At this point, he was at a distinct disadvantage, since at 1:00 AM, just before leaving Newtown Square, he had stepped into a collapsed drain hole and sprained his ankle. Not a little bit. . . big time!
It was 5:00 AM before Mark left the property in great pain, driving the rig south.
Then just to put the cherry on top, less than 100 miles from Sebring, the transporter engine gave up the ghost and the rig ground to a halt.
Bad enough in itself, the debacle was compounded by the fact that it was essential that the truck get to Sebring as a “whole” unit since everything was on board as far as material items, etc.
So, while Roger was giving me all of this cheery news, I looked over his shoulder to see this gargantuan tow truck, pulling the beautiful Penske Racing transporter, literally “on a hook”, front wheels in the air.
I remember the incongruity of seeing a spectacular Penske Racing outfit arrive on a hook.
However, in spite of all this rigmarole, the car sailed through inspection.
Mark was sent to his room with no supper.
Mark Lundy, a trainer with the Atlanta Falcons, was in Sebring as part of the medical team for the race. Roger engaged Lundy to do what he could to help Mark.
As the Ferrari came out of the safety inspection area, Roger offhandedly mentioned that he had updated his racing license and taken the required physical exam!!
“I may be your new driver . . .” Roger said!
Then he flipped up the driver’s door of the 512, dropped down into the driver’s seat and said to me:
“You want a ride out to the track?”
( . . .Okay, . . . did I want to get into that Ferrari from Hell for a second ride, this time with Roger Penske at the wheel, consumed with an adrenaline fueled, controlled fury over the incredible lot he’s just been handed, and proceed to tear over public roads to the Sebring race track?
This is the same guy, Kirk, that you watched just a few years ago, stall his Chaparral from the number two starting spot at Watkins Glen and with the same adrenaline fueled fury, after watching the whole field go by, re-fire the car and be back in second place at the end of the eighth lap!)
“Sure . . .” I said.
He drove the Ferrari like he’d been in it dozens of times. Local traffic kept him busy but it was a fantastic ride. When we got to the track, he drove it right on up and over Martini & Rossi bridge and straight around to our pit.
David Hobbs took the car out immediately, was very fast, and quickly turned the fastest times of both the day session, and the evening practice.
David Hobbs at speed, first practice.
Between the day and night practices, back in the garage Woody, noticed that the brake lights had gone dead, just as they had during the test weekend. We had no more tail lamps available.
Roger said he’d walk down the way to the warehouse that housed the Gulf Wyer Porsche 917’s and ask them if they had some tail lamps we could borrow. He asked me to join him.
We walked into the big open warehouse and John Wyer greeted us. All of the enemy Gulf Porsches and their attendant personnel stared at the two of us warily.
“John have you got any extra tail lamps with you, ours are failing on this bumpy track,” Roger asked.
“I’m sure we do” said Wyer cordially. He led us into a back room that obviously was their mobile parts depot. The room was filled with stacks of metal pullout drawers. Lots and lots of them. Wyer picked up a “Parts Directory” (!!) and walked us down past several stacks of neatly arranged bins, stopped, reached up above his head and pulled out a large metal drawer which was brimming with tail lamps.
“Take as many as you need.” said Wyer.
I distinctly remember Roger peering in the bin and then looking at Wyer, then scanning the room, taking in the vastness of the Porsche team “Parts Depot!”
Rarely do you see Roger Penske with an awed expression. Then it was almost like a kid at the door on Halloween night:
“How many can I take before I get my hand slapped?”
We helped ourselves to two pair, and left quietly. Since Kirk F. White Motor Racing was responsible for the parts end of the Ferrari 512 operation, I kept quite still about what we’d just seen!
We both had been mightily impressed with the enemy camp’s operation.
FRIDAY, MARCH 19: ROGER PULLS IT ALL TOGETHER
Mark and David practiced the car, and the team settled into the pit area which was Sebring’s number One pit with the nice bit of upstairs ”porch” to it. The team had to build some pretty fancy rigs to swing the fuel hoses out over the car, as we’d be on the “wrong” side here at Sebring.
