Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No, no, not Delage, Delahaye. My Lunch With Rob Walker

          
The Delage that won this year's grand prize at Pebble Beach  made me think of another Delage.  No, wait, not Delage, another priceless French car that starts with Dela, Delahaye,   Rob raced a Delage in the 1950s but it was the Delahaye he raced at LeMans.      




Rob at Tetre Rouge, LeMans 1939 Photo fromRob Walker by Michael Cooper-Evans


 Rob was born in a house of a hundred rooms to a fortune a big as Texas and a gentle spirit rare among gentlemen.  He had the grace and the grandeur of an ocean liner.  And nobody had more fun.
  
  He learned to drive on the mile long driveway at eleven, leaning into the curves, throwing up waves of gravel, his little Austin screaming. 


           At Cambridge, he shocked the horsey set at the annual Cottenham National Hunt by doing the steeple chase in his bi-plane.  And got banned from flying for life until the war when he flew fighter planes for the Royal Navy . 


             He raced his Delahaye at LeMans in 1939 wearing a pin-stripe suit. His crew flagged him in for a pit stop because they were down to the last bottle of champagne and they knew he wouldn’t want to miss that. “Oh absolutely, quite right.”  He helped finish the bottle and went back out to finished the race ninth.  And drove back to England in the car. 


Stirling Moss and Rob
Photo fromRob Walker by Michael Cooper-Evans
         He was the Gentleman Stirling Moss drove for.  And Jack Brabham, and Graham Hill.  And Siffert, Courage, Pedro Rodriguez, Bonnier, and Maurice Trintingant.


He was the last Private Entrant.  The last Gentleman.  The one in whose shadow the small men of today's Formula One now run.  He was “the first private entrant to defeat the factory teams in World Championship Grand Prix racing.  Between 1958 and 1968 he did it nine times.


His passport read Robert Roderick Campbell Walker. Under  `occupation' it said `Gentleman.'  


           He asked me to lunch.


           I’d grown up reading Rob Walker in Road & Track.  And in my early novels, the team owner, Ken Arundel is based on my boyish guess of what the real Rob Walker might be like.  The real Rob Walker turned out to be more charming, delightful, and fun.  


            He poured half a bottle of Chambolle-Musigny into a goblet the size of a fish bowl and handed it to me.   A priceless Breughel hung on the wall of his dining room behind him. “The other one’s in the bedroom.” he said.  


            He showed me a long row of cardboard boxes overflowing with newspaper clippings, hand written notes and photographs.  Now that he had retired from racing, would I like to write his biography?


             It was a great honor to be asked.  But I turned him down.  I was too American to write his story.  It would have to be written by a Brit.  How about Michael Cooper-Evans? I said.  Michael had written three fine books on racing.  And he’d been Rob’s team manager when Stirling Moss was driving for Walker Racing.  And Michael had just retired from being the Chairman of JWT, the largest ad agency in Europe.  “He’d be perfect.”


               And so he was.  Michael had taken hundreds of photographs from those years, and unlike me, he was there.  The result, ROB WALKER, by Michael Cooper Evans is the great record of racing’s golden age.  Here’s a quote from the book: 


Rob Walker made countless friends during the course of his motor racing career.


              Even as a journalist he has made no enemies.
               
               In his study at Nunny, Mike Hailwood’s Griffen helmet stands amongst Rob’s collection of trophies as a reminder that, unlike those of us who have led more humdrum lives, he cannot enjoy sharing reminiscences with many of his closest friends: Jim Clark, Pedro Rodriguez, Gilles Villeneuve, Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson, Graham Hill, Mike Hawthorn, Harry Schell, Peter Collins, Jo Siffert, Bruce McLaren.  It’s a cruel sport.


                  There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an ageing English dowager, rudely awakened by the screech of a Formula One engine warming up below her bedroom window for early morning practice at Monaco, observing sniffily, “In my young day the drivers were all gentlemen pretending to be mechanics; now they are all mechanics pretending to be gentlemen.”


                Never in his life has Rob pretended to be anything but himself – generous, unpretentious, courteous, kind, the epitome of the English gentlemen.  Motor racing will never be quite the same without him, and will never again be enriched by anyone for whom there is such widespread respect and genuine affection.
              
                  Rob Walker is one of a kind.


