PENSKE/WHITE FERRARI 512-DAYTONA 24 HOURS-1971
Our superb Ferrari 512 M, owned by Kirk F. White Motor Racing, Inc. and prepared to a level of absolute perfection by Roger Penske Racing Enterprises, arrived in Daytona for a second time Tuesday, January 26.
This time it wasn’t for a closed test session. This was the real deal. We were expecting the Ferrari to take on and vanquish all comers.
The 512 created an immediate sensation what with its immaculate appearance and the car’s terrific speed and handling straight out of the truck. The official track record over the road course at that time stood at 1:51.8.
During our closed testing session a few weeks prior, Mark had handily, but unofficially, lowered that figure to 1:46.2
Penske had been assigned a pit that was mid way down the line of Pit stalls.
And wonder of wonders, what we felt was our biggest threat, the Gulf Wyer Porsche 917’s were right next to us on the east side, and Luigi Chinetti’s NART #23 Ferrari 512 was adjacent on the west side of us! Imagine that! Three of the major rivals lined up in a row!
All through Wednesday and Thursday Mark and David practiced with the Ferrari routinely, almost with ease. The team set up the pit and then created some real excitement preparing and installing the heretofore unseen high speed fueling system.
A “STICKING” PROBLEM . . .
Then, late in the afternoon Wednesday, Mark pulled into the pit and told Woody the throttle was sticking coming off the back straight entering turn three.
That was certainly a problem that warranted a thorough inspection and remedying. Woody checked the throttle hook–up over and found it to be fine all the way through.
Just a few laps later Mark was back in. The throttle was sticking again. It was only occurring in turn three.
The throttle pedal setup in the cockpit was a cable affair. I believe it was Don Cox, the team engineer, who looked at the setup and figured out that the Ferrari was carrying such enormous speed into turn 3 that the G forces against Mark’s right foot were momentarily jamming the throttle cable in a full open position. When Mark went to lift, the G forces against the throttle cable were such that it held the throttle wide open. That type of a situation could be a driver’s worst nightmare! A simple aluminum shield was fabricated and put in place. No more sticking throttle!
Wednesday’s practice extended into the evening to give the teams an opportunity to set their cars up to run all through the night Saturday and on into Sunday.
Just at the end of practice, Mark’s chief antagonist, Pedro Rodriguez posted a 1:45.2 in the #2 Gulf Wyer Porsche 917. Mark placidly noted Pedro’s time and waited until the very last bit of the night practice to turn in 1:44.4.
THE “VANISHING” FERRARI DAYTONA . . .
I should mention that during the day Wednesday, Bill Kontes had arrived in town driving the alloy Ferrari Daytona, which I intended to drive throughout the week. But unfortunately Mark must have taken a shine to it, because he turned to me and asked if I had the keys, like he needed to move it a bit or some such. I handed him the keys, and that was pretty much the last I saw of the Ferrari till race day! I have no idea how or where he drove it during the week, but apparently the Daytona was something to play with when not on the race track and a much more desirable alternative to his rental car for the week.
“GET IT DONE” DAY . . .
Thursday, things began to ramp up. Along with all the finite adjustments of getting a racing car of this caliber up to its highest level, it was the qualifying period to gain the first 10 starting positions, the pole position being the ultimate prize. After steadily motoring around the course, Mark posted the fastest time at 1:43.7 and brought the car into the pits, parked and waited to see if any of the Porsche drivers attempted to better his time.
The qualifying session was to end at 5:00 PM. Just past 4:30, after running easily for some time, Jo Siffert, who was actually John Wyer’s Bonsai qualifying warrior in the #1 Wyer Porsche 917, ticked off a terrific 1:43.6 regaining fastest time of the day.
With less than 20 minutes of qualifying left, I was standing with Roger, and Mark came over and said to Roger: “These engines of ours are red-lined at 8,400 which I’ve been pretty much sticking with right along. But, since we backed our oil pressure down, I’ve felt the motors should easily spin to 9,000 RPM.”
