From the archives with Doug Nye

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Current page

198

Current page

199

Current page

200

Current page

201

Current page

202

Current page

203

Current page

204

Current page

205

Current page

206

Current page

207

Current page

208

Current page

209

Current page

210

Current page

211

Current page

212

How motor sport works

New autobiography is a lively reminder that things aren’t always as they seem on the surface

A friend has a wonderful collection of Porsche 956/962 models, sporting almost every one of the many liveries the cars wore during their front-line lives. Among them, two caught my eye – the John Fitzpatrick/Derek Warwick
J David car that humbled the Rothmans-liveried works Porsches in winning the 1983 Brands Hatch 1000Kms, and a Skoal Bandit-liveried version from 1984. I had just been reading about them in Fitzpatrick’s new book Fitz: My Life at the Wheel (Autosports Marketing Associates – ISBN 978-0-692-72543-6).

Racing driver biographies are always worthwhile, not so much for any recital of past on-track triumphs but for any new behind-the-scenes anecdotes. 

The US-based Fitzpatrick team’s Group C exploits were funded by San Diego money man Jerry Dominelli, head of the J David investments enterprise. They ran the contemporary Porsche 956 that Fitz recalls – after first testing it – as performing like “Nothing I had ever driven before. It seemed glued to the ground compared to the 935… It was a difficult car to drive slowly, but as the speed built up it was amazing. It seemed to me that I could just keep on entering the corners faster each lap, and the car just hung on. The gearbox was a dream, and the brakes felt like a huge hand had grabbed the car.

“It wasn’t one you just hopped into and got the hang of after three or four laps. It was probably easier for an experienced F1 driver to master it quickly, as they’d had massive downforce for several years.” In testing Fitz also found, “After 10 laps I could feel the strain on my neck muscles of holding my head up straight. Obviously I was going to have to work on a fitness programme.”

Subsequently Fitz was contacted by ex-F1 driver Guy Edwards, who was building quite a track record for himself as a sponsor finder. He told Fitz he had someone interested in sponsoring a car at Le Mans. Might Fitz be interested in running an extra 956 for himself, Guy and Rupert Keegan? The sum mentioned riveted Fitz’s full attention. The would-be sponsor was US Tobacco promoting its Skoal chewing tobacco brand, seeking European exposure.

Fitz spoke to Porsche and took over a cancelled 956 order, intending to run one J David car and one Skoal car at Le Mans in ’83. The team’s prime backer Dominelli was a an avid Porsche fan who had founded his investment company in the basement of a Mexican restaurant in 1979, while promising returns of 40-50 per cent. J David & Co attracted some 1500 eager investors, but in reality it became a massive Ponzi scheme… 

In early 1984 Dominelli would flee to Montserrat to evade Federal investigators, only to be turned away by the island authorities. Landing in Antigua, he was promptly deported back to Florida and arrested by US officials. He was indicted in May 1984. While in jail that October, he then suffered (according to US sources) a stroke – Fitz says a heart attack – but survived to plead guilty to four felony charges in March 1985. He was jailed for 20 years that June, and ordered to pay $82million restitution. In 1996 he was paroled to live in Chicago, but died on August 2, 2009.

Back in 1983, meanwhile, just pre-Le Mans, Fitz was feverishly trying to pay Porsche for the new Skoal 956 but into the last week before the race Porsche was still telling him that no such payment had arrived. Dominelli wasn’t answering ’phone calls, so in desperation Fitz went to his office, only to be told his elusive backer was in London. “I went home, found my passport and drove to Los Angeles. I took the overnight BA flight to London, took a taxi to Duke’s Hotel in Mayfair where Jerry always stayed, and found him in the dining room having breakfast.

