A long time friend of Leighton Irwin, Gord Green held a special place in Canadian sports car racing history. Even here in The Garage, he left his mark, with the P & G Special. This memorial story was written by Colene Allen.
On March 23, 2012 long-time CASC Regional competitor and official Gord Green passed away at hospital in Haliburton, Ontario. Gord is remembered for the significant accomplishments he made as a competitor, good friend, car builder, and official. His contributions to racing are many, significant, and well known. In the summer of 1966, Gord competed in the Sundown Grand Prix at Mosport International Raceway. Gord’s race that day was a recipe of a pinch of grit, a teaspoon of determination, a lot of talent and skill, and a sprinkling of luck. Gord’s co-driver, Ron Evans, told me the story of that historic race.
Ron and Gord met back in 1958 when Ron started racing. Both competed in various cars and classes, with Gord racing a Lotus 7 starting in 1964 and Ron following Gord with a Merlyn 6A in 1965. By this time, Gord and Ron had known each other for six years. They both slept at the track on race weekends, paddocked next to each other, and began combining their resources to save money. They were part of a larger group of racers that spent time together that included Al Sutter, Gary Magwood, Willy Cleeland, and Leighton Irwin. At some point, Ron tried to convince Gord to buy a Merlyn, but Gord was happy to keep racing with his Lotus 7.
Gord was a talented driver and fierce competitor on the track, but a class act and real gentleman off the track. Ron remembers helping Gord fix his Bug-Eyed Sprite with limited time before the call to grid and just barely getting Gord on the grid. Gord promptly went out and beat Ron quite resoundingly in the race. Ron laughs and insists that it was about the friendship and the camaraderie, not winning the races. At one point in early 1965, the two of them were talking about how they were effectively a team already and agreed to have a go at winning the 1965 Sundown Grand Prix. Ron suggested to Gord they should use his new Merlyn 6A for the race. To convince Gord, he let him drive the car during an open lapping day at Harewood.
Since getting the Merlyn, Ron had been having problems getting the car to shift properly. He was not familiar with the Hewland gearbox in the car. After 10 laps around Harewood, Gord pitted the Merlyn, claiming that the gearbox was beautiful and the car had a shot at winning the Sundown Grand Prix. The problem Ron had been having with the gearbox related to double-clutching the gear shifts. Gord had no problems at all, demonstrating how good a driver he was to recognize the way the Hewland gearbox worked. The decision was made. The Merlyn was the car of choice for the two new co-drivers for the 1965 Sundown Grand Prix.
Practice and qualifying were uneventful. Gord was the driver chosen for the first and third stints, because Gord and Ron had agreed the car owner should be in the car for the checkered flag. The race was started in true LeMans fashion, and Ron watched Gord run across the track in his loafers, throw his leg up to get over the bodywork and into the car, hit his foot on the steering wheel, and knock his shoe off. As Gord struggled to find and put his shoe back on, the other cars on the grid quickly left, leaving Gord the last driver to start the race. Instead of the disappointment one would expect Ron to feel, he was laughing at the absurdity of the situation. These two guys now had work to do if they were going to achieve the result they thought they were capable of.
Near the end of his first stint in the car, Gord had managed to catch up to Ludwig Heimrath Sr. in a factory Triumph TR6. Ludwig Sr. was driving with Craig Hill. Gord had managed to work his way back up into the top ten of the race. Just before he could pass Ludwig Sr. and take the position away, the engine in the Merlyn began to misfire and Gord was forced to pit. After a bit of poking about, Gord and Ron figured out that they had broken a cam follower and they were forced to retire the car from the race before Ron even turned a lap.
The 1966 Sundown Grand Prix ran on August 20th. The favorites to win the race were Eppie Weitez and Francois Favereau in a Ford Comstock GT-40. Among the other big guns in the field were Craig Fisher and George Eaton in a 427 Cobra and Martin Chenhall and Gary Magwood in an MG B. Gord and Ron had decided to enter Gord’s Lotus 7 for this race. The two of them had an outside chance at the top three, as the Lotus 7 was underpowered compared to some of the other cars in the field. Neither Gord nor Ron cared where they finished in the race, because this was just for fun.
The race weekend started out with a Friday day practice, followed by a qualifying session, and then a compulsory night practice. Ron doesn’t remember any dramas, and the two had qualified reasonably well. All drivers competing in the race had to complete the night practice session. In a strange twist of fate, Ron would step out of their van the morning of the race and seriously sprain his right ankle. Concerned about how much the ankle hurt, Ron went to Race Medical and had the ankle taped up. This created a problem for the duo, as Ron could no longer bend his ankle at all. In order to drive the car, Ron would need to move his entire leg to go between the brake pedal and the throttle. Not wanting to ruin Gord’s chances in the race, Ron tried to arrange for Sid Mandell to drive the car in his place, but that wasn’t possible because Sid hadn’t completed the mandatory night practice. Ron was forced to start the race or they would not be unable to compete.
The first challenge they faced was getting a decent start with Ron limping across the track to do the LeMans start. With 15 starters for the race, Ron somehow managed to get a decent start. He had some trouble adjusting to the gearbox in the Lotus 7, but Gord was very happy with their overall position when Ron pitted about one and half hours into the race to hand the car over to Gord. While Gord raced, Ron went back to Race Medical and had them tape his ankle up a second time. At the halfway point in the race, Gord handed the car back over to Ron. They were still well positioned in the race overall. Ron drove a solid stint, keeping the car in good working order and out of trouble, so that Gord was in a good position when he took over the last hour and half of the race. With one hour to go in the race, Gord was in fourth position overall. The duo had driven a race in which they had not put a foot wrong, except for Ron’s sprained ankle. It was a good result, and one both men would have been happy with. However, fourth place wasn’t in the cards for Gord and Ron.
In a moment, the luck of Eppie Weitez and Francois Favereau changed dramatically. From leading the race overall, the GT-40 broke a differential and was forced to retire. It was bitterly disappointing for Eppie and Francois, but the best stroke of luck that Gord and Ron could have asked for. After the GT-40 was officially retired, Ron put up a pit board as Gord drove by showing they were now in third place. Gord remained in third place as the sun set in the west, and the checkered flag came out. Their “trophy” for finishing third was a two inch square dash plaque, which to this day, is glued to the toolbox in Ron’s garage.
Gord and Ron didn’t co-drive together in another Sundown Grand Prix. They ended up driving with other people in the ensuing years, but the friendship between them deepened. When Ron married C.R.C.A. member Sylvia Freeland on February 18, 1968, Gord was his best man. Gord became the adopted uncle of Ron’s daughter and son, and the two men remained the best of friends until 1982. Their paths took them separate ways after 1982, and they saw each other only rarely. Ron remembers Gord as being one of his best friends, a good man to go racing with, a talented and fierce competitor on track, and an engineer with creative ideas and solutions to problems off track. Ron counts himself among the lucky few to have had as good a friend as Gord and to have shared so many wonderful moments with him.
Rest in peace Gord. We will certainly miss you.
Colene Allen is a CASC-OR Scrutineer and Pit Marshal. She is the daughter of Ron Evans.