With just minutes left in the qualifying period, Mark stepped back into the Ferrari, took two warm-up laps, and, with almost no time left in the session, ripped off a 1:42.42, securing the pole position for the race on Saturday.
Though never showing it, the Porsche 917 teams had to be stunned. That damn Ferrari seemed to simply go out and go as fast as it wished!
THE SEALED-UP GARAGE!! . . .
The car was wheeled back to the Penske garage. However, when the substantial group of press, admirers, and fans made their way to the garage, it was discovered that the overhead door had been brought down and all entryways had been locked. I noticed as I approached the garage that even the windows had been painted out! Roger always enjoyed psyching out the opposition.
The Ferrari was locked up tight inside, and the crowd outside was left milling about, frustrated in being completely denied any post-qualifying news.
A number of them descended on me. I feigned no knowledge of what was transpiring . . .
The press quickly determined that I was not a source of news for them.
The group, by and large, were none too pleased to “sealed” out of any comment following Mark having handily gained the number one starting position.
Roughly thirty minutes into the “lock-out” a side door opened and Dan Luginbuhl, Penske’s public relations man, quietly came out, studying some bit of paperwork in his hand.
He seemed to feign surprise that there were so many people gathered around the garage.
Everyone was throwing questions at him. Finally, with perfect timing, he jerked his thumb back over his shoulder toward the garage and offhandedly mentioned that the team was merely switching out the “practice” engine, replacing it with the Godzilla motor and a fresh gearbox. He then excused himself and rushed off.
This entire scenario was totally new to me. It wasn’t like I was a seasoned campaigner who had been involved with high level motorsports all over the world.
I was all puffed up over the fact that we were on the pole and that virtually everyone at the Speedway was dazzled by the Ferrari.
To me, it was like I was a member of the New York Yankees, we’d won the pennant and I was in Yankee stadium for the opening game of the World Series!
WORDS FROM JOHN WYER! . . .
Prior to leaving the track for the evening, members of the press approached John Wyer, the manager and team leader of the Gulf Wyer Porsche team. Someone said to Wyer:
“What do you make of that Penske/White Ferrari coming in here and pretty much having its own way?”
And, John Wyer had the perfect answer:
“It’s a remarkably swift Ferrari, but you should bear in mind that there are four of us and one of them.”
(Hhhmmmm . . .)
We all returned to our lodgings for the evening. At my hotel there was much celebrating with informal cocktail parties up and down the halls. A great number of friends, racing fans, and customers had come to Daytona for this race. Buzz Marcus had flown in bringing a bushel of stone crabs. Charlie Knopf had flown in from the Bahamas. Steve Earle and Chris Cord were there and pleased to see their former race car doing so well. A terrific group and we basked in the “sunshine “of our past week.
FRIDAY JANUARY 30 . . .
Friday was essentially a day of “waiting.” Bill Warner, the Amelia Island impresario, describes for us, in his own words, a great experience that transpired for him that day:
. . . “I was shooting the Daytona 24 Hours for Road & Track in 1971, and like all racing photographers, I was looking for a different angle. Most Photographers are in the same rut, year after year, so finding a different twist to the same old game is a challenge.
“The thought came to me that an overhead shot of a pit stop would be an angle no one had seen.
“I called Jim Foster, Press Director at Daytona International Speedway and pitched the idea of getting up on the pit shed (no longer there) and shooting a high angle shot.
“‘Who do you want to shoot?’ asked Jim. ‘The Penske Team,’ was my answer.
“He said if Red Pugh, Facilities Director was okay with it, he was, too, but I’d have to get permission from Roger (Penske). Pugh signed off on the deal for me, so the next stop was Dan Luginbuhl, PR man for Penske Racing.
“Dan set up a meeting with Roger the Friday afternoon before the race and the deal was sealed.
“Roger asked when I wanted to shoot it, and I said that I thought sometime after 4:00 PM when the light was warm and the shadows long.
