Working, sort of, with Ron Dennis

It was 1967 and the first Canadian Grand Prix. At the time I was racing my Elva Mk 6 Climax. I had hoped to do some out of Province races but lack of money and vacation time stopped that.

However I was dominating my class in Ont. and seeing how far up I could get among the bigger cars. Two weeks before the GP there had been a money race at Harewood but most of the cars running in the Cdn. Championship were not there. I had just passed Mo Carter’s Camero for third overall when a front A arm broke. I eventually limped home 11th and just out of the money. Now I was really broke. About $1 in my pocket and the same in my bank account. At least I got paid on Thursday. I owed a bundle and even my gas credit card was almost maxed out. At the track I slept in my tow car.

The GP was organized by the Cdn. Racing Drivers Club (CRDA) often referred to as the Cdn. Retired Drivers Club. It was by invitation only. I was not a member then. After I retired I was invited to join. The executive did not even follow local racing to any extent. There was a support race for sports racing cars by invitation only, and I believe a hefty entry fee. I did not get an invite. Now I wanted to see the race but wasn’t prepared to pay for a ticket, which at that time did not allow you into the paddock. Simple. I went to the track on the Wed. and just drove in and parked in the paddock. Slept in the tow car and had brought some food and pop. Mosport food in those days was almost inedible. Like burgers in their bun cooked by steaming in foil. Even the coffee was terrible.

So once the cars arrived I prowled up and down the ‘garage’. It was a tent open on one side! After one practice I noticed one of the Cooper Maserati’s having an engine change. Now that thing was a massive V12 convoluted lump. It was Dick (Tatty Atty) Attwood’s car. The other car was driven by Jochen Rindt.

I hung around and started talking to the mechanic working on the left side of the car. Just 2 mechanics to a car. An engine change was a 23 hour job! So I started handing requested tools and on occasion holding things for Ron Dennis. I stayed up most of the night and fetched coffee and did other little things. I also knew how to get into the tower unseen where I was able to obtain some sandwiches from the press room free for the team. Also slightly better coffee. Told the guys how to get in so they could use the washrooms with running water. Outside of the tower there were just outhouses.

So race day Roy Salvadori, the team manager decided I really should have a pass since I had helped a bit. He had partaken of the coffee etc. although he and the drivers did have tower access. Shortly after I got the pass a couple of the CRDA officials arrived on the scene. It turned out most sports racer types ‘invited’ turned them down. Someone had also figured out that I, A. had a sports racer and B. had not been issued a pass. So basically it was ‘suggested’ to me I go get my car and have free entry or leave the premises forthwith. Now for me to make it in time would be tough considering where in TO my car was and I had had practically no sleep. So I just said no and produced my trackside pass. At that point Roy interjected that I was working for Cooper and that I was needed at the track.

So I watched the wet race from the Cooper pits and did help with the timing. That was my time working with Ron Dennis.

After that I also got invitations to run in the support races. Also became a CRDA member and a Director, until I fought with the track owners and resigned.

Comments

  1. Colin King says

    The 1967 Canadian GP was the worst race (weather wise) in the history of Mosport. It was so wet even Noah would have thrown up his hands in disgust. The only redeeming grace for me was that I spent race day in a relatively dry firesuit. It was my last season with CRCA before I got my competition license.

    It was a time when drivers, teams and mechanics were on an accessible level. No problem meeting the likes of Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill etc. Certainly was a different time.

    Colin

  2. Mark Little says

    Well Leighton, I can honestly say as someone who has been going to Mosport a lot in the last 30 years, that has to be one of the most unique stories….but I am not surprised. Racing back then was a case of being in the right place at the right time for a lot of things!

  3. Gary Magwood says

    Very different times… I not only did I managed to “borrow” a set of Lotus mechanic’s coveralls by crawling on my belly almost the full length of the F! tent and then out under a flap with my trophy but the next day stood between Hill and Siffert at the pee trough in the paddock’s pathetic “washrooms.” My Brit mechanic Ken Fear-Firman thought he had died and gone to heaven when I presented the Lotus coveralls to him! Over the weekend I recall seeing Graham Hill standing almost starkers changing into his driving suit standing next to a rental car in the paddock …

  4. says

    Great yarn Leighton! I can just see Magwood crawling on his belly and you getting into a scrap with the ‘authorities’. We all did it. With me it was the whistle blowers. I’d just keep walking and when a hand touched my arm and turned me around I’d pretend I was deaf and start to sign. Felt rather stupid when one guy started to answer back in sign! I was at the 67 race, in the wet, in the grass, on my back for some time, as I had fallen part way down the hill on 2A! Never could hold my beer. I gave up beer and left that to my friends and took up women. Mosport had lots of them with sodden boyfriends! Charge on!

  5. Gary Magwood says

    Leighton, I always had a great relationship with Quebec competitors even at the peak of the “hassles.” I only encountered problems with officials on two occasions and the circumstances would not have been too different from an Ontario official. At least I never got banned from competing in Quebec… as happened at Mosport!

    At an Atlantic event in St. Felicien where I was driving a Honda Civic for Jack J…….i (not sure of the spelling) at Roadsport. Uncle Jacque V and I played smash ‘em crash ‘em for several laps. His comment to me after the event was, “Tabernak Magwood, for someone from Ontario you drive like you’re from Quebec!” I accepted that as a compliment…

    Cheers

    Gar

  6. Robert Barg says

    Gary, I happened to be working at Roadsport as a salesman at that time. I remember looking at the Civic – it was beat to death. I don’t think Jack Jacynski was very impressed! My first thought was that the Anglais had gone to Quebec and lost the war.

    Jack, btw, was the mechanic for Francis Bradley at one time.

    Robert Barg

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