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Bigfoot Came Home
Kenneth Rudeen
November 25, 1957
Jim Bryan, that is. And Phoenix saw him win the 1957 U.S. driving championship in thrilling style
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November 25, 1957

Bigfoot Came Home

Jim Bryan, that is. And Phoenix saw him win the 1957 U.S. driving championship in thrilling style

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At the starting flag Johnny Boyd kicked the roadster into the lead, and O'Connor moved quickly to be second. Amick found a hole to take third, followed by Bryan, whose white No. 1 racer, built in 1955 by California's Eddie Kuzma, had been superbly prepared by Mechanic Clint Brawner, a fellow Phoenician. After 10 laps Rathmann lay eighth, and Larson, handicapped by his last-row start, 13th.

Round and round they roared, looming fast as distinct, bouncing fishtailing shapes and receding into hurrying blurs of color—accelerating into a crescendo of exhaust noise on the short straightaways and growling through the turns in a series of controlled slides, with drivers ceaselessly calculating, by instinct, how to pass the man ahead ("If you stopped to think," says Amick, "it would be too damn late to do it").

O'Connor demonstrated how in the south turn of the 35th lap, leaving Boyd neatly trapped on the inside by a car that was being lapped. By then Bryan had slipped past Amick into third place, and Larson, driving as if spurred by demons, was seventh, as Rathmann dropped to ninth. Both Boyd and Bryan caught O'Connor on the 50th lap. With Boyd again leading, only five seconds separated the seven front-runners.

Bryan finally barged past Boyd at the end of the home straight as the 71st lap began. O'Connor, with his Irish up now, nailed Amick and Boyd and set sail for the flying Bryan. The never-say-die Larson, a remarkable fourth to Amick's third on the 84th lap, both having passed Boyd, bumped little George's car in his eagerness to get on. Both crashed through the four-by-four stakes which rimmed the north turn and retired.

That left Bryan and Rathmann to dispute the title. It was all Bryan until, slightly more than three miles from home, he slid high into the north turn's four-by-fours as he tried to lap Rathmann on the outside. As the crowd loosed an agonized roar O'Connor streaked through on the inside, passing Bryan but still behind Rathmann. Bryan just managed to horse his car back onto the track; he shed lumber all down the homestretch.

Now it was O'Connor who appeared to be the certain victor (although Bryan, if he kept second place, would win the championship). But if this race had anything, it had an obstinate plot. With just over a mile to go the critical situation was restaged, but this time it was O'Connor who failed to get past Rathmann and Bryan who squeezed through on the inside—and stayed in front to take the checkered flag.

After the tide of joyous fellowtownsmen ebbed a bit, Old Bigfoot, reflecting on how close he had come to losing the race and the title, said, "They'd given Jim the move-over flag for four laps. I went to drive around him anyway because I knew Pat would close in if I got hung up. The guy ran me out into the loose stuff, and I got all tangled up in the fence. Larson and Amick had already taken out a lot of the four-by-fours. Well, I made a fresh hole of my own and then drove over what they'd knocked out. It was like driving through a forest. If Rathmann hadn't done the same thing to Pat, Pat would have won for sure.

"Sometimes I think working for a living would be easier."

The week had more in store. Not in the memory of the most thoroughgoing enthusiast had an American sports car race, with the exception of Sebring's international, attracted so fine a field as did last Sunday's at Riverside, Calif., on the occasion of the final Sports Car Club of America national race meeting of the season.

If Phil Hill, the West Coast's outstanding driver, had been able to find a ride, it would have been truly a dream race. Dreaming aside, the lineup for Sunday's 25-lap feature (climaxing a full-scale SCCA program embracing 98 cars) was impressive enough.

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