                                     (from Rob Walker, by Michael Cooper-Evans
                                       Hazelton Publishing, 1993)


               
             


            

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Juddstory is off to Vermont for a few days. Back on August 31.

              You will find a truffle or two scrolling down through earlier blogs.   
              The best one is  "The News". Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "older posts." 
               The News came to me all at once, intact in the middle of the night when I could not sleep. The Muse, as my old friend great novelist Tom Keneally, likes to say, is a fickle tickling soul.  Sometime she touches you and you are in flames. Usually, she's turned off her phone.  And she never returns calls.
               Then there's the lap around Laguna Seca with Jimmy Vasser. Scroll down, you'll find it.  And the Bugatti Veyron, lit like Michaelangelo's La Pieta.

A short trip down the main straight at Brands Hatch

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                  My Jackie Stewart article on Jalopnik claims that a writer can create the sensation of speed on the page by using the first person and an accumulation of detail.
                  Here’s an excerpt from my first book, Formula One, published when Mastadons still roamed the earth.  I could change the details to bring it up to date like raise the rpms from 11,500 to 18,000 but once you get started on that it’s a slippery slope; F1 cars don't have gauges any more, they have displays, and radios did away with lap boards years ago, etc. etc..  So, unvarnished from Formula One, a trip down the main straight at Brands Hatch in a 1990 Formula One car.



                It’s the sixth lap of the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.  I am on the outside of the turn at Clearways, my left wheels rabbiting on the thin strip of concrete at the edge of the track, 145 mph and accelerating hard.
                Cavelli’s Ferrari is two hundred yards away in first, crossing the start/finish line.  Aral is six feet away in second.  A blue puff out of his exhausts tells me he’s just changed from fourth to fifth.  The force of turning in wants to drag my helmet and my head off my shoulders. The little vibration in my left wheels stops as the left wheels come back onto the tarmac just before the concrete strip runs out.  My right foot is trying to push the accelerator through the floor.  The engine just ticks the electronic cut off at 11,500 rpm and I let up for fourteen thousandths of a second to snatch fifth and mash the accelerator to the floor, still six feet behind Aral.
                Aral is holding me up.  If I can get a tow from him, stay close enough behind him in the aerodynamic vacuum in his wake, I can get up the extra speed to pass him before Paddock Hill Bend at the end of the main straight.
                On the last lap I’d made a move to pass him on the outside, on the left at the start/finish line.  I didn’t have the speed to pass him but I wanted to set him up for this lap.
                Aral clips the inside of th track under the big yellow Shell sign and seven thousandths of a second later, I do the same. As I shift into sixth, I check my gauges (everything is just fine) and more or less at the same time (I shift my attention rather than my eyes) I look ahead to the pit wall on the right to see if there are any messages for me.
                  Not that I care at this point; things are going to be very busy shortly.  Aral’s crew is holding out a board telling him he’s in second, a second ahead of third.  I laugh because Aral has his mirrors full of me and knows I haven’t been as far back as a full second for two laps.  Just to drive the point home I move a little closer to his exhaust pipes, about two and a half feet, say, two to three thousandths of a second behind him.   My crew give me a thumbs up sign.  Over their heads, the big electronic board registers Cavelli’s speed across the start/finish line:196mph.
                We’re creeping up to almost the same speed , although with me tacked into his slipstream Aral has to haul both cars through the atmosphere, so we’ll probably only reach around 190.
                 Looking in my mirrors I could see a group of cars behind us back in Clearways.  But nobody right behind us. Plenty of room.
                At that speed there are two time zones.  Inside the cockpit it’s slow time.  Lift your foot off the accelerator as fast as you can to stomp on the brake and so much of the track slips by underneath while you lift off one pedal and onto the other, you have the feeling your foot is stuck in molasses.  So much landscape whizzes by while you check your mirrors.
                 While the time inside the cockpit slows down, the rest of the world has picked up speed.  It’s like those science fiction movies when the skyship accelerates into hyperspace and everything turns into a blurred tunnel except the one point on the horizon.
                The car is alive.  It’s in its element, nervous, hunting for another direction, for a new path of its own, away from human hands.  It needs a graceful, easy touch and all of your strength and will.  Ignore it for a microsecond and it will charge off in its own mad direction.  Treat it roughly and it will tear your head off.
                 Two and a half feet behind a Formula One car at 190 mph is not the ideal place to relax.  Blink once, for example, and you’ve driven thirty yards with your eyes shut.  And even with your eyes wide open the view is mostly the backside of Aral’s engine, suspension rods, exhaust pipes and big wide black racing tires.  All bouncing, jouncing, shaking, vibrating.
                   Strapped to the chassis, your body hums along at 11,500 rpm with the engine, and the car bounces and skitters from the uneven surface of the track and the boils of wind coming off the car in front.
                     And the air is bad, full of fumes, rubber dust and shrapnel from the grit and small stones vacuumed up by the car in front and tossed back at you by the tires and ducts from the undertray. Lots of incentive to look for a better neighborhood.
                    About thirty yards before the start/finish line I moved left like the lap before.  But Aral knew I wasn’t likely to try to pass on the left.  The main straight at Brands isn’t really straight but a gradually decreasing radius right-hand turn. Pass on the left on the straight, and unless you are going a lot faster than the car in front, you can easily run out of race track.  Still Aral moved to the left to block me and I made my move to the right.
                    No problem.  Except, of course, the road disappears.  After the start/finish line there’s a little rise, and just over the brow, where you can’t see, the track turns, bends right and dives downhill, a great roller coaster of a turn.  If you get it right.
                   Etc.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Erno Goldfingers house and mine. No 1 Willow Road, Hampstead, London & No. 2.

