Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

Barcelona 1968

Humility Required

Who's pinched the petrol? Graham Hill, Colin Chapman, Tony Rudlin.

Who's pinched the petrol? Graham Hill, Colin Chapman, Tony Rudlin.

I arrived in the plaza at the bottom of the avenue leading up to Montjuic Park early in the morning. I was knackered. I had thought that as a Team Manager for one of the illustrious Lotus teams, travelling would involve a degree of comfort. I thought that right up until the time the boss, Colin Chapman, rang me and told me that he wasn't sending a second transporter for my car and that I would have to drive it down on a trailer hitched to the back of a Ford Executive. And that at no time must I leave the car unattended. Which meant that I travelled from Hethel in Norfolk to Barcelona in Catalonja at a tiring 60 miles an hour and got what sleep I could on the back seat. Any faster than 60 and the trailer oscillated so wildly that at any moment I expected to see it vanish into the surrounding countryside.

My chief mechanic, Derek Wild, and the two mechanics, Beaky Simms and Carnoustie were already at the circuit when I arrived. They had flown down the night before and looked relaxed and cheerful. I handed the car over to Derek and suggested that I moved on to the hotel and would see him later. It didn't work like that. Not only was I expected to act as gofer for my driver, Jack Oliver, but also look after the two main drivers, world champions Jim Clark and Graham Hill. The two teams were registered as separate entries. The J.C/GH cars as Gold Leaf Team Lotus and the J.O car as Herts & Essex F2 Team. It was virtually the first time that a professional race had been run under sponsorship. Before this Motor Racing had been a strictly amateur sport with most of the equips being entered by rich young men with a death wish or old men looking for a thrill. Track mortality at that time was a deadly twelve drivers a year. Practically overnight the team bosses had been able to rustle up commercial companies who figured that they could capture some trading clout if they plastered their company name on the side of a car rotating at 150 mph for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon. Chapman had been one of the first to take up the challenge.

For the rest of the day I drooped around registering the teams, making sure that we had all the paperwork that was required and giving wildly constructed answers to any questions that were posited by the public. In the afternoon the cars were let out for an hour to explore the terrain and make sure that anything that might fall off did so before the teams got down to business in earnest the following day. It was nearly six o'clock before I was able to sneak off to the Rallye Hotel on Avenida de Generalissimo Franco and get my head down. As soon as I did, the telephone rang with my early morning call and I was back at the circuit an hour later going through the rigmarole of getting the cars ready for the first practice session. Derek Wild was great. I had no idea what to do most of the time. I had been in various forms of motor racing for about ten years but how an International racing team was run was not among my GCEs. Fortunately Derek was on hand and willing to work my controls. Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill turned up just before the first practice session and reported in. On my assurance that everything was in first class order they got into their cars, fought with the newly installed seat belts, and for most of the day either roared around the circuit or lounged around the paddock. Just before we packed up for the day, an official turned up and invited us all to a special bullfight in the arena close by the circuit. I wasn't a lot interested but was persuaded it could be fun.

Jim Clark thinks he might have spotted a full tank.

Jim Clark thinks he might have spotted a full tank.

It wasn't like any bullfight I had seen before. We hadn't been invited as spectators but as Bull-bait. He were handed muletas and ushered into the arena. We all stood there looking nervously around and felt our bowels liquidate as the gates were opened and half a dozen massive bulls were driven into the ring. The spectators found the spectacle of our imminent death by cornado hugely entertaining. As the bulls trotted around they seemed to diminish in size. And we were reassured by the basket work guards that had been attached to their horns. Some of us decided to show off and soon found that an incautious move of the muleta could result in the bull throwing you in the air and dancing a flamenco on your back bone. Most of the drivers had decided to go back to the hotel. Graham wasn't one of them. I wondered if it was in my remit to order him back to the hotel and out of harms way. I decided it wasn't. Luckily Graham never had a brief encounter with any of the bulls although he tried to impress the audience with his cape work.

Day two was very much like day one. The cars roared around the circuit then came in for minor adjustments. I made a decision on what was what as instructed sotto voce by Derek Wild and the day went reasonably well although none of our cars were performing as well as expected. But tomorrow was another day. And big chief Colin Chapman had promised to be there.

Back at the hotel an invitation was waiting to attend the opening of the Renault Restaurant. We decided to give it a go. The management had sent out handbills announcing that the drivers were going to be there and every petrol-head within striking distance was in attendance. Jack Oliver, Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill and me were ushered to a prominent seat and had to eat with literally hundreds of fans jostling for position to see us dribble gravy down our chins. The drivers took it all in a day's work. I seemed to be the only one who found it embarrassing.

Colin was already there when I arrived at the circuit the following day. He didn't say anything but I had the distinct impression that he thought I should have slept with his precious cars. He also wasn't exactly pleased that the cars weren't dominating the practice times. He discussed the problems with his two chief mechanics, Derek Wild and Bob Dance, and decided that the exhaust pipes were too long. I don't know how he came to that decision and didn't have the bottle to ask. Four inches were sawn off the pipes and it seemed to work in the final session of the day. Jimmy and Graham were in contention for Pole position. Jack was a few rows back in fifth.

