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

Ronnie Peterson and a Fishy Tale

Ronnie Peterson & Colin Chapman, Monaco 1973.

Ronnie Peterson & Colin Chapman, Monaco 1973. (Pic courtesy www.ronniepeterson.se).

I wasn't supposed to go to The Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji. The newspaper I worked for had decided that I was too expensive to keep and had waved me a short goodbye. To make matters worse the team I was managing at the time, Peter Williams Formula Atlantic, had finish the season with nul point and nothing to show for money copiously spent. Peter decided that it was time to quit. He was committed but just didn't have the right Velcro. It had been an interesting and fiscally rewarding couple of years but it hadn't done a lot for my reputation as a team manager. The highlight of the year came at Thruxton. The race was a mixture of F2 and F. Atlantic. There was a top turnout of some of the stars of the day and it looked like being an interesting race. From my admitted dodgy memory I seem to remember Joachim Rindt, Graham Hill, Carlos Reutemann, Jack Brabham and a few others. The F2 cars blew the F Atlantic cars away. My boy finished up nearly a lap down after only half a dozen circuits.

Coming into the Esses before the pit straight the main mass of F2 cars were bearing down on him. In the excitement Peter clipped the tyre wall on the entrance to the Esses, spun round the corner and came to a halt straddling the track. The mob, lead by Rindt, arrived at full blast, saw the stalled Atlantic and took to the hills. The rest of the afternoon and most of the evening was spent going around the teams apologising for my man. I won't record some of the comments I got.

I went to an end of season party at Peter's house in Essex. Main amusement was a number of television sets he had strung up around the house showing his adventure at Thruxton. All that has nothing to do with the Japanese Grand Prix but I thought I should share it with someone.

The only thing I had left at this point was my magazine, Fast Car, but that couldn't support a jolly to Japan. I was very relieved when El Corsa asked me if I was going to the race. I hastily said yes when they offered me a job. I caught the same flight as Gunnar Nilsson and we whiled away the stonking 11 hour flight playing a dice game called Generale.

The Fuji race was in a delicate position as far as the drivers were concerned. James Hunt needed just 4 points more than Niki Lauda to clinch the championship. Niki wasn't exactly in prime condition. Two months earlier he had heard the priest give him the last rites as he lay in his hospital bed after a near fatal accident at Nurburgring in the German Grand Prix. It had acted as a clarion call and six weeks later he was back in the hot seat

The Japanese certainly know how to throw a Grand Prix party. There were four days before we could get down to business proper and there was a big pool of Guides to make sure that we had a quick-fire introduction to the more subtle arts of the Orient. It helped that the majority of the Guides were beautiful young Japanese girls. James Hunt was the main attraction and there wasn't a party or a TV show that he didn't adorn. Newspapers also seemed to have caught the fever and I think he appeared on the front page of every paper every day. Usually with some of the local beauties draped all over him. True - he gave good value. He was also very generous in his appreciation of the effort Niki was making to overcome the appalling injuries he had received in Germany.

The quiet man of Grand Prix, Swedish star Ronnie Peterson, was in his element. He was deeply interested in fish and spent a lot of time cruising the aquariums. He wasn't so sure about the Japanese mania for devouring his favourites raw but he didn't make a thing of it. Ronnie had a huge aquarium back in his flat in England and used to spend many hours sitting and watching the fish. The day before first practice Ronnie asked me to run him to an aquarium just outside Yokohama. I hadn't had a lot of sleep but agreed to take him in the hope that the run would do me some good. I think Ronnie had some idea that I might speak Japanese. I had written a column in one of the Japanese magazines that had included a potted biography on the Swedish driver and I guess that is where the idea came from. Whatever, when we arrived at the aquarium Ronnie said he wanted to see if it were possible to buy some fish and have them sent to England.

The following hour was straight out of Monty Python. Ronnie telling me what he wanted and me doing mysterious hand signals and pulling faces in an effort to get his wishes acted upon. Finally, in frustration, Ronnie lost his 'quiet man' label and stated shouting at the poor bloke in Swedish. At last he got some attention. A teen-ager came up to us, gave a quick bow all round and asked, in perfect English, if she could help. Negotiation moved ahead swiftly. I counselled him against paying for the fish and carriage on the spot and he ignored me.

The race was almost a complete disaster. Rain of Monsoon-Plus proportions moved in and the race was postponed. Everybody huddle anywhere huddle-able and stared at the sheets of water obscuring the view. There was no noticeable let-up in the precipitation but somewhere in a warm, dry place the decision was taken to get the Grand Prix underway. Nobody was happy. Carlos Pace, Larry Perkins and Emerson Fittipaldi flatly refused to continue under the atrocious conditions. Niki Lauda had a harder decision to make. If he could make a reasonable fist of the race there was a chance that he could still win the championship. Against his doctor's advise, as well as that of his many well-wishers, he decided to take a chance. Two laps into the race he had to give it best. He was still suffering problems with his eyes, which had been injured in the Nurburgring inferno, and he saw sense and admitted that he thought living was better than another World Championship.

James Hunt won the race and spent the rest of the day getting pissed out of his mind and offending a few people, especially the organisers who had something more decorous in mind for the new World Champion.

Back in England I called round to see Ronnie. Unbelievably the fish he had bought in Japan had arrived. He was as happy as a member of the porcine family in ordure and even tried to give me one of the fish as a present for helping him to make the deal with the Nippon fish seller. I don't think he was too unhappy when I refused.

STARGAZY PIE

I thought as a homage to Ronnie Peterson's fish tank I would do one of the most bizarre dishes I have ever come across in England. I don't know if Ronnie would be amused, amazed or appalled by it. I still have to make up my mind. I was talked into it in a pub on the Devon/Cornwall border when I was doing a bit of Wassailing. The pie is fantastic - but those heads!!!!

Ingredients

1.5 lb mixed herrings, pilchards and mackerel. (Fresh is best)
4 eggs
4 bacon rashers
1 Medium Red onion
2 oz Butter
2 cups Breadcrumbs
1 lemon - juice of
Chopped flat leafed parsley
2 tbs. Balsamic vinegar
pastry
Sea salt and a touch of Chili powder

WHAT TO DO

Scale and bone fish
Cut off the fish heads and put aside.
Apply salt, Chili and parsley to the mutilated body .
Liberally butter the dish and thickly coat with breadcrumbs.
Put fish in dish in layers divided by breadcrumbs
Lay the rashers of bacon on top.
Mix the vinegar and eggs and pour over fish.
Cover with pastry.
Stick the fish heads on the pie crush so that they are gazing up at the sky.
Pre-heat oven to Gas Mk 6. El 200c.
Cook for 30/40 minutes until crust a good brown colour.
Serve with parsley decoration on fish.

LEGEND OF STARGAZY PIE.

It seems the fish first lifted their eyes to the stars in Mousehole in Cornwall. It had been a long hard winter and the fishing boats hadn't been able to put to sea. The villagers were starving. One brave fisherman, Tom Bawcock, risked his all and managed to bring in just enough fish the save the little community. The worshipful attitude of the fish gazing up to Heaven tells its own story. What the fish had to be grateful for I'm not sure. Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Posted 10/12/2008

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