Now I only look in on the sport occasionally, having walked away from it the day Bruce McLaren was killed. That was June 2, 1970, and I was sitting in my office at the advertising agency when our number one client called. It was John De Lorean, then general manager of Chevrolet, and he said: “I just got a call from England. Bruce McLaren was killed this morning. He was testing at Goodwood.” I was upset by the news, certainly, but my friends had been dying in racing cars since I first got involved in the early Fifties, and I was getting used to it. By the time I got home from work that night, I’d made my peace with the idea that he was gone. It was in that frame of mind that I passed the news on to my three kids in the kitchen, and they were thunderstruck. They’d had a helicopter ride around the Elkhart Lake circuit with Bruce just months before. He’d invited them to sit in his big orange Can-Am car in the paddock. Their horror at the news of his death peeled away the business-as-usual protective veneer that I’d been wearing for fifteen years, and I, too, came face to face with the reality of Bruce McLaren’s death.
The more I thought about it, the more my own insensitivity bothered me. I began to make lists of friends who’d died in racing cars, starting with Ira Garfunkel, who’d rolled his 1500cc HRG in a hill-climb the day I got married in 1955. The list grew, until at last there were the names of more than fifty people who’d eaten dinner at my house, played with my kids, called me in the middle of the night, borrowed my cars, helped me close bars in towns from Riverside, California, to Caltavuturo, Sicily, and then suddenly died. I decided it was too much.
I announced to friends and family that I wouldn’t attend another race until all of my friends were out of it. It didn’t make any difference; they continued to die anyway. But time passed and everybody I’d known, save A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, had packed it in. And, I must confess, I found a wide range of uses for weekends, once I’d stopped spending them all at races.
Now, I feel a bit like somebody who can’t get over an old girlfriend. I know that racing has changed completely in the years that I’ve been away, and I’m not crazy about any of the changes, but that’s probably just the dry-in-the-mouth bitterness of an ex-lover. Two years ago I watched Jackie Stewart strap himself into a Benetton Formula 1 car and streak out of the pits at Oulton Park, and I felt exactly the same rush of excitement and admiration I’d felt the first time he raced in the United States, at Watkins Glen, in 1965. I felt like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, for Crissake. It’s the oldest cliché in the world: Just when you think you’ve gotten over some woman, you meet her on the street and you go all warm and moist again.
I hadn’t thought much about any of this until quite recently, when I received a letter from Pedro Rodriguez’s stepson, Mr. Guy Zugasti. He enclosed a sheaf of photographs, including one I had taken of him at a party at Pedro and Angelina’s home in Cuernavaca a couple of days after the Mexican Grand Prix of 1965. Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart were there, as were Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini. A riotous soccer game was part of the day’s festivities, and, as usual, Graham Hill was more riotous than anybody. Mr. Zugasti’s letter reminded me that next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of Pedro’s death at Germany’s Norisring, July 11, 1971.