In Search of the Three "Bs": 1969 Daytona 24 Hour

Category: The Rear View Mirror & Nostalgia
Published on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 16:24
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In Search of the Three "Bs"

1969 Daytona 24 Hours

Our drive through the swamps of Georgia was an eerie trip through black forests draped with Spanish Moss. When the sun came up over the Atlantic we knew we would make the start.

We, (being my self and Joe Cavin) were accompanied by three other GI’s stationed at Fort Gordon, and we were on John McComb’s pit crew at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Oklahoma Region member, David Dooley, was sharing the Trans Am Mustang with John, and the Carter-Maxwell gang would do the mechanics. Joe and I would help John’s wife Vicki with timing and scoring. The three GI’s, whose names I have forgotten, were along for the fun.

After registration, we told our three compatriots to meet us there after the race and we entered the world of International Endurance racing. On the grid were no less than five brand new, long tailed Porsche 908’s, two John Wyer Ford GT4O’s, four Lola-Chevrolet T70 coupes, a factory Ferrari GTB4 and 50 other entries. The driver’s list was a Who’s Who of endurance legends, with Hans Herrman, Jo Siffert, Vic Elford, Brian Redman, Gerhard Mitter, Dick Attwood and Rolf Stommeln in the Porsches; Jackie Ickx, Jackie Oliver, David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood in the GT4O’s; Joakim Bonnier in one T70 and Pedro Rodriquez in the Ferrari. American challengers included Mark Donohue, Chuck Parsons, Lothar Motchenbacher, Ed Leslie, Scooter Patrick, and David Jordan in T70’s, and Sam Posey sharing the Ferrari with Rodriquez.

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The green flag fell at three o eight p.m., and the start was incredible. Elford, Donohue, Siffert, Stommeln and Bonnier were behaving like a bunch of good ol’ boys, racing door handle to door handle, nose to tail at 190+ mph. After two laps they had started lapping the traffic, blasting by on both sides of the slower cars, leaving them quivering in their drafts.

Within an hour, a pattern had emerged. The Porsches were one through five, the Fords were a lap down, and Donohue had pitted for gas. “Captain Nice”, as he was known, had designed the fuel pick-up for the Penske Sunoco Lola, but he was a better driver than engineer, as the Blue T70 would only make 19 laps before fuel starvation set in. Our car was running second in class, but was no match for the Jerry Titus/Jon Ward Firebird, which was dicing with Ed Leslie’s T70 for tenth overall. By the way, the Leslie/Motchenbacher T70 and the Patrick/Jordan T70 were entered by the actor and Oklahoma native James Garner.

When the sun went down, the orange Union 76 “balls” along pit row shone like harvest moons, and the procession of headlights looked like the final scene from “Field of Dreams” on fast forward. But the racing was anything but pretty. A Jaquar XK-E blew its engine in front of the pits, and an Alfa T33, Porsche 911 and Porsche 907 all collided in the smoke screen. Peter Gregg was unhurt, but a Peruvian driver was hospitalized.

At about eight pm the word came over our phone in the timing stands that our Mustang was in trouble. A head gasket was leaking, and pit stops for water would happen about every ten laps. At ten o’clock Dave coasted to a stop on the pit apron when something most severe melted. Our race was over.

After a few minutes of watching the other cars from the infield, Joe and I made two discoveries. One, racing in the dark is not a great spectator sport, and two, we had not had sleep for 36 hours. John offered us the key to one of his motel rooms and we quickly obliged his hospitality.

A different race greeted us at nine a.m. on Sunday. Pits number 50 through 54 were deserted, as all of the factory Porsches were disabled with broken shafts that drove the distributor and oil pump. Both GT4O’s were gone, the Hobbs/Hailwood entry with a cracked head, the Ickx/Oliver had crashed just past the pits in a grand manner. Actually leading the race was the Porsche 908 of Schutz/Attwood even though it was on the trailer. At ten a.m. Donohue finally had more laps than the Porsche, and he inherited the lead.

Our attention turned to the Volvo 122S entry of Art Mollin from New York. This under 2 litre, Group 5 car, was almost identical to the one I drove to the races, except it was a two-door with a full NASCAR roll cage. I volunteered any help I could to Art’s one man crew, and we watched the race from their pit. At about noon, Art came in, lifted the hood and stared at the engine. Art’s co-driver had mentioned losing power, but he couldn’t isolate the cause. Art, his co-driver, and mechanic stood silent before the red Volvo for at least five minutes. Then either Art or the Volvo blinked, Art put down the hood, put on his helmet, got in the car, and returned to the track. It ran flawlessly, albeit slowly, until the checker fell.

At two p.m. we watched a tradition in endurance racing. One by one the remaining cars pitted for fuel and the crews washed twenty- three hours of grime away. Donohue’s Lola actually looked better before the washing because it revealed yards of silver tape used to hold the nose together after Mark punted a slower car. 69 lola racingmodelsAt three o eight p.m. we watched Mark finally win the debacle. Second, 30 laps behind, was Garner’s Lola driven by Motschenbacher/Leslie. Only five laps back was the Pontiac Firebird of Titus/Ward. Fourth and fifth were taken by privateer Porsche 911’s. The official results listed twenty eight finishers, but we only counted nine cars on the track at any one time during the last six hours.

Suddenly our three Army compatriots appeared out of the crowd, we said our thank you’s to John and began the return trek to Army life. Our buddies livened up the trip with tales of finding the three “B’s”, beer, beaches and bimbos. Joe and I boored them with tales of racing. I have never regretted losing twenty four hours of debauchery.

Epilogue: Over the years I have realized the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona was much more than just a long race. It was the last hurrah for American V8’s on the International scene. Even though Ickx would win Le Mans in June, the GT4O’s had Weslake Ford engines made in England. Porsche would dominate FIA prototype races for the next twenty years. Many of the drivers we saw would too soon die behind the wheel; Bonnier, Rodriguez, Siffert, Titus, Donohue. All of the drivers in the first five cars were card-carrying SCCA members. Some, such as Ed Leslie, Alan Johnson and Bruce Jennings, were amateurs playing with the big boys, and winning. I can forever relate to that.