Mark was really cranky. He didn’t care for much of anything about the Ferrari. Woody would change something for him; Mark would go out and come back even further displeased. David would drive it and not seem nearly so displeased.
Mark, David and Goodyear Engineers.
Mark was starting to lament the whole Ferrari program as unmanageable! He was in a real twist about the car.
For a while it appeared he might have to be sent to his room again!
The whole Sebring deal from Tuesday night forward seemed to be riding in a hand basket straight into the fires of Hell.
Just before Lunch, Roger had listened to just about enough of it. He gathered the entire team into a brief huddled meeting. He tolerated a bit more calamitous prattle and then he stopped everyone, leaned in and told each member exactly what they were to do. He finished by turning to Mark, looking him straight in the eye, and saying: “When Woody and the guys are ready, you get in that damn car, and qualify it. Right now!”
Everyone quietly did as they’d been told and Mark went out and put the car on the Pole by a substantial margin!
He had shoved that spanking new Factory Ferrari 312PB that I told you was coming over, right into the second spot!
The pesky American hot rod 512 M was back in Ferrari’s face! The factory drivers on the 312 were Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx.
Ferrari’s team Manager, Mauro Forgheri, found our Ferrari enough of a bother that he came down for a visit with Mark and to look over Mark’s very rapid 512.
Forgheri looked the car over very carefully and then was quick to tell Mark that they would never allow him to run that huge wing at LeMans.
Mark got that wonderful smirky smile on his face, and said with an offhand gesture:
“Well, I wouldn’t want to run this wing at LeMans, would I?”
(. . . Save the one long straightaway, Sebring was basically a chopped up, bumpy circuit with a series of short straights then another slowish corner, then a burst of speed, etc. For the Florida circuit you wanted a quite large wing to provide as much downforce as possible.
. . .Le Mans on the other hand, in 1971, was a very fast track capped off by its infamous 3.7 mile Mulsanne straightaway so you weren’t seeking nearly as much down force at the French circuit . . .)
Forgheri had brought some of the Ferrari team crew with him, and pointed out several features of the 512 that were most impressive to him, taking time to examine the suspension corner that was exposed when he had come into the pit. He and his mechanics were particularly taken with the “quick release” set-up for the brake pads. Each of the visiting Ferrari team examined the set-up.
Forgheri pronounced the car “the finest prepared Ferrari” he had ever seen.
I winced upon hearing his words, as I feared a bit for his well being when he returned to Maranello!
Friday evening many of our friends and family arrived and we all gathered at the Kenilworth to wish ourselves a bunch of luck!
Since the Ferrari had arrived, each evening I had been telephoning Tom Brookshier at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia for his evening news broadcast re: our team’s daily report, as well as an overall Sebring report “live” on the air.
Finally, I seemed to be serving a useful purpose!
I was, a legitimate “stringer” for the Philadelphia CBS TV news!
SATURDAY, MARCH 20: The 12 Hours of Sebring 1971.
Beautiful day for the race and a bit of optimism crept in to everyone’s psyche. Hell, we were running from the number one spot, weren’t we?
Practice with the fueling set-up
And for twenty laps it was all ours. Mark was just doing terrifically. On the twentieth lap he pulled in for a rapid fuel stop, but he flipped the driver’s door up and motioned Hobbs over; Hobbs leaned in and Mark told David to be ready; he was in so much pain, he didn’t know how much longer he could last.
Returning to the track, he was trailing the more fuel efficient Ferrari 312PB, and his best friend Rodriguez in the Gulf Wyer 917.
What happened way out on the back part of the course shortly after the four hour mark has been hashed and rehashed time and again. It’s a lousy tale no matter how you tell it.
BOYS BEHAVING BADLY!
In the simplest of terms Mark, laying third after his fuel stop came up on Rodriguez who was in second behind the leading 312PB. Mark wanted to get around him and begin the chase after the other Ferrari. After the “Webster turn” way out on the back portion of the circuit, there was a little kink in the track and Mark ducked under Pedro and eased past him. Almost immediately, Mark came upon a much slower back marker and was forced to slow the 512 quickly for the slower car.
