SI Vault
Kim Chapin
November 01, 1971
Sam Posey is not the best racing driver on earth, but he has the loftiest dreams—about which he speaks at the click of a ballpoint
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November 01, 1971

'now, When I Am World Champion...'

Sam Posey is not the best racing driver on earth, but he has the loftiest dreams—about which he speaks at the click of a ballpoint

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As in the case of another American driver with access to wealth, Peter Revson of the Revlon family, Posey's money, while contributing to that high profile, has tended to detract from his reputation as a driver. This was especially true during the first four years of his career, when it was rumored that his racing ventures were being financed largely by a $500,000 inheritance. The rumor was true.

"It was very much a two-sided thing," says Posey. "On the plus side was the obvious advantage of being able to buy the cars and hire the people I wanted. On the debit side was the fact that racing has a great many playboys and dilettantes, and it was very difficult to make people realize I wasn't in that category. In a sense I gave up a way of life, really, to go racing. I gave up the chance to vacation endlessly on beautiful beaches, buy neat cars, own a house and that sort of thing."

When he was 14, Posey's family took him on a trip to Europe. In the train station at Edinburgh he picked up a book called Challenge Me the Race, the biography of Mike Hawthorn, who was on the brink of his Grand Prix championship year. If there was a turning point in Posey's life, that was it. He says he read the book "300 million times" and he for sure became a full-fledged, teen-age racing historian; he compiled a motor sports library of some 300 volumes.

Much of his time before 1965 was spent fantasizing about how he would finally get behind the wheel. Having survived Buckley, a private grade school in New York City ("It took a really great teacher working very hard to bring anything out"), he prepped at The Gunnery in Washington, Conn. because of its art department and for college chose the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he was graduated cum laude.

At 14, Posey weighed 250 pounds. Today he has slimmed down to an even 200, spread over a 6'1" frame. He lives by himself in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., not far from the Summer White House, the Champ Carr shop and the Pacific. His five-room apartment is furnished with a stereo, a filing cabinet, a desk and a bed. Nothing else. In that setting he talked recently about his professional debut in 1965—after conversing for hours about everything else. Though six years have passed, that first race seems to summarize his entire career, past, present and future.

"Probably rarely in racing history has someone come into his first race with so much prior knowledge about motor sports, and with so much hope and anticipation," he said. "Right from the beginning I was thinking about and hoping about someday being world champion. My mother tells me that for three or four hours prior to the race I was virtually out of my mind with some kind of shock from the tension building up. The tension was so great that when I started the race, although I was perfectly familiar with driving on that track when it was more or less empty, I suddenly noticed there were all these other cars all over the place, and I thought, 'God, this is difficult.' I kept thinking that through the first third of the first turn, then I noticed another car bobble and thought, 'Oh, but he's making a mistake. I can capitalize on that. This isn't so bad after all.' Between the first and second turn I thought, 'I believe I've got the measure of all these drivers. I wonder what class I should go into next?' Then we went around the upper part of the course and I was thinking about what I would write in my autobiography after I became world champion. Talk about race drivers having a compressed life, this was it.

"Down the front straight I was third. I had started fourth and passed one guy, but the two ahead of me seemed to get away a little bit and a tinge of panic set in. 'I'd better get in the lead now,' I thought. 'Time to lead the race. 'We went through the first two turns again and through the Esses, but they seemed to be still getting away and I thought, 'I've gotta do it.' So I just headed off across the grass. They were going around there, and I was going straight over here, across the grass. Incredible move.

"The car didn't crash, but it popped out of gear and bounced around so much that I wound up about 16th at the end of that lap. And then this incredible depression overtook me because I could see I wasn't going to win the race. After that I drove as steadily and as well as I could and wound up fourth, almost third. That was the first little piece of maturing."

The race was at Lime Rock, Conn. and Posey's car was a Formula V, an open-wheel racer powered by a 45-horsepower Volkswagen engine with a top speed of maybe 100 mph. Think what Sam will say in the year of his championship.

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