The afternoon wore on, and eventually, at cocktail time, the track went quiet and the elite met to sample imported beer and cheese at an exclusive bash being given in the Mission Inn's Spanish-flavored Music Room by the British consulate general and British Motor Car Distributors Ltd. Here there was an air of respectability, but I managed to spot an unconventional bloke or two. British Motor Sports Writer Bill Gavin, who had Vidal Sassoon bangs identical to those worn by his wife, held forth on why the English did not hope to win at Riverside: "There is no weight limit on these cars. To develop a car capable of winning you need to campaign it over 10 or 12 races. Outside the U.S. this type race is rarely held." An American motor sports magazine publisher with waxed blond mustache, Dave Davis, sampled first a Queen's Ale, then a Watney's Stingo, then a Bulmer's Woodpecker Cider to celebrate "the 10 years since I got my new face after being dragged under a racer at Sacramento." Someone pointed out a neat, silent chap as Art Arfons, who was to set the world record for speed, 536 miles per hour, until last week, when Craig Breedlove went faster—and regained the record Sunday by doing 576. Someone else asked Graham Hill to hold still for a picture, and Jackie Stewart, the wee Scot, stood around accepting congratulations on a brand-new 9-pound 3-ounce baby boy. A British accent began singing flat over a mike as a piano thumped out A Bicycle Built for Two. Except for a certain lunging at the hors d'oeuvres, it was a cocktail party in the most civilized tradition. "What a wonderful contrast it will make," I told a new friend, "to the wild ones out in the fields, where those yo-yos even now are souping themselves up on sneaky pete, Coors and who knows—boo!"
"I beg your pardon," said a girl in a white fox stole.
It was past midnight when other sociologists and I swung out of the Mission Inn and silently sped to the darkened racetrack. At the end of Day Street near the track, cars and campers and trailers and station wagons and old panel trucks were lined up on both sides of the dusty road, faced in the direction of the raceway entrance. "That's so they'll get to roar right in with a kind of drag race of their own at 6 a.m., when the official rocket goes up off our observation tower," said our driver. As we idled down the center of the street we saw a few youngsters standing huddled around fires. More were rolled up in blankets already sacked out and many were asleep in their cars. At the other area staked out by the cops for parking, on Pigeon Pass Road, the situation was the same. There were not many girls, no music, few bonfires, no dancing and less beer drinking than at the Mission Inn. At one point a young man came to the car window and said, "Sir, would you put on your parking lights only. We're trying to make love here." There was no sign of it. Either these kids had never seen the movie Where the Girls Are or else the police had cracked down so rigidly that they had put a general quietus on the scene. "Well, it sure isn't Fort Lauderdale," someone sighed. "Next thing we know these kids will take to smoking grapevines and corn silk."
We returned to the inn, where it was infinitely madder. The cocktail waitress was wearing a Bardahl sticker on each side of her chest and someone had put a T shirt advertising "Moon Equipped" drag-racing products on the marble bust of Diana in the hotel hallway.
On Sunday a record crowd wedged into the valley in smog so thick it was palpable. "The crowd today is 84,478, a new record," said the announcer. One had to take his word for it, as you could not see very clearly through air that was the color of a warm daiquiri.
Of the 84,478, perhaps 4,000 had come to watch the race. The others ambled around, seeking the colorful alley of tents called the Rue du Grand Prix, where a combo poured out an electrically amplified big beat. Here barefoot racing enthusiasts did the Watusi. "This scene is incredible," said one Indianapolis veteran. "Look at these crowds, and the grandstand is empty."
Out on the 2.6-mile circuit the cars moved like thundering, flickering shadows through the smaze, with the leaders hitting 157 mph on the back straightaway. Texan Hap Sharp, a 37-year-old Santa-shaped man, won in record time. His Chaparral II, with a fiber-glass chassis, fiber-glass body and secret automatic transmission, rolled along at an untroubled 102.989 miles per hour, surpassing the record of 99.245 set last year by Parnelli Jones. With Olympia beer cans becoming mountainous heaps at track-side, Scotland's Jimmy Clark finished second in his Lotus 40, 11 seconds behind Sharp. Bruce McLaren followed in a creation he calls "The McLaren-Elva Special Mark I."
The victory was worth $14,640 to Sharp, who has been called a Texas banker. "I know where the mistake came from," said the winner. "Someone quoted me as saying I owned several banks in Texas. What I said was that I owed several Texas banks."
To questions about how this automatic transmission works, Sharp rubbed his red eyes wearily and answered cheerily, "I ain't going to tell you how it works."
An unseen jet from nearby March Air Force Base propelled a jolting sonic boom across the valley. It was perfectly timed. The race cars had come safely home through the thickening air, and the noise shook at least 20,000 people awake who, full of beer and smog, had crawled into cars and trailers to sleep it off. A freshening wind blew in more smog from L.A. Sharp and a victory party rolled along the freeway to Santa Monica and ended up at The Ball on Wilshire Boulevard, where the waitresses not only take your orders but also dance quite undressed. "This is kind of disconcerting," said Sharp to Carroll Shelby. "I've been to 10 county fairs but I ain't never seen nothing like this."