“Roger said: ‘Be at the pits at 4:10. Our scheduled stop is at 4:20!’”
We’ll come back to Bill when the race starts . . .
(. . . That’s if we ever get there, Kirk . . .)
Saturday was a clear Florida January day. More people arrived, many of whom were with the Penske organization.
I was introduced to an attractive young lady by the name of Judy Stropus. Roger said she would be the team timekeeper and responsible for the critical task of scoring. She was very engaging and I wondered if the rest of her scoring team were also ladies . . .
The day took forever to come around to the 3PM starting time. Shortly before the start, various competing cars were rolled up to the head of pit lane and staged.
The number that actually thought they’d be racing had numbered 65, an enormous field of cars. Then Friday morning the slowest 17 cars were simply told that the speed differential between the savage Group 5 Ferrari 512’s and Porsche 917’s was too vast and they were sent home!
1971 was the end of an era. The international governing bodies of motorsport had had just about enough of these extremely powerful and swift prototypes. Too fast, too dangerous, they said!
The close of the 1971 season would be the end of the dragon slayers.
As it was, even with the reduced field there would be plenty of smaller, slower cars, often lacking proper track experience and/or the dollars to participate in a race of this stature. This slowness and lack of experience has always been a dangerous problem on the high speed circuits such as Le Mans and Daytona.
Standing just over the wall at our pit I observed all manner of eager racers in all type of cars being rolled up the lane to the starting grid.
In fact, I was beginning to be concerned as to whether or not the Penske team was ever going to show up to race. As I continued to observe what seemed to be hundreds of cars heading up the line, our team seemed all snapped together, but no one made a move to take the car to the head of the line!
I was unaware at that time of Penske’s propensity for showing up on a starting grid “just in time.” As the Ferrari was finally rolled to the number 1 spot on the grid, it definitely gave the other cars an opportunity to observe just exactly what the “very best” looked like!
At that point, I was a nervous wreck. The temperature had risen to near eighty degrees, so I gratefully accepted an invitation to watch the start from the air conditioned Goodyear “Tower”, which you can see in the photo below. It was a generous two story affair. At that time that building was the tallest structure at the speedway in the infield area!
Goodyear Tower, Daytona, 1971
FINALLY, THE RACE!!
Finally the pace car pulled away, leading the field slowly around the track, and up onto the 31 degree banking of the speedway.
Once the pace car ducked into the pit lane, the field maintained their order and proceeded up on to the banking through turns one and two and started down the back straightaway for the actual start.
In 1971, the start was green flagged close to the end of the back straightaway at a point where they now have that silly “bus stop chicane.”
The green flag went out and the field was cut loose. Mark, in the Ferrari, looked as if he’d been released from a tightly pulled slingshot. You don’t have to listen to me, just have a look at photographs below for what took place very quickly.
CREDIT: PETE LYONS
Pace Car Lap-Daytona, 1971
CREDIT: PETE LYONS
Immediately after the Green Flag . . .
CREDIT: PETE LYONS
Finishing First Full Lap . . .
THE 24 MINUTES OF DAYTONA!
The pace in the early laps was terrifically rapid, and Mark, with full fuel on board, posted a lap at 1:41.25, which was faster than his qualifying time! I came down out of the tower and walked to the horseshoe turn in the infield. It was the same story! Donohue and Rodriguez were going at it hammer and tong! They were racing as though they’d forgotten they had to do this for 24 hours. It more like a 24 minute sprint race on a Saturday night!
I went over to the pit and asked Roger what he thought of the boys behaving badly. Roger said they’d signaled Mark to cut it out and surely Wyer had done the same with Pedro.
Roger said if we didn’t get those two cowboys reined in, we’d be on our way home by nightfall!
Finally they began to treat the race like a 24 hour endurance event.
Things rolled along smoothly. It was coming up on the time Mark was scheduled for his first pit stop for fuel.
