EOIN YOUNG'S DIARY
The Eoin Young column
Age isn’t everything
These days even the oldest Grand Prix drivers are getting younger. Aussie Mark Webber leaves Formula One this season as the oldest driver at 37 and his place as GP oldie is taken by second-time-around Ferrari driver, Kimi Raikkonen at 35. Esteban Gutierrez is youngest at 22. Juan Manuel Fangio was the original GP Golden Oldie dominating the world championship regularly in the 1950s driving for Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes and Maserati in his mid to late 40s. He died at 84 in 1995. Louis Chiron was the oldest ever to run in a GP when he finished sixth in a Lancia at Monaco in 1955, aged 55 years and 292 days.
Talking about old and fast, there was a random mention on Radio Live that Burt Munro from Invercargill had set speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats on a 1920 Indian motorcycle he had modified, upping top speed from 55mph (89 km/h) to a best run down the salt at 200mph (320 km/h)! He was 68 at the time.
Latest Golden Oldie to leave us at age 97, was George Bignotti, the legendary Indy chief mechanic who won seven Indianapolis 500s – with A.J. Foyt in 1961 and ’64, Graham Hill in ’66, Al Unser in ’70 and ’71, Gordon Johncock in ’73 and Tom Sneva a decade later in 1983.
Roly Levis passes
Roly was the Kiwi who raced at home, worked at his panel beating workshop in Putaruru and built a sparky little Ford Ten Special with an Elva overhead conversion and cycle guards so that he could drive with his wife to such races as there were around New Zealand in the late 1950s.
If Roly had a problem, it was his age. He scored third place in the 1963 Waimate 50 but he was already in his late 30s, still brimming with enthusiasm and raw talent, but older than the likes of Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon. I rate Roly as the driver who triggered my enthusiasm to leave the ANZ Bank in downtown Timaru, and set off on a career following racing around the world, hooking up with Denny Hulme in 1961 and Bruce McLaren in 1962.
I clearly remember coming out of the bank in 1959 to see this zippy little sports racer at the kerb with Roly’s wife and their luggage strapped on board. That was the instant when I abandoned my ideas of a tedious existence in the bank.
Roly changed my life. Thanks mate. Roly was 88 when he died in October.
Jackie’s age problem
Sir John Young (Jackie) Stewart is a couple of days younger than me and is still working the world maintaining his reputation as a brilliant Grand Prix driver with three world titles, working with top-drawer sponsors like Rolex.
I was chastising him by e-mail for working too hard in his mid-70s, but he assures me that the problem is his dyslexia (difficulties with reading, writing and spelling, caused by a neurological disorder, according to my Concise English Dictionary) but that never spoiled his immaculate run of 99 GPs. Jackie says his ‘problem’ is that he’s 74 but thinks he’s 47… I won’t tell you how old I am.
Francois Cevert fated
Jackie was secretly aiming to announce his retirement after his 100th GP and third world championship title, both to be achieved at Watkins Glen, the final race of the 1973 season, and his dashing French team-mate Fancois Cevert would take over to lead the Tyrrell team.
Tragically it didn’t happen that way. Francois was killed in qualifying and Jackie retired immediately. Adam Cooper remembers the quirk of Cevert fate, 40 years after his death.
“Just before qualifying at the Glen, Francois pointed out to his mechanics that it was October 6th, he was driving Tyrrell 006, his race number was ‘6’, and he was sitting in front of Ford-Cosworth DFV number 066. It was, he said, his lucky day, a golden chance to get the first pole position in his F1 career.” Sadly, fate intervened.
Chris Amon at 21!
Wal Willmott was checking his archives and came across an invite to Chris Amon’s 21st birthday that I had laid out all those years ago, noting that the birthday boy was then ‘the youngest GP driver in the world’.
Further notes: ‘Drivers are requested to attend the briefing sessions and to refrain from assaulting the waitresses during the course of their duties.’ Attire: ‘Gentleman, Casual dress. Ladies, Topless dresses tolerated most enthusiastically.” A different sort of party!
