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.
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
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.
"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.
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
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?' "