Last week's The Times Literary Supplement says the American composer of chance and silence, John Cage, studied archtecture with the great British/Hungarian architect, Erno Goldfinger   
          Ah, Erno.  Just say his name and it brings him back looming large in my doorway in No. 1 Willow Road.  My bride and I were just moving in.
         "I hope you like my house," he said.  His house? He sounded like Count Dracula.  He looked around the dining room, nodding approval towards our large country pine dining table and some rustic chairs.  "That's nice, country furniture looks nice here.  I don't really like modern furniture."  This I was later to learn was a lie.  You can see his "modern" furniture in London's Tate Modern museum
         His house? I had just paid a substantial lump of British Pounds Sterling for my house.   Well yes, but Erno had designed and built it in 1939 to last a thousand years. I was just the temporary occupant.  (He called the people who lived in his houses "my victims.") It's a fine modern house with classical references in it's columns and proportions facing Hampstead Heath. Erno and his wife Ursula lived next door in the middle house, No. 2 Willow Road.  
                Then he spotted a little frilly Victorian glass shade I'd put over a ceiling light bulb  He rose up to fill the doorway, blocking out the light, pointing a trembling finger at the offending bit of frosted glass and bellowed, "THAT MUST GO!"   
              I laughed and we got to be great friends. 
  
We remodeled the kitchen.  But the table that Erno "liked" remained.  The light globe took the place of the frilly Victorian shade


                         There was heavy opposition Erno's row of three joined houses when they were built.  This was Hampstead, a village that had been there for nearly a thousand years.  The house was too modern.  Nothing like the Victorian piles alongside.  Erno knocked down three dilapidated cottages and the locals, including James Bond's author Ian Fleming, were outraged. It was too modern, too square.  Erno replied, "my house bears a closer resemblance to its beautiful Georgian neighbors on Downshire Hill than my Victorian neighbors on Willow Road. As for square houses, only Eskimos and Zulus build round ones." 
Fleming took revenge by naming one of his nastiest villains, Goldfinger.

Erno's elegant central stairwell is like the one in "my" house but lighter with floating treads.
James Merrell photo.

A round skylight at the top of the stairs illuminates the three flights of the stairwell with natural light
 

Erno and Ursula Goldfinger, in their eighties, when I knew them


                     Ursula was lovely.  She was a Blackwell of the Cross & Blackwell pickles and soup fortune and had grown up in of the great country houses in England.  So her family was outraged when she went to Paris to study art and came back married to the mad, dashing, handsome Hungarian.
                        After Erno and Ursula died, the house had the last word. The British National Trust bought No. 2 as a museum; making it the National Trust's first urban and first twentieth century house. 



The interior of Erno's house. He designed the furniture. Folding doors make the interior space flexible with maximum natural light.


I bought a Lotus Elan Sprint and I wanted to show it off.  Come on Erno, I said, It's a beautiful day. Let's make her scream.  
So we took off, top down on a warm summer afternoon, two bad boys out for a romp.  I thought Erno would want to head out to the country and roar down country lanes. But no.  He wanted to go up to a north London  suburban town where he had built an office building in the 1950s.  


The building was Hille House on the St. Albans Road in Watford  with the the geometry characteristic of a Goldfinger design.  Erno leaned back, taking in the whole of the building.  "You must admit, he said, is very, very good."


       And I thought what a pleasure it must be, to feel so much satisfaction in your work, decades later.


      When we got back to No. 2 Willow Road, he said, "Ursula, your plan to kill me has not worked.  This mad boy has brought me back alive."  He  grabbed a bottle of vodka by the neck.  "Now," he said in his deep Transylvanian voice, "may I pour you a drop of this divine liquid."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Excerpt From The Candle #2

            You can't help it any more than a Daddy can help loving an awkward child.  Here's a scene from The Candle, a book I still love, even though its flaws loom large.  Danny, a Hollywood producer until her one night stand with Bobb, is looking for a girl and revenge. The year is 1976.

 
               The morning tide was out and in no hurry to come back.  It was too early for the regulars, so the beach was mostly tourists; Minnesota mommies and daddies keeping a nervous eye on their kids in the shallow surf hopping and screaming at every wave. 

 
                Danny, scanning the horizon like Ahab looking for whales spotted the little group right away.  Typical, she thought.  Two weeks of chasing leads, going from commune to commune, a long, wasted drive up to Bend, Oregon and back, and another down to the back streets of Tijuana, and here she was almost in her own back yard.  Two miles from Danny’s ocean front apartment, on the beach in Venice.  The hippies were moving slowly, from beach blanket to beach blanket, making their pitch, coming towards her.  The girl was dressed like a pilgrim on her way to Jerusalem in some Biblical time, with a full hood over her head, and a long faded purple dress down to her sandals.  The guys, too, had struck up a glum biblical theme, with robes and beards and headbands, beach beggar Jesuses asking for alms, a little spare change for breakfast, man, and like freedom, man.  With an air of moral superiority,  Like if you weren’t tied to the system you could be a beggar like me and get to smoke dope and fuck all the time. 


                Danny, on the boardwalk, long dark hair fluttering in the breeze, put her foot up on the rail and watched for a while, knowing they weren’t going anywhere, they were coming right toward her, docile as cattle coming home to the barn.  
 
            When they were 50 yards away, she waved.  The hippies, sensing a handout, altered their path and trudged across the sand.

 
              “Hey what’s happening, man?” The man, smiled openly, showing astonishing white teeth, his face seamed, tanned and dirty, short curly beard, long matted curly blonde hair.  His intense blue eyes stared deep into Danny’s eyes, as if her soul was the truth he had been seeking.  

 
                Danny ignored him.  “How are you Alley?” she said to the girl.

 
                The girl, dark circles under her huge dark eyes looked back at Danny, puzzled.

 
                “You don’t remember me?  Danny?  Danielle?”

 
                The girl shook her head, not really focussing on Danny, looking away, then down at the sand.

 
                “The Beefalo commercial.  We shot it last month?  In Hollywood.”

 
                 The girl looked up, beginning to remember.  “Oh yeah. Right on. How’d that go?”

 
                “You were great,” Danny said.

 
                “Hey, cool.  Really cool.  You know, like, I could really use some breakfast.”

 
                “I’ll buy you all the breakfast you can eat,” Danny said, smiling for the first time in two weeks.  “If I can be your agent.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Intel to buy McAfee for $7.68 billion, throws a car party.


You know she's too old for you, you know she's high maintenance, but oh, oh, wouldn't you just love to take her out one sunny afternoon and remember when the world was young? (Click on images to enlarge)


1934 Pierce Arrow dwarfs a row of Ferraris


 Intel's 4th annual car party was a blast.  The Intel gent said, "no judging, no trophies, no worries and free lunch." 

So I said sure, happy to barge down the road in Kathryn's Queen Mary to Intel's campus.  Good music, dancing, bbq and fun, funny, rare and classy cars.  Jaguars were the marque at last week's Pebble Beach concours so there were plenty of Jags.  My fave old roller was the Pierce Arrow. And like Steve Earle, the man who started the whole Historic Racing thing at Monterey once told me, "we all want all of them."