It was decided that we would find somewhere quiet for a quick meal and an early night. Colin led us to a back street bodega which had a small, private room at the rear. I sat next to Chapman and tried to appear interested and knowledgeable as he discussed technicalities with the drivers, but I don't think I showed up on his Radar. We had just finished eating the inevitable paella when the door was flung open and a photographer burst in, flash light blazing. He was followed by others. Someone had put out the word that Lotus's finest were dining there and everyone wanted a picture or an autograph. The proprietor came in and made a valiant effort to get them out but I had a sneaking suspicion that he had alerted the press in the first place. The resulting publicity couldn't have done him any harm. Colin and Jimmy instantly thrust their way out through the gathering crowd. Graham was more relaxed. Even signed a few autographs before working his way through to the taxi that the restaurant owner had called.

Beaky Simms pushes Jim Clark's Lotus onto the grid. Behind them Carnoustie and Graham Hill.

Beaky Simms pushes Jim Clark's Lotus onto the grid. Behind them Carnoustie and Graham Hill.

Race day did not go as expected. For one thing someone had forgotten to order any petrol. This omission could, thankfully, not be laid on my door step. The onus was on the circuit administration to provide the fuel. Suddenly everyone was running around syphoning petrol from the trucks and cars that were parked around the paddock. I had the feeling that when after-race depression set in there was going to be a lot of people wishing they hadn't given so generously. I must admit I lied. When it was suggested that the Executive should deliver I said I had already given.

Just before the race we were all invited to shake hands with the visiting Royal, King Carlos and then the cars were pushed out onto the grid. It was a 3-2-3 grid. The front row consisted of Jimmy Clark, flanked by Jochen Rindt and Jackie Stewart. Graham was on the third row. There was a great crowd and I was looking forward to being on the winning team. The anticipated euphoria was short lived. Jimmy led the field as the cars climbed the hill and disappeared around the hairpin. Somewhere around the back of the circuit, going into a corner, Jacky Ickx in a Lola, ran out of brakes and shunted Clarks' Lotus off the track. Graham was doing well but then the engine started burning oil and he had to retire. That was enough for Chapman. He scowled at me and said he would take the Ford and leave me with the Fiat the organisers had loaned him - and disappeared. I had the feeling he blamed me for the Lotus failures. It wasn't until we started to pack up the equipment that it suddenly occurred to me that without the Executive there was no way to get the race car back to Hethel. I jumped in the Fiat and tooted my way through the crowd. At the Hotel I was told that Colin had already left for the airport. At the Airport I was told that he had flown off in his Twin Comanche. Nobody could suggest where he might have left the car. In the end it was quite easy to find. He had tucked it away under a stairway next to the General Aviation office with the boot open and the keys in the ignition. I swapped cars. I figured Colin could sort that out with race admin long distance if they wanted to know why he had left the Fiat at the Airport.

The journey back to England was much easier. Derek decided that Beaky could drive back with me and I was glad of the company. When he offered to do most of the driving I was even happier. To while away the hours, after he had finally to admit that it was impossible to go faster than 60 mph, I cautiously questioned him about my performance over the weekend. He answered with great care.

It was the last time I saw Jimmy Clark. The following week, at the F2 meeting at Hockenheim in Germany, he was killed in what many consider to be a freak accident. I have other thoughts about that.

After the race the Spanish Race Administration put on a bit of a Paella Party in the paddock. It was delicious so I asked one of the Chefs for the recipe. The recipe was for 20 diners - so I pass it on with only the language changed to protect the illiterate like me.

PAELLA TIME

INGREDIENTS

6 Spanish Onions
3 Heads of garlic
6 Large peppers (2 red, 2 green,2 yellow)
Olive oil
4 pts Fish stock
2lb Chicken breasts
1 1/2lb Shrimps
1 1/2lb Clams
1 1/2lb Calamares
2pts Mussels (in shells)
1lb Large prawns
1lb Crabs sticks
Saffron
2lb Short grain race
Couple of pots of pickled red pepper
Bags of lemons. for serving.

WHAT TO DO

Paella is a great filler if you are planning an outdoor party. This recipe will serve around 20 as a main course or double that number if served as an over-the top antipasto.

The Paella Pan is the main problem. It needs to be wide with a low wall and fit snuggly onto a fire. If you can find an old metal dustbin lid this can be pressed into service at a pinch. Don't use a plastic lid as this tends to effect the flavour and consistency of the food. Fortunately most of the ingredients can be bought from the Super Market ready prepared.

Place the Paella Pan on the heat source. Pour in enough Olive oil to adequately cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and crisp it up a little. Shovel in the sliced onions, crushed heads of garlic and chopped peppers.

Boil the rice and add the saffron.

Cook the mussels and clams in boiling water. Discard any that fail to open. Reserve.

Put the cooked rice into the pan and pour in the fish stock. Cook slowly for 10-15 minutes then add the rest of the fish.

Cook gently for a further 20-25 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed, frequently turning the ingredients so that they don't burn.

Break out the Rioja and prepare to be assailed with requests for the Recipe.

Posted 17/5/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing