The expensive Mr. Stewart

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They don’t love Jackie Stewart at Laguna SCCA, or the motoring writer of the San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t. That paper pointed out last month that at the Mid-Ohio Raceway for a Can-Am event Stewart cost the track owners a small fortune in alterations to a circuit which has a good safety record. He “didn’t like some trees here, a dirt bank there, or the arrangement of some guard rails”. His opinions were backed by Hulme and Revson but, according to this reporter, the rest of the drivers supported the SCCA’s ruling that the track was safe. Stewart refused to start unless the alterations were made, and as Mid-Ohio had billed him to appear they spent the night complying with Stewart’s requests. He complained of the rough surface, says the paper, but agreed to run. “He didn’t make much of a race of it. He seemed content to run a distant second to Revson.” But Revson retired and Stewart collected. [Unfair comment perhaps—see page 1140—but that’s how they saw it.—Ed.] Says the San Francisco Chronicle, “Stewart’s criticism of ‘the financially weak’ Mid-Ohio circuit, if arbitrarily acted upon by some SCCA official with enough power, could force the track to close.” This would deprive not only the professionals but amateur drivers and spectators of the much-needed facilities in the area.

So bitter did the paper feel that, on the eve of the Laguna SCCA race it asked “Can the Raceway afford Stewart? What if he doesn’t like the 14-year-old circuit?”. In those parts they regard the World Champion as an expensive prima donna “obsessed with driver safety and getting rich, with little regard for the sport’s survival”. They estimate his earnings to exceed half a million dollars a year, his Goodyear contract at some 500,000 dollars. “His fee for one day of pre-race appearances on behalf of Laguna SCCA was so high the sponsors spent days discussing it before giving in.” Why, they ask, does he, as a Scotsman, live in Switzerland?

If he is so concerned about safety in the dangerous game of motor racing, why, they are asking, doesn’t he advocate smaller engines to reduce speeds? That could be a solution but perhaps a comment attributed to President Truman might be more apposite: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

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