Perfect for rolling up to the Magnolia Country Club after the party


You wonder, will you always remember the first time you saw a Bugatti Veyron in real life?
The Veyron looked like it came in a box from Tiffany's, Bulgari or Van Cleef & Arpels.



There was even a Toyota

Yes, Gladys, that license plate is painted on the backside of the D-Type


Ancestor of the Jag fin: a boat tail on an Auburn Speedster




"Ya know, when me and Mary Ellen were just kids, we usta . . .









Parking Atrocity #44---Unclear on the compact concept


meanwhile inside the Intel Museum, kids who will one day fondly remember when cars had wheels, catch digital rain
little car with hilarity inside
Big car with hilarity inside: The Queen Mary; Kathryn's 1959 Pontiac Star Chief




Wednesday, August 18, 2010

ABSOLUTELY FREE AND ONCE IN A LIFETIME OFFER: UNFINISHED NOVEL #17

In that cascade of shopping lists, partial phone numbers, big moments with old girlfriends, phrases you coulda, phrases you shoulda, re-writes of old stories and snatches of new ones that runs through a writer's head, once in a blue moon a BIG IDEA one comes bounding along.  The idea you've been waiting for. The one big enough for a novel.  The one that will make you famous and your name spoken in awe in the halls of literature.  Needless to say, not all of them work out.  Hardly any of them work out.  Here's one you can have.  Feel free to finish it your way.






BUCK NAKED TAXI



a novel by

Bob Judd




     The phone rang and I picked it up. "Buck Naked Taxi," I said.  "Buck speaking."  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eight People Killed at California 200 in Mojave Desert

Some of us are drawn to the edge of the race track like moths to a flame.   We know the risk.  We don't care. 

The great international Bennett Cup 1900-05 was stopped after spectators died as cars plowed into the crowds lining the road.  Fifty years later, the Mexican Road Race, Carerra Panamerica, was stopped because the crowds swarmed onto the roads in front of the cars, stepping aside at the last moment like wannabe bullfighters.  56 died before they stopped running the race. 

The Mille Miglia a thousand miles of open road racing the length of Italy, was stopped after 1957. In that last race, Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, Marquis of Portago, to give him his full name, blew a tire and killed himself, his co-driver and 8 spectators.    

The worst accident in motor racing history took place at the 1955 24 hours at LeMans when Pierre Levegh hit the back of an Austin Healey. Pierre Levegh hits the back of an Austin Healey. His Mercedes flies into the crowd and explodes.   

The start of the 1973 Indy 500 sprayed fuel into the crowd. After the 1973 Indy 500, spectators were moved back behind a second fence

The only really safe place to watch a race is in front of a TV.  But TV doesn't tell you much.  TV doesn't give you ferocity, the vibration, the thunder, the scent of hot oil, and burned fuel, the seismic shifts of force with the flick of a wheel, the sense of real danger.  There is something in our primal brain that loves the risk.  

You ask what were those people doing there, in the dark, in the desert when Brett Sloppy came flying over the rise out of control.  They were waiting, hearing the noise, seeing the lights flare in the night dust, leaning forward. Like moths to a flame.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Mighty Fool Stunt




 



                        I’d heard about my uncle John’s great adventure when I was a boy in short pants.  And I vaguely knew the old motorcycle at the back of his garage was part of it.  I  pushed through the dusty  boxes and cleared a space around the BSA so I could get on the saddle, hold the handlebars and go vroom vroom.  Maybe Uncle John would sell me the machine one day.  Hey, maybe he’d give it to me. 
 
                       I’d seen the 16 mm film he’d taken of Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia when the color was still fresh.  Over the years the color has faded to salmon, green and yellow.  But when I was a boy and watched his movie flicker on the screen he’d set up in the living room of his house in Chappaqua,  the rivers ran blue and the mountains were all white on top. 
 
                        His films and motorcycle are in a museum in Fairbanks  now.  My wife, who had lived in Alaska, knew all about them.  In the early days of courting, I told her my story of the motorcycle in Uncle John’s garage.  Her jaw dropped and she stepped back.  “You know John Logan?” 

                      Now that all the corners of the globe have been explored, and the great adventures of the past fade to sepia, that trip, 2,400 miles, 6 months, through the great north wilderness in rain, snow and cold, is still fresh, still alive in the diaries he kept. And in the pictures and movies he shot.