This invite was made out to Jim Clark and I couldn’t remember whether he had joined the team at our favourite Contented Plaice fish restaurant on the Thames at Kingston in Surrey.
Chris remembers that Jimmy was definitely there “Along with Colin Chapman (Lotus chief) and amongst others were Graham (Hill), Innes (Ireland), Jo Bonnier, Texan Chaparral man Jim Hall…and all the usual Surbiton suspects’. It gets better. BP offered to sponsor the big birthday dinner in return for the rights to a movie on the way GP drivers enjoyed themselves.
Problem was the film crew enjoyed themselves a bit too much, couldn’t manage the movie making… and BP sponsored a re-run of the dinner a fortnight later! So Christopher had two 21sts! That was a long time ago. He was 70 the other day…
Chris Amon’s 21st birthday invitation. Christopher is now 70.
I was idly watching the willowy Fiona Bruce introduce an episode of the Antiques Road Show from Lord Burghley’s stately home when she mentioned that David Burghley had been an Olympic gold medal winner in 1928 and 1932 but in the late 1940s he suffered a hip collapse and received the world’s first titanium hip-joint.
A few years later the joint had to be replaced but what gathered my total attention was Fiona pointing to a photograph of his Lordship’s Rolls-Royce with the triangular hip-joint replacing the Flying Lady as radiator mascot. “The sad thing was that, on the death of his Lordship, someone stole the unique mascot.”
Suddenly I was wide awake, remembering a Sunday morning at the Dorking auto-jumble 30-odd years ago, gazing idly at a big collection of mascots on a dealer’s stand and wondering what the odd-looking triangular metal mascot was supposed to be. Suddenly a deep voice beside me said, “You could sell that…” That was in the days when I was an eager book and memorabilia dealer, but not with mascots. A tall chap in a blue suit was standing beside me. I told him I didn’t even know what it was. He told me it was a titanium hip-joint. I asked him how on earth he knew that. He said he was a surgeon.
Oh… and now here was the mascot once again, surely the very one that was stolen all those years before!
Dario Franchitti super-enthusiast
The Scots driver with the Italian name (say it Fran-keety) who lives in the States and raced Indycars, enjoyed his role as an expansive enthusiast but injuries from a massive crash has led to the retirement of the popular 3-time Indy winner.
Dario suffered spinal fractures, broke his right ankle and suffered serious head injuries in the crash in the closing laps of the race at Houston.
He will now reluctantly have time to revel in his road cars with a Ferrari F40 he’s had for 14 years, plus a 355, a Mini Cooper and a variety of Porsches.
He has kept all his helmets, overalls and paperwork and he has bought back his original Formula Vauxhall Junior, a Reynard Champcar and the Corvette pace cars from his two Indy wins.
Being a proud Scot he has an impressive collection of Jim Clark memorabilia in a museum room at his home in Scotland.
He told Simon Taylor in a Motor Sport interview “I’ve got the actual chalk pit-board that was used when Jimmy won at Indy in 1965 and I’ve got the entry forms for his first race, Crimond, June 16, 1956, in Ian ScottWatson’s DKW.
“A real thrill was driving Jimmy’s winning Lotus 38 around Indy after Classic Team Lotus had restored it for the Ford Museum. It’s hard to put into words what that meant to me.
“I had a replica set of Jimmy’s overalls made for that day, and a helmet – we got a special paint sample made up so the blue was precisely right – and the correct goggles. And I had the pit-board sent over from my Clark room…”
Burt Munro, 68, with his 1920 Indian motorcycle ready for a 200mph record-breaking run.
Sir Jackie Stewart still working the prestige world, trying the cockpit of a W196 Mercedes GP car for size at Goodwood.
Fiona Bruce, presenter of the Antiques Road Show. Below A titanium hip joint. An early one served as a Rolls-Royce mascot.