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History 16

The long shadow of the 1960s

We often write about the 1960s in the pages of Motor Sport, and here on the website too, and for good reason: the ’60s were a remarkable decade for motor racing. For one thing, there was an incredible, all-encompassing revolution in racing car design that transformed the sport but there was also a superb lineup of top drivers through, memorable figures who achieved a great deal, competing and winning races in a wide variety of categories. A few of them also founded their own teams and the long term impact and influence the great drivers of the ’60s had on the sport continue to this day.

racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

As the decade began Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks were acknowledged as two of the world’s fastest, most respected racing drivers in Formula 1 and sports cars, but Brooks retired at the end of 1961 and Moss’s career came an end at Goodwood in the spring of 1962. Moss’s mantle was taken up by the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart but in many ways the definitive F1 driver of the ’60s was Jack Brabham.

‘Black Jack’ learned his trade on Australia’s dirt tracks and won the World Championship in 1959 and ’60 with Charles and John Cooper’s Climax-powered rear-engine cars. F1’s first rear-engine champion started building and racing his own cars in 1962 and Ron Tauranac-designed Brabhams proliferated through the ’60s and into the ’70s in F1, F2 and F3. The Brabham operation also provided Bernie Ecclestone with a launching pad to make himself the wealthiest and most powerful man in F1’s history while Tauranac went on to play a big role for many years in F2, F3, Atlantic and Super Vee with his line of Ralt single-seaters. And of course it was at Brabham that Ron Dennis got his start.

racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

Jack’s teammate at Cooper in 1959, ’60 and ’61 was Bruce McLaren, another top driver who became a renowned car builder. Bruce was a natural leader of men who founded and built what would become one of the most successful racing car constructors in history, not only in F1 but in Can-Am and IndyCar racing too.

Of course, Jim Clark may well be the greatest of all the greats of the decade for his many achievements from 1960-’68 with Colin Chapman and Lotus in F1, Indycars, sports cars and touring cars. So too did Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart earn their places in F1’s pantheon with each of them going on to at least dabble at being team owners. Surtees and Stewart continue to play their own different distinctive and important roles in the sport today.

World Champion in 1961 with Ferrari was Phil Hill who led a brief flurry of Americans to make their mark on the world stage and also won Le Mans three times for Ferrari. Hill wound down his career in winning style a few years later with Jim Hall’s Chaparrals in Can-Am and long-distance sports car racing. Phil was also a first-rate vintage car restorer and journalist who wrote about the sport for many years in Road & Track.

racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

The other great American F1 driver of the era was Dan Gurney who won races for Porsche and Brabham before building his own Eagle F1 and Indycars. Dan may not have won a World Championship but he was one of the fastest and most respected drivers of that era and went on to achieve tremendous success over many years as a team owner and car builder with his Eagle Indycars. Gurney also won at Le Mans and in Can-Am, IndyCar and NASCAR too. Into his 80s, Dan is still kicking – two years ago All American Racers built the prototype DeltaWing.

The ’60s gave us many other great drivers, including Chris Amon, Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt, Jacky Ickx, Pedro Rodríguez and Jo Siffert, all of whom won many races in a wide variety of cars. Here in America, we had AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Bobby and Al Unser making their legendary marks in USAC plus Jim Hall and his Chaparrals and Mark Donohue in Roger Penske’s Can-Am, Indy and long-distance sports cars.

racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

One of the things that made all these drivers so deeply memorable is that they raced regularly in different types of cars. They weren’t pampered, highly-paid superstars restricted by contract and culture to a single category or team. They raced every weekend in different cars because they loved the sport and also needed to earn a living. This very diversity gave these drivers a grand patina, sadly lacking in today’s specialised age, which has cast a very long, agreeable shadow sure to last for many years to come.

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racing history  The long shadow of the 1960s

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16 comments on The long shadow of the 1960s

  1. Sandeep Banerjee, 12 August 2013 09:53

    First, what a great photo of the Chapparal rounding La Source. Of all the historical photographs I come across, nowhere do I feel like wanting to be at more than at La Source in the 50s and 60s. What an experience that must have been.

    Though some claim the 80s as the ultimate era of motorsport due to the sheer power and excess that climaxed during that period and would see a temperance starting with the 90s that continues on to this day, the 60s were truly the golden era of motorsport.

    Sponsorship had still not reared its ugly head in every facet of the sport. Guys like Chapman, Gurney, Hall, Yunick and Brabham could pioneer ground-breaking ideas in their garages and take it to a world stage. Aerodynamics was not a factor until the end of the decade so the cars were some of the most beautiful ever. No series had too much of a stronghold and drivers could race a variety of disciplines over the course of a week, let alone a season. And finally, tracks possessed character and demanded respect from the drivers.

  2. Ian Taylor, 12 August 2013 11:42

    I believe that in 60 years time, the next Gordon Kirby
    will write about Tony Stewart, Jimmy Johnson, Dario, McNish, Dixon, Schumacher and Juan Paublo and report similar comments. They will speak about cars with internal combustion engines and how the evolution of the electric racing cars was hatched.
    I love reading about the golden era of sports car racing in the 60′s when you and I got bitten.