How do yoiu cross a river in the Yukon when there's no one for a hundred miles?  Simple.  Get out your axe and build a boat. (click on "access this item" at the top of the page.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mad Men before Mad Men



Five years ago I wrote a novel called THE CANDLE about my life in advertising in the 1970's.  Sorta the sequel to Mad Men, except Mad Men the TV series wasn't born yet.  Here's the opening. 


                              THE CANDLE

                
               They always lit the candle before they made love.  The flame gave off a scent they couldn’t pin down although she once said it smelled like sex.
               The first time they lit the candle they were in Ceylon.  After dinner they were in the back garden of the head of the Colombo office, drinking duty-free brandy.  The moon cast shadows across the lawn and the night was moist and warm with the perfume of jasmine.  They were just sitting, listening to the cries of night birds and the buzz of the city around them.  And then another sound.  A high wall of tropical vines and bougainvillea began to  rustle then shook wildly as something charged up through the dark leaves, over the wall and down the other side.
        “Mongoose,” the head of the Colombo office explained.
          The candle was in their guest room centered on a sandalwood dresser, a box of matches alongside like an invitation.  So he lit it, filling the room with a scent like lions and honey, hard to define.  “Mongoose,” he said, under the covers, charging up.
              It was the night the head of the Colombo office showed them his shrunken head.  He kept it in a hat box on top of his wardrobe.  Ceylon was world famous for the incompetence of its bureaucracy, the head of the Colombo office said.  They could steal from you at will and you couldn’t fire them unless ten witnesses saw the  bugger with his hand in your cash drawer and were willing to testify in court.  This particular thief was urging his staff to take whole weeks off.  “Nothing they can do,” the bugger said.  “They still have to pay you.”
                 But there was something you could do, according to a friend of the head of the Colombo office.  The friend was an anthropologist from Berkeley, California, studying aboriginal tribes.  She had been in the mountains and brought the shrunken head to dinner one night.  “Put this head on the thief’s front porch and he will die in three days.”
               The head was the size of a leathery grapefruit. Something like varnish was starting to peel off although the black knot of hair on the top had a healthy gloss.  Its eyes and lips were sewn shut so the face looked pinched, in a rage.  The head of the Colombo office thought seriously about putting the head on the thief’s front porch but couldn’t do it.  So he put the head ina a hat box and left it on top of his wardrobe.
            It was this same hippy anthropologist who made the candle that they found in their room.  The candle was maroon, thick and tall.  The scent it gave along with its flickering light didn’t remind you of flowers.  It was smooth, complex and animal.  They took the candle with them along with the blessings of the head of the Colombo office. And they kept the name of the hippy anthropologist who was happy to send them a replacement for what you might think was a lot of money for a candle.
          


Chapter One

                  In 1976 advertising mattered.  Advertising gave you confidence, horsepower, whiter than white teeth, brighter than white laundry and the cigarette more doctors recommend.  Advertising gave you new love, new energy, plus, for a limited time only, freedom from disdain.  In 1976 advertising gave you everything you lacked.   
                   In 1976  the chairman’s office of the world’s largest advertising agency was on the eleventh floor of the southeast corner of the Raymar Building, 410 Lexington Avenue.  The old stone office tower rose 35 stories alongside Grand Central Station in New York City, its sooty rock  facade as dark as a medieval donjon for horse thieves and bread snatchers.
                    The chairman’s office was a warm and comfortable gentlemen’s den of soft, red leather couches, bookshelves on the wall lined with old leather-bound books, a well-stocked cocktail cabinet.  The chairman, William R. Ronaldson Jr., sat behind a large colonial dining table and drank his coffee from a blue and white china cup while he read the New York Times and took his first morning calls.  A fine 19th century walnut grandfather clock in the corner measured time with a brass pendulum swinging patiently back and forth. Over the chairman’s shoulder, through the window and past the Chrysler building you could see a slice of the  East River.  From this distance its turd studded water gave off a silver sheen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jackie Stewart does Kekki Rosberg and Alain Prost at Laguna Seca (click on bob judd above for more Juddstories)

http://www.mazdaraceway.com/
Stewart looks for the rattle.  Judd wonders how long before lunch.
(click on image)

Stewart was down on his hands and knees, under the car, looking for the rattle he'd heard coming down The Corkscrew.  "I can't find it but these prototypes are all hand built and you never know which bits they forgot to tighten."

