As automobile races go, the eighth annual U.S. Grand Prix was a pretty grand affair. For the sixth straight year it was held at Watkins Glen, N.Y., a picturesque resort town of 2,813 located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, just up the Yellow Brick Road between Brobdingnag and Brigadoon, and a crowd of 70,000 somehow forced its way along the few narrow access roads to witness the 248-mile test. Lawyer Cameron Argetsinger and the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation assured the financial success of the race, at least from the drivers' point of view, by raising $102,400 in prize money, the largest road-racing purse in history. The first-place pot of 20 grand added up to exactly $1,256 more than all the first purses in the eight other world championship events combined. (In those races, however, the drivers all received appearance money; at the Glen they did not.) Director John Frankenheimer showed up with Actor James Garner to film a segment of a movie they're making, called Grand Prix, scattering more green around the countryside.
But while the Glen was long on cash and class, it was a little short on dramatic action. The weather was miserable. When it wasn't raining, or threatening rain, a biting wind forced drivers and spectators into all sorts of unlikely garb. America's Dan Gurney didn't change expression for four days; England's Graham Hill looked characteristically worried; Scotland's Jackie Stewart looked characteristically unconcerned. Jimmy Clark won the race, which was nice, and nobody had much of anything to say about, for or to Australia's Jack Brabham.
This last was due to Jack's natural camouflage. He does not wear a mustache, as Hill does, is not embarked on a crusade to uphold his country's international racing honor, as Gurney is, has not made a comeback from a near-fatal racing accident, as John Surtees did, and is not exuberant, young and talkative, as Stewart is. This almost universal neglect is puzzling, however, when you understand that Brabham has won 11 Grand Prix races in his career, more than any other active driver except Jimmy Clark (who has 20), and has spaced his victories this season in such a way that on September 4 at Monza, Italy he clinched his third World Driving Championship with two events still to be run. Moreover, he is the very first champion to build his own car.
The world should be at Brabham's feet, at least that part that concerns itself with camshafts and rain tires, but it is not. A discussion of Brabham always ends with a "but," as in. "Oh, yes. Old Jack is the world champion, but..."
What follows the but could be Gurney's: "I think he would be the first to admit that there are three or four drivers who are quicker."
Or what Bob Bondurant said: "Jack's quick, but John Surtees and Jochen Rindt are better."
Or what Carroll Shelby said: "He's at the top of the second echelon. Jack's a plodder, a middle-of-the-roader. There are six or seven better."
It was the same way back in 1959 and 1960, when Brabham, after making a slow and painful transition from Australian dirt tracks to the European road circuits, won his first two world titles in Cooper-Climax cars built by an equally unglamorous Englishman, John Cooper. "Jack's the champion," they said, "but Stirling Moss is quicker." It made no difference that Brabham won races while Stirling the Quicker often broke his car and never did win the title.
Part of the problem lies in Brabham's personality. He recently told SI's John Lovesey, "I suppose if you get down to tin tacks I'm a very uninteresting person. I eat plain food, don't drink or smoke, and I'm not interested in going to nightclubs. I'm just interested in the job we're doing—motor racing. That's all I live for, virtually. If other people don't like it, that's just too bad for them."
The truth is, though, that Brabham. if not exactly a bucketful of high jinks, is neither dull nor uninteresting. He talks easily and freely to people he knows well. In the two days of practice leading up to the U.S. Grand Prix there was constant banter between Brabham and Denis Hulme (his team driver), Surtees and many other racing men.