|Tip McPartland's Riverside
memories that place Riverside brings back. Wonderful, poignant, terrible.
I live close to the site and now that I know how to find it, I'm going
to walk those ruins myself.
My sweetest memory of Riverside began when you and I, at that time I think
ten and eleven respectively, realized that it just must might be possible
to persuade our mother Eleanor to drive down for the singular Formula One
grand prix ever held on the West Coast. As usual during those times
just a few years after our father's death, money was very short and on
that basis our request was denied.
But we all had small individual "savings"
of change, and our home was cursed and blessed with much clutter, and among
that clutter was--loose change! Pennies, nickels, even the occasional
dime or quarter, it was there for no sensible reason among old broken model
airplane parts, in the junk drawers, down the back of the recliner chairs,
we knew it was there and we knew that this was what it was for.
After pooling our collective savings--not a piece of paper money between
us, and chanting "every penny counts" we scoured the house for all the
change we could find. We managed to gather up what I imagine must
have been no more than a few dollars. Evidently this was just enough
so that Eleanor thought our Studebaker Lark station wagon had a fighting
chance to get there and back in the days of $.29 gas, and perhaps leave
a little something for our traditional race day picnic of dry salami,
cheese and frenchbread.
As I recall,
frequent houseguest Jeff Garner joined Tam, Tor, Eleanor and I for
the expedition, and wonderful strong Eleanor drove all night to get us
there in time for Sunday morning's racing.
Now it must be recalled that Eleanor later wrote "Sports Car Round-Up"
for the Monterey Herald. She covered the West Coast racing scene,
with emphasis on the exploits of Ed Leslie, Don Wester, Chuck Parsons,
Red Geesaman and other drivers who put Monterey on the road racing map
quite aside from the great Laguna Seca track.
would get press passes for all the races we attended. But not in
1960. I can't remember how we got in, maybe Tam does. But I'm
sure it didn't involve buying a full complement of tickets.
But get in we did, and the first treat of the day was to watch a pair of
3.8 liter Jaguars ace the "saloon" event. Walt Hansgen won, I think.
And then came the Formula One race, and our heroes, both human and mechanical,
were out in full force.
This was the last race of the 2.5 liter formula. For the next few
year, the cars would be anemic1.5 liter pretenders. But these were
still the real thing. There was Stirling Moss in a Lotus that looked
just like a square bodied Mk.18 Formula Jr. but ran like Jack the Bear.
And speaking of Jacks, there was Mr. J. Brabham and the young upstart
Bruce McLaren in Coopers with that useless little fin down the back.
to see the glorious front-engined Ferraris but they weren't entered.
The blue & white Scarab Formula One was there, its desmo engine the
loudest on the track, and Chuck Daigh drove it to its one finish in a Grand
Prix. I think this was the last time in history that traditional
front-engined cars competed in a formula one race: (the exotic front-engined
4WD Ferguson did run in 1961).
And there was another classic front-engined
car, Bob Drake in Joe Lubin's ancient Maserati 250F. Although a backmarker,
Drake finished, and not in last place, either. Pete Lovely's Cooper-Ferrari
and a few Cooper-Maseratis and other such things rounded out the field.
It was certainly one of the most incre- dible days of our young lives defining
forever for me the phrase "sense of wonder."
Stirling Moss won in the Lotus, and World Champion Brabham had problems
and finished fourth. But that doesn't matter as much to me as to most readers
of this site who probably know all the stats anyway. What matters
is the memory so sweet I could cry of our poor little family pulling together
so hard to do something that brave and special and more "once-in-a-lifetime"
than we could've ever imagined then. And our wonderful mother Eleanor
letting us talk her into such a crazy trip, and then enjoying it probably
even more than we did.
And it turned
out just fine. We even had enough money for the salami, cheese and
frenchbread, and I can still taste that salami, warm and greasy slices
straight out of the pack. Remember, Tam?
And then for me there is another memory of Riverside, when I was racing
grand prix motorcycles. I had just won the Open Grand Prix class
at Sears Point on my street-legal 792cc Kawasaki two-stroke triple and
was pretty cocky. My bike was brutally fast, but handled like the
two-wheeled equivalent of a Kurtis- Chevy.
For some strange reason the AFM officials decided it would be a good idea
to combine the practice sessions for Open GP and 400 Production.
And to make things worse, this race was a warm-up for an upcoming National
so all the factory teams were there and their bikes went about 180 mph.
My bike, with no fairing and high bars
could pull about 160 max but I think I may have been geared for 150.
Anyway, to put really fast Open GP machines on the same track with several
dozen 400 production bikes was a less than stellar idea.
During this crazy joint practice session, I was just catching top gear,
certainly going 135, perhaps 140 mph down the back straight (short
course, with turn 7a instead of 8) when a 400cc Yamaha veered in front
of me, surprising me by diving toward the apex of the WFO dogleg which
was designed to widen the arc of the deadly turn 9.
Completely boxed in, I watched the collision approach in a pretty close
approx- imation to that slow motion they always use for the big moment
in a sports movie. I had about as much chance of changing the big
Kawasaki's trajectory as did the Captain of the Titanic steering around
The impact sent me and the Kawasaki tumbling wildly through space--I can
only imagine what the poor 400 rider experienced, not seeing the tremendous
impact coming at all. But I had an almost mystical 300 foot ride
on the back of my leathers, flattening myself out like a clinging starfish
in an effort to prevent a deadly tumble where your body spins faster and
faster until your limbs finally pull out and break. I didn't know
what my personal red-line was, and didn't want to find out.
flat until I hit the grassy edge of the track, and then gently tumbled
to a stop. I had crashed once at over 100 when it started hailing
during a 250 production race at Vacaville and my Bultaco seized up.
That time my brain shut down until the crash was over. But this time,
I was fully aware of what was happening, and through- out the crash I felt
like I was safe in some kind of warm dark cocoon, like being gently held
in the hand of a guardian angel.
went 350 feet and erupted into a mushroom cloud of flame and greasy black
smoke. The other rider was lying in the track screaming like a land-mine
victim in a bad Viet Nam war movie. Bikes were whizzing by him on
both sides at 170-180 mph. After center-punching the poor guy, I
certainly didn't feel like a hero going out into traffic for him, but I
did it and carefully placed him down safely in the grass, still screaming.
I saw that he had a badly injured lower leg--purple all the way around--
where my heavy bike had hit him with full force and a large speed differential.
I think I only raced three or four more times after that, and only the
big races. A second at a Laguna Seca AMA National, and a big win
at the AMA National at Ontario Motor Speedway, both riding Denco-sponsored
bikes tuned by mountain bike guru Keith Bontrager. With that Ontario
win I felt I'd achieved my motorcycle racing goals.
that, though, it was a terrible feeling going to races as a spectator knowing
that I'd probably never walk the pits in leathers again. By the way,
it's also too bad about the demise of Ontario, which was a fantastic facility
in many ways. But to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen hammering Dan Quayle,
"I knew Riverside, Mr. Ontario, and you are no Riverside."
Well, those are my Riverside memories, those and a million others.
Like hanging with Tam and Jeff Garner and beginning to notice the incredible
shape of the female leg for the very first time. Pit honeys were
awesome in those days. Or seeing the Cobra's first demo and later
its famous first race. Or Jeff Garner and I getting lost in a maze
of genuine secret passages within the thick walls of Riverside's landmark
Mr. Shelby, sorry, leggy blond pit honeys, sorry, secret passage- ways,
you were awesome but nothing could ever compare to scrounging around our
old house for pennies, hopping into that old Lark station wagon with Eleanor
and driving down to Riverside for a real Formula One race."