It was wet and cold and the light was lousy, but we had Stewart and the track for a day, plus the director and film crew so we had to shoot the commercial.  This was in 1981 and the new Ford Turbo-Thunderbird was a whole new direction for Ford.  Story was that a couple of years before, there was a pre-production meeting in the new President of Ford Phil Caldwell's office.  Caldwell looked around the room at the designers of the new Thunderbird.  The car looked like a pagoda with wheels and Caldwell said, "I see a lot of glum faces.  You guys like this car?"

"No, but it's what we gotta do to sell it."

Ford was hemmoraghing money.  The new Thunderbird was already a year behind schedule.  "Well why don't you guys come back when you got a car you like," Caldwell said, a decision that would turn the company around.  This was that car, the new Turbo Thunderbird.  The one that Jackie would later say was faster than a BMW 633 CSi.   (And prove it at a press day in Detroit.)  Jackie Stewart was the spokesman for Ford and I was the Creative Director for the agency.  Here's a look at Ford's newest offspring, The Boss 302, announced today.

In the morning while the film crew had been setting up, Stewart was having fun showing us the different styles of Formula One drivers.  "See how we're coming into the corner in a flurry of feathers and blood," he'd say as the car heaved into a turn squealing and skittering on the limit.  "That's how Kekki does it."

Then he'd do a lap of supreme smoothness and speed.  "That's how Prost does it," he said happily.

Film production is 90% sitting around waiting; waiting for the crew to get set up for a shot, waiting for a bit of sunlight, waiting for the magic light before sunset, waiting for the agency/client to make up their minds.

Meanwhile Stewart had been talking about how his senses come alive at speed, how when he was at the limit he was supremely aware of the world around him.  How he could smell the cut grass, see the scatter of grit on the track, sense the grip of each wheel.  Then he said, "when I am driving really well, I always have plenty of time."

It seemed like a paradox at first.  I had driven race cars and I never had any spare time.  Until it occurred to me that racing at the highest level is a mind game.  That the best driver's mind is faster than the car.  And that was the key to writing about a sport that had defied attempts to make it come alive on the page.  Write it in the first person, give us all the sensations and thoughts, make it come alive in the mind of the driver and you can fill two pages with the detail of coming down the straight at Brands Hatch and it will seem to the reader, so fast it will take his breath away.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jimmy Vasser and Takuma Sato wail on the Corkscrew



                   You forget pain.  You think hey real racing car, this is gonna be fun. You forget banging your helmet against the roll cage and the origami squeeze of your tangled feet and knees to compress your body into the squirrel-sizel space allowed for a passenger in a race car.  The Lotus Evora GT 4 is a 400 horsepower hard core race car and Jimmy Vasser had never driven it before.  So by his lights he was just kinda pussyfooting around Laguna Seca, feeling it out.  Vasser has that winning, aw shucks, innocent good boy look, that gotta shake my head to get the hair outta my eyes look. That's off the track.  On  the track the '96 Champ Car champ is total ferocity. 

                   It's a steep uphill to the top of the Corkscrew. Nothing but blue sky through the windshield. The car lifts at the top of the hill and there’s that small quiet time like the end off the click click click of a roller coaster before plummet.

              This is the corner where Gonzalo Rodiguez, in the days of 900 hp CARTmissed a shift, speared a concrete barrier and died. Where Alex Zanardi, trailing Brian Herta for lap after lap, on the last lap, suddenly, unexpectedly, while Herta was looking downhill, jumped over the curbs, shortcut the curve and won the race.


                So it's a corner with a lot of history and all you can see is sky.  The plummit of the corkscrew is waiting, twisting, off camber, needful of delicacy and respect. Vasser mashes it. Full whack and for a little while there, while that part of you that wants to live is moaning no, no, no, you hear yourself saying "Go Go Go." Who knew Vasser had a Satanic grin? This is the way a tiger pussyfoots.  I've got one arm stuck out, pointing at the windshield holding my camera to get the godawful video which should be above but blogspot keeps rejecting.  Maybe for obscene speed. Here's a link to the video on Facebook: //www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=495800408760#!/profile.php?id=762498760 
It will give you some idea of that helmet and shin rattling plunge down the corkscrew at Laguna Seca with Jimmy Vasser.  