We’ll let Bill Warner pick up the story . . .
“Showing up at 4:10 as directed, I found two men with a ladder for me and I scrambled up to the roof of the shed and set up for the shot.
“The Penske Racing/Kirk White car came in on schedule. Penske choreographed the stop from the pit road, on the left front of the car. Everything went smoothly and Donohue was off.
Penske, ever the detail man, looked up at me and said, ‘Did you get everything you needed?’ Indeed, I had.
“The shot was full page color in Road & Track and a full page in the Fitzgerald/Merritt book on Ferrari.
“Today you cannot get any special privileges at any race track, anywhere, as the feeling is: ‘If we do it for you, we have to do it for everyone,’ not to mention the lawyers weighing in on the request. Those were simpler and much better times.”
Credit: Bill Warner
The Most Famous 512 Photo of all Time!"
Sooner than he should have been, Mark was back into the pit. A small belt that spun the alternator had given up the ghost. The hell of it was the belt was located down low on the “front” side of the engine just behind where the driver sat!
Considering that Woody and another team member had to dive into the cockpit to effect the repair, it all went easily. David Hobbs took over and drove the car seamlessly and very rapidly.
The Ferrari stayed right up front and could lead at will, but finally the remaining 21 or 22 hours became foremost in everyone’s mind.
Just as the evening came, we were black flagged. Seemed our taillights had expired! Easy fix. The Ferrari rolled right back out. Dusk came and soon the sun simply expired as quickly as someone turning out the lights.
With nightfall, came the chill air, and the buoyant excitement of the afternoon dissipated into the darkness.
As the night deepened, I sought refuge in the Good Year tower. Soon bored with that, and feeling like I wasn’t contributing anything (??!!) I returned to the pit. Time went by very slowly.
Entering the pit, I noticed Judy Stropus was still diligently scoring. I again wondered where her relief was. No one could score and time for 24 hours straight, could they? (Actually they could, I discovered because at the end of the race, with no replacements, Judy was still scoring!)
Time was going by very slowly. And then . . .
At 11:48 PM Vic Elford in the Martini & Rossi 917K was at great speed when his right rear tire blew out on the banking, coming into the fourth turn, near the tunnel. It carried him up into the wall. He hit the wall very hard, spun down into the infield, kicking up a huge dust cloud, then spun back up the track and hit the wall a second time, finally sliding down into the grass again. Mark was running behind Elford, but clearly saw the dust cloud and slowed down quickly.
Charles Perry in a 911s Porsche, missing both the yellow lights and the massive cloud of dust (!!?), barreled hard into the back of Mark’s Ferrari. Perry was carrying such speed that he spun the Ferrari backward up into the wall!
Perry then proceeded down the banking, hitting poor Elford’s car a mighty blow. Then the 911 barrel rolled eight fucking times!
(. . . Do I have anything more to say about that??
Yeah, I expect I do, but it was a long time ago, so . . .)
Credit: Louis Galanos
Remains of Elford Porsche 917K
Okay, now you know what transpired on the race track. Being in the pits, as it unfolded, was an altogether different scenario. None of us could “see” what had happened, but above the steady level of noise coming off the race track, we heard a distinct change in the pitch of the track announcer’s voice over the speedway sound system.
The voice clearly took on a pitch generally associated with a mishap on the track. You could only make out that it was in the fourth turn, and by the increasing pitch of his voice, it wasn’t a slight incident.
Everyone in the Penske pit held their breath. Almost immediately Judy Stropus signaled Roger:
“ . . . he’s late . . .”
Roger took off running down the pit lane since you couldn’t sight the fourth turn from our pit.
Then a terrible sight appeared in the distance, slithering down the pit road. Upon first sighting, you hoped it wasn’t your car, but in spite of the dark, the number 6 on the nose hove into view. It was cockeyed. As the car approached, it was apparent that the entire left side of the car was trashed.
It was the worst fucking mess you could imagine!
