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

Now You See It

FIA blessing in Paris. A not interested in Rhodesia with Graham Hill. And heroics in South Africa.

Carlos Reutemann, Tony Rudlin, Jack Oliver.

Carlos Reutemann, Tony Rudlin, Jack Oliver

You would never have thought that the Rhodesia of four decades ago could become the Zimbabwe of today. It was a prosperous and apparently industrious community, ruled by super efficient white farmers who showed what could be done with the harsh African environment. They had a bit of a twat, Ian Smith, in charge and he wasn't exactly a nice guy. Some of the methods he used to keep control had been part of the Nazi armoury in Germany but the justification seemed to be that as the white settlers were outnumbered 10 to 1 by the original inhabitants he was forced into taking tough measures to protect the minority. From outside the country it always looked like a pressure chamber with a sticky valve.

I was living in Paris. Early one morning I got a phone call from Graham Hill. He had been invited to Salisbury (Harrare) in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) by the President of the Salisbury Car Club to discuss the possibility of constructing a race track for Formula One racing. As, at that time, the main requirements were a strip of reasonably flat tarmac and strategically placed straw bales, that didn't seem to be much of a problem. The South African Grand Prix was due at the end of the week. Graham asked me if I would like to stop off in Salisbury for the day and then go on to Johannesburg the following day. Seemed reasonable so I agreed. He then told me he had a meeting with the CSI/FIA people in Paris that afternoon and could I pick him up from Orly Airport.

The meeting in motor racing's ancestral home in the Place de la Concorde was fairly short and sweet. Federation Secretary Claud LeGuesec met us, Graham filled him in on the essential details and Claud cleared up a few points. As we were about to leave, Bernard Costen, who, I think, was President or something at the time, came in and received a briefing. He suggested that I was appointed as an Observer for the FIA so that it appeared that they were represented at the coming meeting. He also suggested that I put in a report on the way the grand prix was run in Kyalami. I quite liked that. Authority without responsibility.

Next morning we took an early flight and arrived in Rhodesia about lunch time and were met by the President of the car club. He whisked us away to his palatial home, showed us to our rooms, fed us and told us that several members of the club would be joining us for dinner that evening and then the following morning they would take us to the site of the proposed circuit. That seemed fair enough so I ate and went and laid down on the terrace in the shade and dozed the afternoon away. My favourite occupation. Graham went to the swimming pool and then spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to our host.

The dining room was huge and the 20 diners were easily accommodated. Each with a personal waiter. Very regal. I was sitting next to a well preserved woman in her early forties who had obviously been over exposed to the sun for a long time. Graham was sitting at the head of the table. My dining partner wasn't impressed with my credentials. Neither my fading Lotus connection nor my newly appointed position with the FIA impressed her. I found out later that it was her husband, sitting next to Graham, who was the bloke who wanted to build the Circuit in his back garden. His back garden seemed to consist of a huge chunk of the African continent. I had to admire Graham. He had been on the go all day and was still the life and soul of the party. I was knackered so I made my excuses and went to bed.

A convoy of six cars awaited us in the drive the following morning. I felt a bit uneasy when I noticed there were three armoured Jeep-type vehicles with armed men aboard covering the front and rear. We drove out of town and went in a straight line for about three quarters of an hour and then drew up on a little hill overlooking a valley. Everyone got out and produced maps and estimates and waved their arms about. Graham had his serious face on and nodded and peered around to show his interest. They wanted to take him down into the valley for a better look but he claimed to be satisfied and there was no point in moving to a less advantageous spot. That seemed to satisfy everyone. We piled back into the car, went back to Jo'burg, picked up our suit cases and were whipped off to the airport.

We sat in silence for a while as the 747 droned steadily southward. After a meal I asked Graham what he thought about the chances of there being a Rhodesian Grand Prix. He stuck out his chin, snorted through his nose and gave me a dead-pan look. Not good then!

We arrived at the Kyalami Ranch Hotel about the time that practice was due to start. Luckily the track was only a mile up the road so we didn't miss much. One of my jobs was as a roving bagman for my sponsor, Argentinean newspaper magnate, Patricio Peralta Ramos. Although my sinecure was as the Competitions manager for Reutemann's F2 team, I was also expected to keep an eye on the lad himself. As Carlos was officially Bernie Ecclestone's serf it meant any looking after I did was at arm's length. Reutemann was co-driver to Graham in Bernie's Brabham team. I was talking to Bernie in the Brabham garage when Graham strolled up with a man in a suit. He was the President of the Wanderers Club. Bernie and I were introduced. Graham graciously mentioned my newly forged position with the FIA which fostered an invitation to join Graham that evening at a dinner being held at the Club.

When we arrived at the venue it seemed to be well underway. Some of the other drivers were there, Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme, Mike Hailwood, Clay Regazzoni and others. Graham was grabbed and led off to the top table. Bernie and I stood there like a couple of lemons not knowing what was expected of us. Bernie was far from being F1 Supremo at that time. Just another team boss. We were considering making a bolt for it when a bloke came up and asked us if he could help us. We explained the situation and he wandered off to sort it out. The bell rang out for everyone to take their places and we were still seatless. Another bloke came up and asked if he could help. By now we had had enough. We told him we were leaving. He came over all solicitous and called somebody over and instructed him to find us a seat. He found one. A card table behind the door leading into the kitchen.Well it was better than trying to find a car to take us back to the hotel.