  3. R.E.B, 12 August 2013 12:25

    It may be that the popularity of this era is a reflection of Motor Sport’s demographic, with respect to those who write it as well as read it. However, I too regard the 1960s as my favourite era for cars generally because of the character and variety of the machinery and the less corperate attitude of teams and drivers. The main reason for this variety may be due to the sparsity of regulations governing both road car and racing car design. Designers had more freedom then within the organic limitations of the technology and budgets of the day.

  4. IM, 12 August 2013 13:40

    Lovely picture of the Chapparal – and thanks to Sandeep for confirming my guess as to the location. I was recently looking for photos of cars on the long Spa circuit to get a feel for what it was like and drew an almost complete blank – on the internet and in the published history of the circuit! Nearly all photos are of Eau Rouge and Radillon. Perhaps Motorsport might like to publish a few more like this one?

  5. The Original Ray T, 12 August 2013 15:32

    R.E.B.: The popularity of the 60s is due to the actual numbers attending. Road racing is all but dead in North America.

    The past had appeal from technical standpoints, and danger. Modern racing is safer than water polo (look it up), and has become such a precise science that it is boring, and overpriced. Aerodynamic downforce killed actual racing. However, numbers are dwindling in motorcycle racing as well, where danger and racing is pretty much like the 60s.

    I live near Mosport, and crowds gets thinner every year, and races gets dropped every year, and it is a stunning track.

    The truth is most people under 30, or even 40 don’t care about racing. They are absorbed on the internet and 500 channel HDTV, and see no point in watching cars they could never hope to afford, or get involved in a sport of the 1%. Sponsors see no value, and though we hate to admit it, cigarettes carried racing for decades.

  6. Masta Kink, 12 August 2013 15:53

    I was lucky (and old..!) enough to visit Spa for the ’73/’74 and ’75 1000kms races, and also the ’77 and ’78 24 hour races, when the track was still pretty frightening…you could stand and spectate in the pub on the inside of Burnenville, having a beer, while the cars 4-wheel drifted their way through…then you could walk along the old railway line to the Masta Kink, and Stavelot, with nothing much other than Armco and a few cows in between….luckily most spectators went to Eau Rouge and La Source, so it was nice and uncrowded all along the Masta from Burnenville to Stavelot… couldn’t have been any better……happy days, even though it was frequently cold and wet….but that didn’t really seem to matter…!

  7. David J Leeke, 12 August 2013 17:00

    Sir/Madam, When i worked at Bob Gerrard Cooper Racing. 1966/67. I met Ron Denis at Cooper Car Co. He was a F1 mechanic on the Cooper F1 Team. Was this pre Brabham or post Brabham ??. Yours DJ Leeke

  8. Rich Ambroson, 12 August 2013 18:27

    Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time (being born in ’67), this decade HAS to be the greatest era in motorsport, period. As Gordon Kirby describes here, there were so many greats, and much innovation while at the same time a real spirit of romanticism, in the pre-sponsorship/pre-aero era.

    So many gorgeous car to see, the sounds they made were musical, and the venues they raced upon were magical then. To say nothing of the personalities.

    Sure, we have some true racers in our era (Tony Stewart comes to mind immediately, among others), but the magic of the 60s still echos to this modern day. No wonder so many who were there, and many others who weren’t, recall this era as the true Golden Era.

  9. R.E.B, 13 August 2013 12:35

    Good point Ray T about aero. Jochen Rindt predicted it would kill racing. Would racing be more popular if it were more dangerous? Probably. Look at the fuss that bloke made when he walked a tightrope across that canyon with no net. Would anyone have bothered if the same rope was only 2 feet above ground? I prefer bike racing these days. BSB is coming to Cadwell next week and it should be great. The only car racing I go to see is historic racing.

  10. N. Weingart, 13 August 2013 12:59

    Thanks to Mr. Kirby for reminding me why I got interested in roadracing as a teen. i agree that the sixties were a brilliant era in racing and I’m glad to have many fine memories of those long gone days.

  11. The Original Ray T, 13 August 2013 14:18

    At least in Ontario, motorcycle racing has become so unpopular that it’s like watching a race in the 60s. You can walk the paddock, sit anywhere you like, no crowds, no line ups, clean lavs. You can talk to the riders and then still watch some passing, drafting, out-braking, 12 lead changes in 24 laps, for a $12 lunch and $35 ticket. Try that at a formula one race.

  12. David H, 13 August 2013 18:19

    Wonderful tribute to those days, thanks.

  13. Ian, 14 August 2013 10:44

    I’ve long hoped that the F1 bubble would burst so we can get back to something a bit less OTT. That’s why the WSC is so good – the masses haven’t spotted it – prices are very reasonable and you can just drive straight in. It’s a bit like watching the Championship rather than Man Utd.

  14. Joe Machado, 14 August 2013 22:24

    It’s great to see pictures, stats, stories of the days road racing in the U.S. was sanctioned by the SCCA and the France family had no voice on the type of auto racing we enjoy in this country.

  15. David Magee, 15 August 2013 13:35

    This was a great time in auto racing history from the standpoint that anything goes. The cars were beautiful and the designers were sometimes the drivers such jim Hall. There were many great drivers in that day and the sport was always fun to watch or read about.

  16. Terry Jacob, 26 August 2013 09:25

    Progress has turned out a great disappointment ……………

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