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For thousands of spectators it was a colorful sporting weekend. For Carroll Shelby, the lean Texan who affects bibbed overalls, it was a victorious weekend. But for Millionnaire Sportsman Briggs Cunningham the Sports Car Club of America's big splash at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin's fine Road America course was a lost weekend.
Cunningham arrived with four gleaming D Jaguars and great expectations. Walt Hansgen, winner of an important race at Cumberland, Md. in May, all but demolished one of them in practice Friday, flipping on the same long curve where Tom Friedmann was killed in practice for the inaugural races last September.
When time came for the feature race Sunday—a 152-mile test for the biggest and fastest cars over Road America's twisting, undulating ribbon of asphalt—Cunningham still had three cars but two mildly afflicted drivers. Hansgen had an aching back as the result of his mishap; big Sherwood Johnston, runner-up to Phil Hill in a spirited duel in last year's main event, had a painful knee. He had twisted it severely getting up from the dinner table the night before.
Carroll Shelby hitched up his striped overalls, exchanged a battered, wide-brimmed straw hat for a racing helmet and streaked into the lead with his 4.4-liter Ferrari, hard pressed by Johnston, Lou Brero in another D Jag and Hansgen. Only three seconds separated the lead-footed quartet after 36 miles on the four-mile course when Johnston came to grief. Fighting for control as he swept out of a downhill turn onto a short straightaway, Johnston swerved to avoid a retired car, veered again to bypass a rock pile, smashed head on into a stone fence and flipped end over end.
Hansgen passed Brero and set out after Shelby, but he was worried. What had happened to Johnston? Next time around, Hansgen was so pleasantly surprised to see Johnston up and walking that he misjudged his braking on the corner looming ahead and spun out. That cost him seven places, from second to ninth. Becoming increasingly aware that this was not the Cunningham team's day, Hansgen still doggedly rejoined the chase. He moved resolutely up to fourth place, but after 72 miles, on the right-angle turn at the end of the main straightaway, he "just lost it" and rolled over and out of the race. Briggs Cunningham, in his fourth and last D Jag, was back in the pack, destined to finish a lap behind the leaders.
As the crowd of 30,000 returned its attention to the scrap between Shelby and Brero, it abruptly became no scrap at all. Shelby led Brero by eight seconds when Hansgen crashed. Brero in turn was 52 seconds ahead of Ernie Erickson, the eventual third-place finisher, in still another D Jaguar. Caught in a traffic jam as the no-passing flag went out for Hansgen's accident, Brero lost time at both ends. After cruising behind a slow car, he was 40 seconds behind Shelby when the go-ahead signal was given and only 13 seconds ahead of Erickson.
Then, near the 100-mile mark, Brero skittered off the road.
"I thought, 'Louie, you're not going to make it,' " Brero said later. "I tried to straighten her out to hit the hay bales head on, then I ducked down. I went on through the bales and into some tall grass. I couldn't see where I was as I spun around, and I kept wondering where the rocks were. Finally I found the course and got back on it."
By the time Brero had stopped spinning Shelby was 50 seconds ahead and in complete control. From the Shelby pit Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari representative in the U.S., signaled the Texas oilman to slow down, and though Brero thereupon crept up on him, Shelby crossed the line first by a safe five seconds. His time was 1:53:22.74 for an average speed of 80.04 mph.
All in all, it was an exciting, speed-filled weekend—from Carl Haas's narrow-squeak victory in a Porsche 1300 in the first race on Saturday through Jack McAfee's masterful win in a Porsche Spyder in Saturday's 100-mile feature for Classes F and E modified cars and on to the main event Sunday. There was even a rarely heard protest—in this case that John Mays's Fiber-Sport, class winner in a preliminary race, had too much engine. The protest was disallowed.