We were nearest to the kitchen but a long way from being number one on the waiters' serving list. Now we were getting seriously pissed off. We had decided to leave when Graham turned up at the table. He wasn't amused. He called one of the organisers over and asked why we weren't at a proper table. It was explained that the seating had already been allocated when Bernie and I were invited. Graham tried to insist that we were found another table but was met with a blank. He suddenly turned away, walked over to where there were some empty chairs and practically threw one at our table. He then plonked himself down and let it be known that he was going to stay there. That threw a bit of a spanner into the works but didn't produce some places for us at any of the tables. When it came to the speech making the speakers tried to overlook the fact that the World Champion wasn't sitting at the top table. Jackie Stewart got up and during his speech made an ill-considered remark about Graham knowing his place and Denny Hulme refused to speak at all. Graham was then invited to speak and got up and made a brilliantly funny speech which only those in the close vicinity were able to to hear as he was mike-less. By the end of the evening we had the impression that we weren't exactly popular with the Voortrekkers of the Wanderers Club.

Which didn't help when I decided to flash my bright and shiny yellow FIA pass just before the start of the race. I was ignored. The Race Administration was run by members of the Wanderers Club! So I took myself off to a sharp, 90% corner called Barbecue and settled in for the race. My focus. I must admit, was on Carlos Reutemann and Jack Oliver. Carlos because of the financial connection and Jack because I had been his manager for some time and wanted to see him do well. First time around they looked in good positions. Second time round.....

Reutemann suddenly twitched sideways, hit another car and slewed across the road taking out several others, Jack managed to miss the main melee but then a burst of flame caught my eye. Mike Hailwood and Clay Regazonni had had a coming together and spun off the track. Mike was out of his car almost before it stopped. Clay wasn't so lucky. He had been dazed by the impact and was still sitting semi conscious in the car when it burst into flame. It looked bad. Mike saw what had happened and dashed into the inferno. He struggled to undo Clay's seat belt. He managed that but before he could pull Clay free he was beaten back by the flames. As he staggered away from the car he was on fire. He rolled on the ground and managed to extinguish the flames. But Clay was being roasted in the fire. It seem that Barbecue Corner had been aptly named. Mike didn't hesitate. Without waiting for the fire marshals to arrive he dived back into the holocaust, grabbed Clay by his overalls and with a super-human effort practically threw him out of the flames. Clay got a few burns and bruises, Mike a George Cross and I had my first report as an FIA Observer.

Back in Paris I took little time in getting my precisely written, eye witness report to Claud LeGuesec, waiting breathlessly in the Place de la Concorde for it to arrive. I waited impatiently for Claud to ring and congratulate me on the clarity and professionalism of my report. I received an invitation to the FIA HQ on the third day. Claud seemed in a very jolly mood. He asked about the trip to Rhodesia and how I had got on in Kyalami. Sneakily he said he had read my excellent report and asked me if I was prepared to confirm that the accident happened as I said. Of course I affirmed that. After all the report was 'excellent'. Claud suggested we went and looked at a film clip of the incident. And, of course, the accident happened nothing like I had reported. The actual catalyst was Regazonni trying an ill-conceived move on Hailwood as they went into the corner. Locked together they had waltzed along the track while the rest of the pack tried to avoid getting involved and caused other, more minor, crunches. At least I got the bit about Hailwood rescuing Regazzoni right. I wasn't put on many Observer duties after that. And Rhodesia never got an internationally recognised race circuit.

POTJIE

Potjie, if you get it right, is a rampant taste bud exploder. Get it wrong and you can kiss friends and neighbours goodbye. A bit like Bouillabaisse. Its not the amount that costs, its trying to make the various ingredients bounce off each and then combine. I've tried it half a dozen times because it appears so easy and quick and only nearly got it right twice. You have been warned.

Ingredients

1 1/2 lb 1 inch cubed lamb
2 sweet potatoes peeled and cubed
2 red onions diced
1 lb Plum tomatoes scalded, skinned, seeded and crushed
1 pt Lamb stock
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
1 tsp chilli paste
1 tsp grated ginger

4 garlic cloves crushed
1 bay leaf
large pinch turmeric
pinch Cinnamon
2 tsp cracked caraway seeds
1 tsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp powdered cloves

WHAT YOU DO

Get yourself a deep frying pan with a lid. Fry the onions and garlic in the oil until they are transparent. Stir in tomatoes. Add the herbs and spices. Place the lamb in the pan and add the lamb stock. Cover and cook for an hour and then add the sweet potatoes. Cover and cook for half an hour then remove lid and simmer to reduce the liquid for another half hour. Make sure sweet potatoes are cooked before serving on a bed of long grain rice.

Easy isn't it. That's what fools you. It's getting the blend of herbs and spices that makes the meal. This recipe is for a relatively mild dish. The secret is in the Turmeric, Cumin and Chilli. You regulate these at your own risk. Get it right and it goes straight to the top of your gastronomic wish list. Get it wrong and you might as well send out for a take away curry.

Posted 21/8/2008

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