From Rome came Masten Gregory, by way of Venezuela and its world championship sports car race earlier this month. Gregory, a onetime Kansas Citian, had tied for fifth place in the 1957 world driver standings in his first season in Grand Prix cars. He brought to Riverside a 425-hp, 4.5-liter Maserati which had been bored out to 4.7 liters.
From Texas came Carroll Shelby, the outstanding U.S. driver of 1956, who had been having an in-and-out season, with a 400-hp, 4.5 Maserati, and from New Jersey, Walt Hansgen, this year's SCCA champion in big-bore events. His 3.8-liter D Jaguar, theoretically overmatched at 305 hp, was still an extremely fast car in the hands of a notably aggressive driver.
Along with them came 26-year-old Dan Gurney, a home-town Riverside driver, recent graduate from smaller cars, who seemed to have surprised himself as much as his viewers by his adroit handling of a big 4.9 Ferrari; Richie Ginther, in his 4.9 Ferrari; John von Neumann's 3-liter Ferrari; Max Balchowsky's 5.3-liter Buick Special; Pete Lovely's 2-liter Ferrari; the Mercedes 300SL roadster which New York's Paul O'Shea (the only non-Coast driver in the race besides the leading three) has driven so well all year; Bob Drake's Aston Martin; Jack McAfee's 3.5-liter Ferrari; and nine others, whose chances for trophy silver were remote, indeed.
No one was surprised to see Gregory leading on the first lap, followed closely by Hansgen, Shelby and Gurney. But when Hansgen screamed past Gregory in the south turn on the next lap, using the D Jag's superb disc brakes to the limit, 20,000 fans got set for superlative action.
There were electric moments when Shelby overtook Hansgen, when he spun and dropped to sixth place on the fifth lap, and when he began a magnificent comeback; more of them in Hansgen's dogged hold on the lead through the 14th lap. But the moment of moments came in the 15th when all four leaders were dicing in the south turn at the same time. Shelby skidded ahead of Gurney on the 17th lap and increased his advantage to five seconds, having averaged 87.8 mph for the race. Gurney's astonishing performance took second place with the bitterly disappointed Gregory third, and Hansgen a distant fourth.