The recent picture of the late John Gunn enjoying a drink, obviously after trouble at some race, brought back a memory.
The Burlington Autosport Club had a race at Harewood Acres in 67 and were paying some prize money. Not much but better than nothing which was the norm in those days. Even the Canadian Championship Series races did not pay any money and to run the series you raced from BC to Quebec. Normally the only money races were the Can Am races and maybe one or two others with US and European drivers.
Things were different then and advertising on cars had only been very recently permitted. Sponsorship was almost non existant and usually was somebody’s own company. There were a few paid drivers but nobody in Canada was making a living racing sports cars. John Cordts tells in his book ‘Blood, Sweat and Turnips’ how he survived the winter on turnips and soup bones. John Cannon was reputed to never stay in the same motel twice!
My sponsorship consisted of free oil (Valvoline) and Redex products. I had a 9 to 5 job and was lucky that my boss let me take my holidays on Fridays so I could go to practice. No Sunday racing back then. The BAC race was to me important as I was really broke and living from pay to pay. I owed a bundle.
For some reason the entry was not all that strong and I figured I could probably get a little money as they were paying down to tenth, which I think was $10. First was $250. That was about 3 weeks salary! As I usually finished in the top ten even at a well supported Canadian Championship race I hoped for a reasonable chunk.
I forget where I qualified but somewhere around 10th. At least there were no McLarens or Lolas but there were some big bore Can Am type specials. As the race progressed I moved up by passing a few people and others falling out. With 5 laps to go I passed Mo Carter in his semi factory Camaro and my pit board said I was 3rd. That was the highest I had ever got since my novice days! After all an 1100cc Elva built in 62 was not the latest or greatest. Never count your chickens comes to mind. With 3 laps to go as I came out of the Chicane I had massive understeer and gaily motored off track on to the outfield. Something had broken in the front suspension and I figured on the right side. I had the brakes on but was a little leery of really hammering them plus you don’t slow down too great on grass anyway.
The only thing between me and the spectators was the page wire spectator fence and several yards of grass. No haybales, no gravel trap, no guardrail no tires, just a spectator fence. Also almost no steering. I couldn’t even spin it! Well I did hit a fence post but had almost stopped by that time. The spectators did take a few steps back but as I was almost stopped by then nobody really ran.
I hopped out and discovered a broken lower right A arm and a slightly cracked nosecone. No other damage and I had done a good job of grass cutting with the leading edge of the undertray. Should have billed Russell Hare who owned the track.
Among the spectators were Joe Krupic and Russ Murray two drivers I knew fairly well and was friends with. So a beer was promptly offered and gratefully accepted. After all it was a hot day and racing is hot work in nomex and nomex long johns. As I leaned against the fence and watched the race end someone brightly commented that I had been well up and probably still could finish reasonably well. You had to cross the finish line under your own power back then.
No marshals had bothered to come over from either the Chicane or Gunnery turns as I was clearly OK and no one was hurt.
So Joe and Russ and a couple of other spectators hopped the fence and pushed me back clear of it. I got in the car and put on my helmet. Didn’t bother to fasten it up or do up my belt, which was only a lap belt back then. As usual a hot race car will not start on its starter so they push started me but not before handing me another beer!
At slow speed I had some steering from the left side so I puttered across the finish line, took the flag and stopped. Hopped out of the car with beer in hand.
Very much a no no as was the undone helmet and belts. I really expected to get a real blast and possibly a fine or suspension. You also have to remember that the liquor laws were much more stringent in those days. Technically any booze at the track in any area was illegal back then. But nothing happened, maybe because everyone in the paddock and the spectators who could see were all laughing. Yes we had spectators for club racing back then.
Oh and I was classified 11th two laps down. Remember I did finish the lap I was on when the suspension let go.
As an aside I am sure glad it wasn’t at Mosport.