Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bruce McLaren – 40 Years After

(Denny Hulme – McLaren M8D: Watkins Glen, source: Sports Car

Today sadly marks the 40th Anniversary of Bruce McLaren’s unexpected death whilst testing one of his newest Can Am creations at the Goodwood circuit, as reportedly the rear bodywork became loose, allowing air underneath it, unexpectedly taking away the hurtling racecar’s Downforce and pitching Bruce into an uncontrollable spin, sending him careening into a bunker used as a Flag station!

And its funny to me, how I’ve always had mixed emotions towards those ground shaking seven-plus liter “Run-what’s-Yuh-brung” Behemoths known as Can Am, as for some reason I’ve always been fonder of der Panzerwagon’s known as the 917/10 & 917/30... Yet when you say the name Bruce McLaren, my immediate thought screams to the catch phrase indelibly tattooed into le Memory banks, simply put as: “The Bruce ‘N Denny Show!” A la this pair of “Kiwi’s” utter Dominance of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, more commonly known as Can Am, which ran from 1966-74 before the NO limits racing series was effectively scuttled by something known as the Oil crisis...

Yet I suppose its somewhat karmic that in one of my multiple moves, I was surprised to find the partial pieces of a few Tamiya plastic model kits with various portions of that signature Kiwi Orange bodywork from what was obviously those all conquering McLaren Can Am’s left behind...

So I guess it’s somewhat funny that I almost always think of the Auckland native as a Can Am racer first ‘N foremost, since he actually first rose to prominence as a Formula 1 Driver, notably after astounding the F1 Circus with a brilliant First-in-Class F2 placing and fifth overall in the 1958 Nurburgring Grand Prix where the field was comprised of both Formula One and Formula Two entries. Then Bruce was invited to partner “Sir Blackjack,” nee Triple Formula 1 World Champion Jack Brabham at Cooper way back in 1959, where he toiled as a “Works” Driver for seven years before ultimately finishing his career at the wheel of his own enterprise known as Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd.

During his Formula One career, Bruce shocked the F1 Fraternity by becoming the sport’s youngest Grand Prix winner at the tender age of 22yrs old when he took the chequered flag for his maiden win at the 1959 United States Grand Prix! Thus I suppose it was only natural that another Kiwi would go onto break his record for youngest winner when a then 20yr old fresh faced Rookie named Scott Dixon won the CART race at Nazareth, PA for PacWest Racing in 2002...

While Bruce would ultimately score four Grand Prix victories, his final coming in 1968 at the Belgian GP, which sadly was the same year that Dario Franchitti’s Hero Jimmy Clark perished at Hockenheim, lets not forget that Bruce also raced at The Speedway, with his Team McLaren ultimately winning the Indy 500 three times which I’ve chronicled in:

McLaren’s at Indy

1966 Le Mans winner – Ford GT40

And I was unaware that Bruce’s initial foray as a Formula 1 Constructor saw as his teammate fellow Kiwi Chris Amon, who just seemed to have a knack for being in the wrong car at the wrong time. (During his F1 Days...) Just never quite being able to taste the champagne, with multiple car failures, etc, as it would be 1967 F1 World Champion Denny Hulme who replaced him the year following his title success...

And let’s not forget that it was Bruce McLaren & Chris Amon who were declared the winners of the 1966 24 Heurs du Mans when some BlunderHead “Mucky-Muck” decided that the Blue Oval should perform a Three abreast 1-2-3 Photo finish in order to thoroughly rub the indignity of Defeat in Il Commendatore’s (Enzo Ferrari) face after having scorned the “FoMoCo’s” (Ford Motor Company) purchase of Ferrari... As sadly the win that should have gone to Ken Miles and soon-to-be McLaren teammate (Dennis) Hulme, would have seen Carroll Shelby’s “Right Hand Man” Miles do the improbable of winning the Daytona 24, Sebring 12hrs and Le Mans all in the same year, as the Englishman would perish shortly thereafter in a testing accident too. But that’s not to say that Bruce & Chris weren’t deserving of the victory, as Bruce was a winner in everything he did and Amon was a very accomplished Driver himself...

As interestingly, the only time I’ve ever seen this most magnificent pearlescent black No. 2 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum during the 2001 USGP weekend.

And I suppose it’s not relevant, but I think the last time I saw one of Bruce’s creations was a fleeting seven years ago out at the SOVREN (“Hysterical’s”) Historics where the ground shaking orange monsters are always one of the crowd favourites along with the Vintage Trans Am ‘Boyz during our most excellent yearly Fourth ‘O July SOVREN Vintage Races held at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington. As it was during this event that I stood in line to get a very stodgy Cat named ‘Rufuses John Hancock,” who was begrudgingly signing autographs in conjunction with it being the 40th Anniversary of his lone Indy 500 win; can you say Parnelli Jones?

1994 SOVREN Event Program

Yet my best McLaren memory is of some Dude named “Hollywood” deciding to let the Red Mist get the better of him and crumple up one of his then Employer Bruce McCaw’s vintage McLaren racing cars... As Y’all may recall? Bruce McCaw was one of the four McCaw Brothers whose McCaw Cellular business was sold to AT&T the first time they went into the cell phone business, back in the early 1990’s... As Bruce Was the co-owner of our then-local PacWest Racing Team, while afterwards I hunted down Mr. Hollywood, a.k.a Danny Sullivan traipsing his way back to the pits... As ‘Sully, still in Driving suit asked to sign kid’s autograph request’s first... But then as he put his hand on my back while signing my Molson Indy poster told me: “I think I’ve signed EVERY one of these posters they made...” As there was only supposed to be a limited number autographed!

Meanwhile for a longtime now, there have been reports that a movie’s being made about (The Almighty) Bruce’s life, as there’s even an official movie website, click here.

Yet I suppose it’s somewhat karmic on the weekend prior to this anniversary that Master ‘Zebb decided to punt “Aussie” Mark Webber outta the way enabling Lewis Hamilton to lead Jenson Button home in a 1-2 victory sweep in Istanbul for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, eh? As I know it AIN’T from New Zeeland, but I’ll have a Fosters today in honor of Messer Bruce McLaren...

Cheers Mate!