Yep, you’re seeing it just the way it transpired. We’ve got Mark, out there nearly blind with pain, choosing badly to duck to the inside of his arch enemy Pedro Rodriguez, and pass him, on a tight little bit of the track, and almost instantly coming upon a much slower back marker. In having to bring his speed down rapidly, he must have almost certainly appeared to be intentionally balking Pedro.
Rodriguez rammed into the left rear of the 512. Okay, the fiery Latin was almost entitled to that one.
But, here’s where it all went wrong. Rodriguez wasn’t finished by any means. He backed off and rammed the Ferrari a second time, and then he did it a third time. What a mess. On the second or third ram, the left rear tire shredded, and took out the rear fuel filler pipe!
Everyone’s stopwatches soon showed something was amiss, and after what seemed like an interminable wait, into pit lane roared Rodriguez showing damage to the right front corner of his car. The Wyer Porsche’s were pitted right next our pit.
Pedro drove right through our pit and throwing the door to his 917 up, he yelled to Penske:
“You’ driver a loco gringo!”
Mark came limping in behind Rodriguez. Painfully getting out of the car, he was utterly dejected.
Roger did something he never did. He used profanity in public. In a fit of justifiable temper, he shouted at Mark:
“I told you not to fuck with Rodriguez!”
Poor Mark’s face fell even further.
The team, just as they had in Daytona, figured that was that, and we were done for the day. Just that quickly, it was all to be over.
No, said Roger and Mark, the only two holdouts. Let’s get on it, they said and effected a repair that set the car back on the track, precisely 20 laps down. The minute it came back, the Ferrari was far and away the quickest car out there, and frankly from 20 laps what David and Mark accomplished was utterly astounding!
Finally, back running rapidly.
Roger filed a three point protest with the race officials. John Wyer responded by merely saying if any action at all was taken against his team, they would immediately withdraw the entire Gulf Wyer team!
After the accident, each time the car came in it had to be refueled by hand, kind of NASCAR style, but more like pouring gas into your Uncle’s outboard motorboat tank. Agonizingly slow work.
Mark and David pulled the car all the way up to sixth place, and just before the finish, Roger was still out there, hanging over the pit wall with the illuminated pit board signaling Mark, altogether falsely, indicating that he was closing in on Vic Elford!
One of the team members pointed it out to me with a wry smile.
“The guy never lets up . . .”
Every member of that team worked their heart out under incredibly adverse conditions the entire week. Mark was awarded the “Outstanding Driver” of the race, as well he should have.
You were damn proud to have been a part of such a remarkable team, and the people involved.
THE FINAL IRONY
Unbeknownst to me and virtually all others, until the last moment was the fact that on the Monday March 22, the 512 was to go up to Daytona for a closed circuit world record attempt.
John Oliveau the executive director of ACCUS, the FIA’s governing body in America was to be there with official clocks to certify the run.
Tragically, Oliveau’s son and two grandchildren died in a fire the evening before the attempt.
The team still went to Daytona and made the runs. At the time, the record was held by Bobby Isaac, posted at Talladega’s more steeply banked oval at 201 MPH. Mark quickly dispatched the 194 MPH record for Daytona, but the car was hitting an aerodynamic wall at 199.5. That huge wing was a hinderance. Several laps were turned at the 199 plus mark.
Finally Mark pulled and said the engine’s oil pressure needle bobbled and he shut it down.
The damn Ferrari had run 12 very hard hours at Sebring. Enough, already, it said, and everyone quietly packed it up, and home we all went.
Well, Kirk F. White Motorcars went back to Philadelphia with no time to lament the disappointments of the Daytona and Sebring races.
After all, we had gone endurance racing, the first being 24 hours in length and the second 12 hours. Regardless of your level of preparation, long distance racing was still a crap shoot. And, let’s not forget John Wyer’s statement that there was “just one of us” and any number of them!
The Ferrari, though, had certainly been the reigning force at both tracks. Pole positions at both Daytona and Sebring, and swift early leads . . . but then, you already know the rest of these stories . . .
Chapter 18, coming November 1
. . . More about the “Cannonball” Ferrari!
& America’s First (“Real”) Antique & Classic Car Auction!!
John Wyer learning Pedro Rodriguez is "late"
Woody sorting through it again
David Hobbs - waiting . . .