James Hunt and “The Punch” at Mosport

This is a guest post from friend of The Garage, Jeremy Sale. It was originally published in this month’s edition of the VARAC newsletter.

I came across a report of the Canadian GP in 1977 the other day. It reminded me of a story I wrote which included a report of the infamous incident when James Hunt punched out a marshal. Here’s the context of the episode:

“By lap 60 Andretti was still leading with Hunt in hot pursuit. In fact, so quick was their pace that they had lapped everyone except Hunt’s team mate, Jochen Mass. As the two leaders came up behind him Mass managed to impede Andretti at Moss Turn and Hunt quickly took advantage, getting by Andretti and into the lead. But Hunt was still behind his about to be lapped team mate Mass and somehow at turn three the two came together and Hunt was put out of the race. Hunt, after standing trackside, angrily shaking his fist at “Herman the German” as he called his team mate, tried to cross the track and was restrained by a marshal. Still furious, Hunt punched the marshal, who went down for the count. Hunt was fined $2,750. Mass went on to finish third.”

Re-reading the story I decided it might be interesting to see if anyone knew the marshal’s name and if he might still be around today. I put out an inquiry on the Canadian Motor Sports History Group chat line. George Webster of CMSHG quickly replied:
“I was the chairman of the committee of sporting stewards that day. The marshal’s name is Ernie Strong. He was an active leader in Watkins Glen’s Race Communications Association (RCA) and remained active in RCA for many years after that. I believe that he has moved away from his upstate NY location — and that RCA has been displaced by an in-house organization controlled by ISC. As I recall it we assessed a pair of penalties against Hunt. I’m not sure of the other one now. Also we were unanimous in assessing him the maximum fine allowed in the rules (which I think was 1,000 Swiss francs or about $1,000). At the time I thought it was the largest fine ever handed out by the stewards at a Grand Prix.” George Webster

Thanks George, that was easy! Next I Googled “Watkins Glen Race Communications Association”. This led me to their Facebook site where I found and contacted Mary Ellen Patterson Kunst. She emailed me back as follows;
“Hello Jeremy, Yes, I know the story quite well. I still chuckle over it. I will send this information to Ernie and have him contact you.”

Great! This is amazing! Sure enough I get an email from Ernie as follows.

“Jeremy, I was one surprised corner worker! I was watching approaching race traffic into turn three and saw Hunt and Mass come together. Hunt spun off on driver’s left. The impact and momentum were enough for Hunt to lose a driver’s shoe. I was first to the incident. James was headed back to the racing surface, I had no idea what was going on in his head. I was thinking he was disoriented, and grabbed him from behind by the shoulders. Then came the surprising uppercut!

If I said anything to him I can’t remember. Hunt gave me a “Sorry, old man” and headed back to the pits and I went back to my corner station. Someone else on the corner saw the cut under my jaw and the blood trickling from it. Next came a ride track side in the ambulance to Race Med. How did I feel? Wronged, blindsided, did that really happen? Ron Dennis came into Race Med to check on me and apologized. Never heard from James personally but his brother, who was his personal manager, wrote me a letter of apology.”

PS. Rob Walker made the comment in Road & Track that if Hunt had done that sort of thing anywhere else he would have ended up in the local jail charged with assault but that “this sort of thing is quite common in Canadian hockey…” Sounds frightfully snooty doncha know but then again Mr. Walker was the heir to the Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky fortune. He was of course a superb motor sports journalist and we couldn’t wait to read his reports in Road & Track. (This was way before I gave up on R&T because it became filled with multiple pages of tire ads in minute print.) Prior to journalism Rob Walker was the top privateer entrant in Grand Prix racing. He and Stirling Moss won the very first GP for Lotus at Monaco in 1960. Walker’s cars wore Scottish national colours, blue with a white stripe, and were driven by the likes of Moss, Maurice Trintignant, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jo Bonnier, Jo Siffert and Graham Hill, among others. So perhaps Walker was entitled to say whatever he wanted about the colonials! But I digress…

J.Hunt, Esquire had incidents early in his career. Click here and check the 14 minute mark as Hunt punches driver Dave Morgan!

And crashing at Monaco.

Image credit: Allan de la Plante

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Comments

  1. Boyd Roberton says

    My friends and I got to Corner 3, literally just when that happened! I've never seen this video before. If the camera had panned up, I woud have been in the picture. I've been telling that story for years and always said that the marshall's feet left the ground. I guess I'll have to find the hundred people or so I told the story to now and tell them his feet didn't really leave the ground…
    Boyd

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