Europe, 1963 was where it began. Now, first you must understand that there wasn’t any television coverage of formula one races in the good old USA in ‘63. Everything I knew about F1 came from race reports and photos in magazines that would arrive by mail weeks after the event. Therefore, the first time that I ever witnessed a F1 car in person took place in the sand dunes of Holland at the Zandvoort Circuit. I was immediately blown away by the sounds and the unbelievable entry speeds into the corners. Wow! This was even better than I imagined it would be.
That evening, fueled with adrenaline after my official F1 introduction, we drove the short distance to Amsterdam for dinner, drinks and to try our luck with the local female population. We were having a wonderful time, but at some point after mid-night it was decided that it was time to return to Zandvoort and camp near the race track. It was weird when we approached the venue because there was nobody in sight, so we entered the track and parked where we had earlier that day. Zandvoort is a beach town and it was having typical coastal weather, wet and foggy. It was way too damp to sleep on the ground and we needed a roof over our head. After scouting around we thought the unmanned pit boxes looked like the most logical choice. We grabbed our camping kit and trekked over to the pit and paddock area and selected a random F1 team box to be our dorm for the night.
We were tired and a little drunk, so we slept very well. Too well it turned out. Our plan to leave before the team’s arrival Sunday morning failed to happen. The first mechanic to enter our lodge inquired, “Jesus Christ! What in the bloody hell are you guys doing in here?” Since this outburst also served as our alarm clock and we didn’t have an answer, we did the next logical thing and engaged him in conversation about racing. As it turns out, we had randomly selected the Cooper team’s box to call home. The drivers for Cooper that race were Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs of South Africa. I will digress for a moment, two months later in London, I had dinner with Tony’s sister (or was it cousin? never did get that straight) and she thought it was very funny that we had slept in Tony’s pit box.
After a few more mechanics arrived, we reluctantly cleared our camping gear so the Cooper F1 team could have their work space back, wished the lads good luck and walked up the dunes to select our seat for the race. It was not the greatest race, but it was still amazing to be a part of such an exciting event. The race was won by the great Jim Clark [Lotus] followed by Dan Gurney [Brabham] and John Surtees [Ferrari]. Richie Ginther [BRM] was fifth and the other Americans were Jim Hall [Lotus BRM] in eighth and Phil Hill [ATS] a DNF.
As we were walking through the paddock area, which in that era was less sophisticated than today’s SCCA National racing paddock, we spotted Dan Gurney standing alone. Being a Condor in training, I could not resist the temptation and quickly pounced. Dan was in a good mood after his podium finish and was amazingly nice to us as we stood around and chatted for a good twenty minutes. It may have had something to do with the Oslo Ski Jumping Pins that our group was wearing that got our conversation off to a good start because he wanted to know all about our ski jumping exploits. I can’t remember if we told Dan that we actually traded for them in an Oslo bar or if he thought we were legitimate ski jumpers! In any case, it was nice to see that my racing hero was also a very good guy. Heading for the gates, we told him that he would see us again the following weekend in Reims for the French GP.
Not a bad start for my maiden F1 experience. Next stop will be France, where a couple of other crazy things happened.