Scheckter was the first driver on the scene. He saw the crash and locked his brakes to a stop. He leaped the rail, ran to Cevert's car and knelt down and looked into the wreckage. Then he stood up and raised his arms in a furious, futile gesture. Anyone watching knew why: Cevert was dead.
In his short life Cevert had been the most glamorous of drivers, and one of the most talented. He was handsome, almost pretty, but he had the best of the Gallic traits—courage, skill, humor. At breakfast on the morning of his death he had been amused by a caption accompanying his photograph in a local newspaper that described him as "intense and waiting." He smiled over his tea. "Aren't we all?" he asked.
Cevert also had given thought to Jackie Stewart's dilemma. Earlier in the week he had said, "Jackie faces two options, neither of them very appealing. He can quit racing and save his life, or he can quit racing and lose what his life is about. There are two kinds of death in this sport. Perhaps in any sport. There is physical death, which probably does not hurt so very much, and there is a kind of psychic death, which I'm certain hurts quite a little bit. If Jackie retires, what can he do that will take the place of this...." And he gestured at the dining room overlooking Seneca Lake, at the autumn colors and the strangely slanted land, at his fellow drivers—oh, so dashing and trim and alive, in love with the earth and with its uncle, death. "Yet he could retire into a life of commerce," Cevert continued. "He has an affection for it, and perhaps it would satisfy him. I cannot predict what he will do, but whatever it is, it will be interesting."
After Cevert's death, there was a great scurrying around the Goodyear trailer compound where Stewart and Cevert usually hung out when they were not racing. Men stood guard at the trailer doors, obviating crude questions. Many people said that Stewart would not race that weekend, not after this.
"What has he got to gain?" they asked. Or, more mechanically, "Maybe something's wrong with the cars." The wreckage was difficult to assess. After examining it, though, the mechanics of Team Tyrrell determined that Cevert had crashed with the accelerator depressed—had he lost control and was he trying to power his way out of it? Driver error? Or had something snapped?
A friend stopped Stewart as he charged back and forth on the road behind the pits. He clasped Stewart's hand. "Uh huh," Stewart said. Then he got in his car and went out to practice some more. Finally, as had been expected, Stewart withdrew from the race—"out of respect for Francois and the feelings of his countrymen."
As for the U.S. Grand Prix, Sweden's Ronnie Peterson won the pole as he had done in eight of the season's previous 14 races. And he won the race, too—his fourth this season—and the $53,900 purse that goes along with it, the richest prize in the series. The 29-year-old Swede has long been touted as the most promising member of the post-Stewart generation, but it was not until this year that he got all his talents together.
Nonetheless, Peterson had a hard Sunday drive. A surprising chase developed, thanks to Britain's newly emerged Grand Prix figure, 22-year-old Lord Hesketh, who must be the strangest anachronism in 20th Century Sportin' Life. Alexander Hesketh is a portly fellow, a "privateer" in racing parlance. He hates the commercialism of motor racing, but loves the game dearly and his car, a white March-Ford with the family red-and-blue racing stripes, bears absolutely no sponsor decals. Unthinkable! The money to race comes right out of His Lordship's ample private purse. Hesketh's driver is James Hunt, a Briton who was once inelegantly known as "Hunt the Shunt." Starting from the fourth position on the grid, Hunt leaped quickly onto the tail pipes of Peterson and gamely hung there throughout the race. "I could have taken him early on," Hunt said later, "but I hoped to wait and wear him down. At one point I pulled abreast of him, but his face looked fiercer than mine. My car was definitely quicker"—as indeed a new race lap record of 119.596 mph proved on the 37th of 59 laps—"but I waited too long."
Meanwhile, there was an accompanying touch of grim irony in the race. Earlier in the week the Grand Prix Drivers Association had sternly discussed the possibility of lifting Scheckter's license because of the accidents he had precipitated in earlier races. But Scheckter's heroic quick response and his emotion over the Cevert tragedy softened most of the passions against him. In this case it seemed academic: after racing for 40 laps at the Glen, Scheckter dropped out with a broken suspension.
America's Peter Revson, starting his McLaren from seventh slot on the grid, ran into problems at the start with a sticky clutch and was forced to let the pack sweep past him. Still, by unusually careful and skillful driving he managed to finish fifth overall. Fittipaldi, with tire problems and a quick early pit stop, ended up sixth, but secured second place in the final point standings, with Peterson third for the season.