Mark got out of the car, his face crossed with anger, frustration and sadness.
There was brief talk of calling it a day.
But that wasn’t the way Penske Racing did things. As I mentioned earlier, Roger liked to be around for the end of these 24 hour soirees!
The front and rear jacks got the car up in the air.
It was quickly determined that both left side suspensions were history.
We had parts for both suspension corners and a team of men that could do just about anything, but we didn’t have an entire left front, which we needed; and the left rear suspension, though not completely wiped out, was heavily damaged.
The entire nose piece was junk.
All of that pulled everyone up short. Apparently the team was staring down the throat of several seemingly insurmountable problems. We simply didn’t have some of the components.
I was standing at the west end of our pit, almost in Luigi Chinetti’s pit. Chinetti was, of course, racing their 512 against our car along with other Ferraris he was overseeing. Chinetti came over the pit wall and stood next to me carefully watching what was unfolding in our pit.
Chinetti quickly absorbed the extent of our damage, turned back into his pit stall and spoke sharply in Italian to some of his team members. His two top mechanics were dispatched. They hopped over the wall and got right into it with the Penske team!
Much shouting back and forth amongst the Chinetti mechanics and Luigi.
Chinetti told his men to give us their full front suspension unit and bring with them the parts necessary to finish the repair on our left rear suspension.
(. . . I’d like everyone to absorb what had just transpired there. Luigi Chinetti, the three time winner of Le Mans, and patron of his own racing team, which was very much in this fray, had literally given us, not only the parts we needed, but sent his two top men over the wall to dig in and work to get us back in the race!!. . .)
An incredible gesture of sportsmanship! Most any other competitor would have been happy to see us roll up into our transporter and head on home.
And, in fact, one of Chinetti’s backers had been furious with what Luigi had done. Luigi paid him no heed.
While all the mechanical work was going on, our spare nose piece was fitted. Roger, with the balance of the team, was swaddling the Ferrari in duct tape!
This may be a good time to point out that Roger was right in the thick of repairing our car. He was not off to the side issuing orders or merely supervising. Check out all of the photos connected to this race, and more often than not, Roger is in there “doing” . . . not overseeing.
We may not have had all the necessary parts for the repairs, but Penske racing did own every roll of duct tape east of the Mississippi, and they were frantically utililizing yards of it trying to regain some of the aerodynamic shape to the car and to get the nose to stay put once underway.
An hour and ten minutes later, David Hobbs stepped behind the wheel and returned to race, albeit uh, . . . somewhat behind. As David completed his first lap, he came past us at an enormous speed, being fully back into the race.
At the time he came hurtling past, I was again standing near Luigi Chinetti. He leaned into me and said: “Your driver is very brave to take that car to full speed after those repairs!”
And, yes, that was David Hobbs way. “We’re here to race the automobile aren’t we?” he would have said.
Close to an hour later, Hobbs came into the pit unexpectedly. The tape wasn’t getting it done. The entire nose was flapping and had taken down the left front tire! And a good sized bite was taken out of the lower left portion of the “new” nose! David also noted that he was watching a crack grow upward on the windshield.
It was at this point that it got almost:
“What the fuck, ridiculous ??!!”
Almost to a man everyone was like . . . Now what??
Dick Fritz, Chinetti’s manager came over to Roger and offered their one spare nose, apologizing that it was not fitted with Headlamps! Again, an amazing act of sportsmanship!
Just then our grand “old” master came over the wall.
Lujie Lesovsky had come down to Daytona with the team. Lujie got right into the problem, analyzed it, turned back to Chuck Cantwell, our superb team manager, in the pit and asked Chuck to hand him the push broom!
(There is no such thing as a Penske Pit without a push broom! . . .)
Lujie unscrewed the handle and, well you can see what he’s doing in Dave Friedman’s fabulous Photograph below. So simple, and yet such a clever solution.
Another item from the hardware store keeping us in the race.
