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A new race produces an old Ferrari story
Bob Ottum
February 24, 1964
Carroll Shelby's swift new Cobra threw a scare into the Ferrari camp as America's latest and longest race unfolded at Daytona, but in the end a bobtailed coupe (above) led a sweep for the perennial champions
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February 24, 1964

A New Race Produces An Old Ferrari Story

Carroll Shelby's swift new Cobra threw a scare into the Ferrari camp as America's latest and longest race unfolded at Daytona, but in the end a bobtailed coupe (above) led a sweep for the perennial champions

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William Henry Getty (Bill) France, big daddy of auto racing in the South, is a large individual possessed of large ambitions. In a decade he has magnified the old Daytona Beach, Fla. Speed Week into a month-long motoring carnival involving not only stock cars, which he practically invented, but also world championship sports car and motorcycle races and passenger car trials.

Last Sunday, France clapped on a black pillbox cap brashly copied from the familiar headpiece of another imposing gentleman, Charles de Gaulle, and launched a splendacious new race. Called the Daytona Continental, it covered 2,000 kilometers (or 1,243 miles, the distance from Manhattan to Minneapolis) and lasted nearly 13 ear-busting, car-breaking hours.

It thus became the longest race in America, which was Big Bill's big idea all along. Until Sunday, the longest was the 12-hour event at Sebring, down-state a ways from Daytona. Undoubtedly France sprang the 2,000-kilometer Continental to top Sebring, although he bats his blue eyes in "Who, me?" innocence over such talk.

Since the race was for that breed of sports racer called the Grand Touring car—an exotic animal in America—France went flat out to Frenchify the surroundings. He ordered his Daytona International Speedway .officials to put on French military kepis, too, and had information posters put up in both French and English. Down in les pits, the seemly curves of Miss Universe, Ieda Maria Vargas of Brazil, contributed to the worldly ambiance France was seeking to establish fn this rather puzzled grits-and-gravy town.

As practice "began on the Speedway's steep banked turns and tight infield road course, Italy's glamorous crimson Ferraris assumed their accustomed role as the cars to beat. This was Ferrari's first defense of its 1963 GT championship. The defenders were potent: America's former world-champion driver, Phil Hill, paired with the Latin leadfoot, Pedro Rodriguez, in one wailing factory coupe; the seasoned American racers Walt Hansgen and Bob Grossman in another.

To insiders, combining Hill and Rodriguez was a little like letting Drs. Casey and Kildare operate on the same patient, so different are their driving styles. Hill, best of the world's endurance drivers, has a delicate touch. Rodriguez is straight Mexican mole sauce—a very hot driver and very hard on cars.

The Ferraris were chaperoned by Luigi Chinetti, Enzo Ferrari's man in America, and he was wailing louder than the cars. "We have a strike at the factory," he cried, shrugging expressively. "Things look bad."

What did that have to do with this week's race? "We are bound to have trouble," he responded opaquely.

"Strike," barked Carroll Shelby, builder of the Ford-engined, Anglo-American Cobras. " Ferrari always has a strike, to hear Chinetti tell it."

For Hill it was a reunion of sorts with Ferrari, whose works' team he angrily left after the 1962 season—a one-shot free-lance arrangement, permitted under a new contract he has made with Ford Motor Company. He was as unimpressed by Chinetti's strike talk as by the trip-hammer speech of his Italian mechanics. "This melodic, wonderful-sounding chatter," he said, "is usually something as mundane as 'Have you looked at the spark plugs?' "

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