Monthly Archives: January 2015

THE RICH KID

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photo credit Bill Rottner

The “Rich Kid” – that’s what the veterans called Peter Revson when he arrived in Indianapolis in 1969.  The nickname stuck but the respect level went way up when he finished 5th after starting 33rd in the 500.  Rookie of the Year was awarded to Mark Donohue even though he finished in 7th, 10 laps behind Revson.

Revson was the nephew of and heir to the Revlon Cosmetics magnate Charles Revson.  There is some dispute about just how rich he really was but Peter was known to comment that he wished he was as rich as people thought he was.  He qualified for 5 Indy 500s with a pole in 1971; 3 top 10s with a best finish of 2nd in 71.  Overall in Champ Cars he had 1 win, on the road course at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 69, and 3 poles.

Revson had some brief experience with F1 in the early 60s in non-works cars and returned for a one-off in 71 with Tyrell.  In 72 he was hired by McLaren and raced for them through the 73 season.  In that period he had 1 pole (Canada 72), 2 wins (Britian and Canada 73); and had 8 career podiums.  He finished 5th in the World Drivers Championship in both 72 and 73.  He remains the last American born driver to win an F1 race (Mario was born in Italy). In addition his overall racing resume includes a class win at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 66, 2 TransAm wins in 67 and he drove a factory Ford GT40 at LeMans in 67.

Revson’s greatest success came in the CanAm seies in 71 when he won 5 of 10 races and became the first American Champion of the series.  It would be his only major series championship.  For the record the CanAm series was a closed wheel, open cockpit series which raced from 1966 to 1987 except for 75 and 76.  CanAm cars were brutally powerful and were clearly the fastest road racing cars of their era, and perhaps of all time.  The McLaren M8F that Revson drove to the championship was powered by an 8.3 litre normally aspirated Chevy V8 and was capable of lapping faster than its contemporary F1 cars.

In 1974 Revson switched to the UOP Shadow F1 team.  While testing at Kyalami for the GP of South Africa a titanium front suspension component failed and Revson crashed heavily.  There is some disagreement about the crash with some reports of the car submarining a single armco barrier (photos of the scene clearly show a double height guard rail) while others report that the car flipped over the barrier.  In either case Revson was killed, probably instantly.

There are some interesting footnotes to Revson’s racing career. He is credited as a “driver” in the Transportation Department (not as a member of the cast) in the 1966 film Grand Prix.  A footnote to this footnote is that also credited in the film, as a “Camera Operator” is one George Lucas (yes the Star Wars George Lucas).  Revson partnered with Steve McQueen in a 2nd place finish at the Sebring 12 Hour in 1970.

Revson’s autobiography (co-authored by Leon Mandel) “Speed with Style” was published posthumously in 1974.  It is a good read and I’m happy to say I have a first edition in my racing book collection.

© throughthecatchfence 2015

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Back to Basics

With the start of the 2015 racing season at hand, for me the Daytona 24, it’s time to pick up a pen (a quaint thought) and get back to basics. When the 2014 racing season came to an end I intended to do my annual year end wrap-up.  I reviewed my 2014 posts and notes and came to the conclusion that most of my posts about 2014 were snarky and critical while my posts about the past were primarily positive.  As a result I have decided to focus on historical events, drivers, tracks, and cars.  My opinion of the current state of racing in general is very low.  I really have little confidence in the future of motorsports, particularly in America.  The only bright spots are short track racing and grassroots motorsports.  Never fear however for I am certain that I will have a few snarky comments about the 2015 season.  So here we go.

THE LARRY AND GARY SHOW
When I was reviewing my 2014 notes I was reminded of the recent death of Gary Bettenhausen and the first thing to come to mind was the “Larry and Gary Show”.  For those of you who are saying “Huh?” this was what we old-timers call the 1968-1971 USAC Sprint Car seasons.  I pulled out my old USAC yearbooks and magazines and refreshed my memory.  I took a shot and “googled” it and found very little additional information, although there was a good deal of info about a radio show also called the “Larry and Gary Show”.  There was one intriguing hit, a reference to an article from May 26, 2014 in the British newspaper “The Independent”.  I could not imagine in what context a USAC Sprint Car rivalry would fit in a 2014 British newspaper article.  I pulled it up and it was an article about the then raging rivalry between Mercedes F1 drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  The article then went on to discuss other famous F1 rivalries of the past and finally reached the conclusion that F1 had never produced a driver rivalry the likes of the “Larry and Gary Show”.  The fact that a British newspaper would recall a USAC Sprint car rivalry more than 45 years later only confirms the legendary nature of this on track feud.

Just the facts:
     USAC Sprint car season standings:
          1968: 1st – Larry Dickson   2nd – Gary Bettenhausen
          1969: 1st – Gary Bettenhausen 2nd – Larry Dickson
          1970: 1st – Larry Dickson     2nd – Gary Bettenhausen
          1971: 1st – Gary Bettenhausen 2nd – Larry Dickson

     68 – 71 Total USAC Sprint car features: 128
     68 – 71 Dickson wins: 29
     68 – 71 Bettenhausen wins: 27
    Percentage wins by Dickson and Bettenhausen combined: 44%

I was fortunate enough to witness a few of these races.

Larry Dickson came to USAC Sprints 1966 and was successful almost immediately.  Gary Bettenhausen arrived on the scene in 1967 and soon began challenging Dickson for superiority which set the stage for the next 4 years of outright war.  The fundamental basis for the rivalry was the fact that they were both vastly talented and aggressively competitive; and each one was convinced he was the best.  They raced each other as if there were no other competitors on the track. It was the same high banks or flat track; pavement or dirt; day or night.

Was this a friendly rivalry or pure hatred?  It was probably close to, but not quite, hatred.  There was respect but absolutely no give and take.  It was reported that Dickson had a photo of Bettenhausen taped to his steering wheel center pad so that he could punch him during the races. I never saw the picture myself but it would not surprise me if this was true.

Both Dickson and Bettenhausen eventually made it to the 500, neither had great success, but  Bettenhausen clearly having the better Champ Car career.  Apparently they eventually became friends — after the “show” was over.

©Through the Catch Fence 2015