“‘Hey John, how’s it going?’– his usual greeting, as if it was nothing unusual for me to walk into his hotel in London at 9 o’clock in the morning…”

Fitz explained that he needed the Porsche payment urgently or it would be too late to run at Le Mans. “‘No problem. Why didn’t you tell me it was urgent?’ What could I say? He opened his wallet, took out a folded-up cheque, wrote it out for $250,000, signed it and gave it to me. I thanked him, ran out of the hotel, took a taxi back to Heathrow in time to catch the BA flight back to LA. I called the bank manager from LA and told him I was coming with a substantial cheque and would he wait for me. Our truck was waiting at Porsche and the next morning picked up the car, took it to the paint shop and then set off for Le Mans. We made it…”

In that 1983 race, the 956 Fitz was co-driving with David Hobbs and Dieter Quester ran fourth, best of the privateers, until a fuel system problem forced them out. He then joined Edwards and Keegan in the new Skoal car, and they finished very respectably, fifth overall. Skoal was delighted and began talking of a full two-car team for 1984 – while Fitz had his work cut out extricating his team (successfully) from Dominelli’s liabilities. 

There has always been a great deal more to top-tier motor sport than merely what happens on track.

On a wing and a prayer

A few of the late, great Phil Hill’s recollections about the early days of Can-Am

It’s now 50 years since Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2E Can-Am cars focused motor racing’s attention upon the download benefits of tall, strutted wings. Phil Hill came within an ace of winning the inaugural Can-Am Championship for the Texan team, driving as Jim’s team-mate. 

I had the pleasure of working with Phil for many years. He was just a wonderful bloke, and a far more formidable driver than he gets credit for. He was also one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I have ever known, and for more than 10 years now I have been working to finish a series of books for him, including his detailed autobiography. They are illustrated predominantly by the magnificent colour photographs he took from 1950-62 and anyone interested can follow progress on the internet, at phil-hill-book.com. 

Regarding the futuristic high-winged Chaparral-Chevrolet 2E, with its wonderfully organic, fluid lines, Phil recalled: “I had great faith in everything Chaparral did. The car was great to drive.” 

These winged Chaparrals made their racing debut at the 1966 Bridgehampton Can-Am round, but it went badly after “Hall had set the Bridgehampton lap record the previous year but now he went out and lowered it by about six seconds. That was fantastic, but when I took my car out during practice it suddenly just flew off the road up onto a hillside. 

“And then something occurred that happened to me twice with Chaparral, which I thought was remarkable, yet terrible and awesome at the same time. First, Jim said ‘OK, take my car out.’

“By then it was late afternoon. There were shadows from the sun behind and I remember going down the straight seeing my own shadow stretched out in front of me and all of a sudden seeing the two wing uprights sort of go ‘Voomp.’ I immediately pulled over and stopped. The wing had collapsed.

“It always amazed me with Chaparral that whatever happened to one car would happen to the other in short order. I mean it says a lot for their consistency in approach or their ability to be accurate. Those two cars were just prepared as alike as any two team cars ever could be.”

Phil finished second at Mosport, then at Laguna Seca led a wonderful winged-Chaparral 1-2 finish. Problems intruded at Riverside, but in the deciding race at Las Vegas Phil recalled: “John Surtees and I were tied for the title. Hall and I kind of ganged up on John during practice, going out as a formation pair and lapping together… 

“We lined up on the grid with our two white Chaparrals side by side. On the next row were Amon and Surtees, but no way were they going to stay there, because off the startline the Chaparral with its auto transmission was just hopeless. The 2E would go off the startline like a ’41 Dodge Fluid Drive… I mean they were just dead because of that darned automatic gearbox. Probably the altitude of Las Vegas didn’t help either.”

And in Turn One Parnelli Jones’s charging Lola T70 promptly took a huge bite out of Phil’s right-front fender. “Thereafter my car just understeered like a pig. Hall’s wing actuation rod snapped and he pulled into the pits [and] soon after, that Chaparral identical-twin characteristic happened again, and the same thing happened to my wing system. 

“I asked Jim what should I do, give it up or press on. He shrugged and said ‘It’s entirely your decision.’. I rejoined, then came in again for them to remove the wing completely. They replaced it with a spacer bar just to brace the empty uprights. But only an idiot would want to go out there then, because without the wing the 2E was the most diabolical-handling car
I have ever driven in my life. I finally finished seventh – and John Surtees and Lola took that first Can-Am title.

“I remember Hall and Sharp and the crew guys being really down and terribly apologetic. No need – we really did sink or swim as a team. At that moment, despite my disappointment at losing the championship, I felt comfortable to have become a Chaparral guy.”

Related articles

Related products