I was carried
away by the experience of being at Le Mans. There I was on the same course with
all those road-racing gods of mine—Fangio, Ascari, Villoresi. Besides, it was
all so foreign. I was very sensitive to differences then. Now one of my
greatest pleasures is to spend the summers in Europe, thus having the luxury of
being able to change languages and cultures and terrains in a matter of hours.
But in 1953 I was amazed, for instance, by the strange, shuttered houses in the
city of Le Mans. And I remember my surprise, on visiting in one of them, at
finding out that family life went on behind those shutters quite as routinely
as in Santa Monica or Schenectady. At first I sort of felt like a boy visiting
at somebody else's grandmother's house.
When I began
racing I literally did not think about the possible dangers. Also, I seemed to
have built-in filters in my brain which minimized things that went badly and
amplified things that went well. The things I did badly I conveniently forgot
about. Somebody would say, "Now, about that time you went down the escape
road," and I would reply, "What do you mean? I didn't go down any
escape road," and really believe what I was saying.
But after a
couple of years, despite the filters, I began thinking seriously about the
whole thing. I had previously lived a reasonably quiet, protected life. Now it
came home to me that I was in a sport in which people were crashing and killing
themselves. I began developing severe anxiety tensions. I was feeding a stomach
On my doctor's
advice I quit racing in 1954 and turned, instead, to restoring my aunt's
beautiful old 1931 Pierce-Arrow town cabriolet to mint condition.
Unfortunately, I really tied myself up in a snit with the Pierce. Working on
it, I spent 10 times the nervous energy that racing would have required.
One day I
received from a Texas oilman named Allen Guiberson a picture of a tantalizing
4.5-liter Ferrari sports car. Stapled to one corner was this note:
"Guaranteed not to cause ulcers." Having somehow cured my ulcer by
then, I was intrigued. As it turned out, I drove the Ferrari for Guiberson in
the last Pan-American road race. I finished second to Umberto Maglioli of
Italy, who had a factory Ferrari.
It was probably
on the strength of this race that Enzo Ferrari invited me to join his works
team as a sports car driver. I accepted and spent the next three years aching
to take the final step and drive Grand Prix cars, which are the ultimate, the
top in road racing. But it was always going to be the next race. Tired of
waiting for Ferrari to come through, I finally accepted an offer to drive a
private Maserati in the French Grand Prix of 1958. I finished a respectable
seventh. Ferrari almost fired me for that, but before long I was driving a
works Grand Prix car.
It's funny about
Grand Prix racing. You don't become tuned in to the subtle dangers of those
little cars until you have had some time in them. Compared with the bulkier
sports cars, they seem fantastically easy to drive but they bite you in a far
more serious way. You can lose control of them so fast it's incredible.
It is remarkable,
though, how natural and relaxed you can be when you are new in a Grand Prix
car, as I was in 1958. I drove just two championship races for Ferrari and in
both of them contributed to the title eventually won by my teammate, the
Englishman Mike Hawthorn, who happened to be my particular idol.
There was a close
race that year between Hawthorn and his countryman Stirling Moss, who was
driving the British Vanwall. The season's concluding events were at Monza and
in Morocco. To my surprise I found myself ahead of Hawthorn—but trailing the
race leader—in both cases, and each time I followed team orders and yielded
second place to Hawthorn. Furthermore, in the Italian race, I managed to take
fastest lap away from Moss, which meant one less point for him. In the end
Hawthorn won the championship by just one point.