Baumgardner, Pete Feistmann, who inspected and built cars for the climb years
before he was old enough to compete, sees the mountain with every bump and
pavement patch drawn on his mind in a pattern. "There's a bump up there
that you hit coming up on the rock wall. You've got three or four hundred feet
to get ready for one turn, but if you hit that bump wrong you crash into the
wall." On the difficulty of remembering the course Feistmann says, "Put
Jackie Stewart in an identical car and the regulars would outrun him first time
up." He says the secret is not the charging but the stopping.
And it was all
over for Skip Barber on his second run after a first run that was good for a
newcomer. The rain had slowed down but the road was spotted with puddles.
Spectators on the corner recalled a vanishing act: first you saw the
robin's-egg blue of the car, then you didn't, the airfoil wing dropping between
two trees like a swing. Barber climbed up out of the hollow unhurt, but the car
was done for the weekend, one wheel gone, its nose crumpled from a fallen
"I went up
and down on a motorcycle, trying to remember it all," Barber tells us.
"What happened? You get in a fast car and the whole picture changes, it
comes at you too fast. I got in the turn and thought it was a gradual one but I
was already to the hairpin."
So Skip Barber is
added to the Saturday night story-swapping; the mountain got itself another
one—Morgan corner, wasn't it? That's the corner where that Morgan hit the same
tree on the same turn three years in a row, and a cheer went up on the fourth
year when he finally made it all the way to the top. But in Barber's case
there's one thing the railbirds will have to admit; he reasons like a
professional racing driver: "I knew the brakes weren't working properly
yet, but no excuses. It wasn't brake failure—brain failure."
And the Chimney
Rock bench racing goes on: Remember the Porsche factory car that went through
practice and was quietly loaded to go home by Saturday evening, ruled too
precious to be spent on mountain pines and granite? Then there was Charlie
Kolb, a driver of some reputation who co-drove the same car with an old
mountain boy, Buddy Horton from Hickory; Hoi ton went live seconds faster.
Lotus, Porsche, Ferrari, the factory A.C. Bristol the weekend after Sebring
that centered a tree on the first hairpin, the McLaren off the Can-Am circuit
that never even made a run—got crunched in two-way traffic when the driver
tried to learn the course. And there was J. Frank Harrison, the king before
Scott, a wealthy glass manufacturer from Chattanooga who co-drove with Smokey
Drolet, one of the best female drivers in the business. The tiny woman, always
toting a lavender shoulder bag, was kidded about not beating the boss and the
boss won for several years with Smokey a close second. Then the streak ran out.
He crashed one car, then took over Smokey's car and crashed it. A thump and
then dead silence. The mountain had dethroned another king.
Julian Putney from Arden who tore off his gearshift knob on the way to the top,
cut his hand to shreds but wouldn't stop running—72 shifts he counted.
Everybody remembers the guy who used to run off the mountain every year and sit
down in the woods with a welding torch trying to piece his car back together in
time. "He'd put a Ferrari engine in a boat and sink it. Never finished a
run. Nice guy, lived in a fancy suburb in Charlotte and his yard looked like a
car graveyard." And then there was J.P. Brady, whose widow Clariece gives a
trophy in his name each year to the driver "who goes the fastest with what
he's got." We remember J.P. sitting on the hood of his MGA one Saturday
night telling it, "You are a Porsche. You are a Porsche," and J.P.
leaping out of the MGA, after a run, with the seat of his pants on fire.
A good night's
sleep for the serious drivers, then Sunday morning and rain. Fifty-three
drivers pull the covers off their cars, rev up and roostertail off to the
course to beat the crowd of spectators. There are new and old spectators, a
steady stream for five hours. A new one asks, "What happens if it doesn't
quit raining?" And an old one tells him that means the road becomes a
"big old slick snake." There are no rain checks given at Chimney
The rain falls
without a letup. The track is smeared with mud and leaves and rainbow oil
slicks. Chimney Rock is lost in the mist. Racers fishtail off the line in the
morning practice. Each pit crew watches the face of the starter; he'll frown if
told over the earphones that their man if off course, over the side; nod when
he's out of the car, he's O.K. Then, just before the final timed runs are to
get under way—the two chances every man gets to better the mark—the ambulances
are called away to two highway accidents. No runs until they return. The racers
sit in a glistening row at the start line. Some crews hold umbrellas over the
open-cockpit cars, some let them soak up water. Somebody makes a crack about
the lucky guys who drive closed sedans with windshield wipers.
In the bushes a
street Porsche sits up on jack stands; Ted Tidwell has borrowed its all-weather
Michelins in hopes of gaining traction. Feistmann was still faster in the
morning practice, so Tidwell strolls up-course and rubs his hands on the
like a racecourse in the rain. It's like a regular highway—water, mud, leaves,
pulverized sticks—calls for a general-purpose lire."