Hard to believe, but that was pretty much it. The car went back out and really flew. God knows what place we were in when he finally got back out there for good.
Probably everyone was ahead of us at the point!
But, you could almost see the car hunker down. It just rolled through the night like a fast freight train. That Traco engine just sang. There was no other car on the track that sounded like that Ferrari.
RAIN TIRES, SIR??
Just at dawn a rain shower came and Mark pitted for rain tires. The jacks put the car in the air, the air wrenches whacked the lugs back, the rain tires were fitted, the car dropped. Mark hit the starter, slapped it in gear and promptly stalled. He repeated the process and it stalled again.
Somebody observing the stop shouted: . . .
“Those are the wrong size tires! They’re too big; they’re stuck in the fender wells!”
(“Wait, don’t leave . . . we’ll get it sorted out! . . .” )
The dry tires were refitted and Mark did a slow lap or two in the wet while the proper tires were mounted. You just had to imagine “The Skaters Waltz . . .”
Shortly thereafter, the fucking rain Stopped!!
I mean, were we star-crossed or what??!!
Daylight came fully and we raced onward, picking opponents off, one after another. Late Sunday morning saw us back in third place!
512M Late in race. really bedraggled
Chinetti’s N.A.R.T 512 lay ahead in second and Rodriguez was way, way out in the lead.
RODRIGUEZ LOSES HIS GEARBOX!
But then, Rodriguez lost a gear in his transmission. He came tearing into his pit which adjoined ours.
At that point in time the rules did not allow an entrant to switch out the transmission for a replacement. You had to repair your existing transmission!
So, Rodriguez’s 917 had pulled in after 20 hours of flat out running, and the Gulf Wyer mechanics had to dig the innards out of the red-hot transaxle and carefully fit the new components.
Credit Dave Friedman
Late in the race. Note Rodriguez car in background, in for gearbox repair!
It wasn’t considered proper protocol for the enemy camp "us" to wander the 50 feet up pit road to have the eye on how it was going.
We could determine from our vantage point that it was a stone dead bitch of a job.
Years later I received the image you see below. Those are thoroughly dedicated mechanics undertaking that task. It is one of my best shots of men dedicated to the spirit of auto racing.
So, Rodriguez’s 917 had pulled in after 20 hours of flat out running, and the Gulf Wyer mechanics had to dig the innards out of the red-hot transaxle and carefully fit the new components.
: Porsche Gearbox Fix . . .
Pedro’s lead had been so great that he was able to return to the race, still in the lead, but his margin had been diminished. In the meantime, our Ferrari was clearly the fastest car on the track, and we were running down the second place N.A.R.T Ferrari.
Near the end of the race Chuck Cantwell calculated that it was conceivable that we could overtake the Chinetti N.A.R.T 512 for second place.
Chuck went to Roger, out by the pit wall, and explained to Roger that we could possibly run down and overtake the N.A.R.T Ferrari 512 for second place.
He asked Roger what he wanted to do in the event that happened . . .
Roger looked at Chuck as if Chuck had grown a third eye . . .
“Pass ‘em . . . he said!
Well, we came very close to it, but the race finished and we came home in third place.
Was I disappointed?? Sure, we didn’t win . . .
But in all candor, I’d have to say no.
In fact, I’d emphatically say: “no.” I had lived through, observed, and absorbed an unrepeatable racing experience.
Rolling up to a waiting grid.
Donohue & Rodriguez . . .a frantic pace!
Credit D. Friedman
Early pitstop,note Rodriguez on the pit wall adjacent to raised door.
CREDIT DAVE FRIEDMAN
Lujie Lesovsky (R), fitting broom handle Through to Woody (L)
(Note "shiny" duct type!)
CREDIT: DAVE FRIEDMAN
Coming soon: Sebring 1971
Marilyn & I are headed to the Radnor Concours and on to two antiques auctions, then finally on to the AACA Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
With all that behind us, Chapter 17 will come out: OCTOBER 18.