            Next ride is with former Formula One driver, Takuma Sato in the stock Lotus Evora.  And it's a gentler smoother ride until Vasser passes us coming out of turn four in the infield. 


            If there's one thing a race driver hates more than gravel in his sandwich it's being passed on the race track.  And OK, it's his boss, and the GT-4 is a whole different level of Evora, 400 horsepower to our 276, 400 lbs lighter, racing slicks.  Doesn't matter. Sato goes nuts.  We do a long broadslide through 5, all four wheels drifting like Fangio used to do, and Takuma never lifts so we come into 6 way too hot, get off into the dirt.  I think we are going to go all the way to the wall as I have seen so many race cars crump here.  But I am wrong and we do not crump the wall but skitter back onto the track.


          Taku never lifts, maybe even catching Vasser a little.  Oh fuck, we are way too hot coming into the top of corkscrew, and we are screwed, sideways.  Taku is on the pedal hard, and I am thinking this is how it ends.  A couple of screw ups in ascending order leading up to the big one.  


          And I am not wrong.  The big one is at the bottom of the hill and Sato just looses it.  Gone.  Over corrects, I think we are gonna back off the track, no we're going off nose first, hard to be sure with your helmet bounding off the roll cage, and I mildly wonder what we are going to hit.  Amazing, incredible, he hasn't lost it.  He's laughing as we bound across the dirt and get back on the track.  "Not enough power," he says.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For Sale: Lotus nearly F1 car for about 1/300th what Ferrari spends. Maybe 1/400th.





 Always wanted to drive a Formula One car?  You  got a million dollars to spare you can own your own, or at least something very close to it; a user friendly, turn key, 640 hp almost Formula One car.  Lotus plans on building 25 Lotus 125s  with delivery beginning next March.  You'll join an exclusive club of like minded folks who always wanted a Formula One car but not necessarily the 300 + technicians it takes to keep one going. Unlike the Formula One cars of yesteryear, you can get parts for this one from Lotus and there's a hand workshop manual.


You will also join a club called EXOS which means the cars can be flown around at your will to the track of your choice and if you and the other billionaires agree, you might, say, rent Clermont Ferrand in the south of France for a day. http://www.grouplotus.com/ should have all the details.  Soon.  


In the meantime it really is very beautiful.  And with a 3.5 liter Cosworth V8 behind your neck it won't be quite as fast as a current F1 car, but it will be much much faster than your other choice in that price range, a Bugatti Veyron.


             Or, for around double the cost of a stock $75,000 Lotus Evora,  you can buy a track ready Evora GT-4 which, unless you are a pro or at least a very talented amateur, will also be faster than you are.  Lotus flew in Champ Car Champion Jimmy Vasser, and former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato who now drives for Jimmy Vassar's Indycar Team.  Yesterday they drove laps around Laguna Seca and I sat alongside.  (video tomorrow)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Revenge

Years ago, when I published my first novel, FORMULA ONE, THE TIMES of London offered up a review. It quoted the first half of a paragraph to demonstrate that my book was the typical wooo haaa juvenile crap you'd expect from a novel about motor racing.

"Here's to all the bright and hopeful boys and girls who cling to the racetrack fences, their fingers gripping the steel mesh. They dream that one day t hey too will be strapped into the wild beasts with wheels, put their foot down, pedal to the metal, and accelerate into the winner's circle, where the pop stars are and the private jet waits patiently on the tarmac, and the beautiful people beg to come near, to touch the brave heros and give them wealth and fame and glory and all the soft open thighs that they can stand."

If that were all there was in that paragraph then the disdain of THE TIMES would be understandable. Deserved, even. But that was only the first half of the paragraph, the set up.

Here's the second half, the half they didn't quote:

"And here's to all those same hopeful, tense and tight lipped children, pushing their broken second hand Formula Fords back to the pits, on their way to the glorious prizes of Formula One. For they shall be scattered like the leaves at the side of the road."

I rest my case. I no longer subscribe to THE TIMES.

In any case FORMULA ONE sold out in two weeks. And it took the publisher six months to print another copy. Which, of course, was too late.

So here's to all the bright and hopeful boys and girls who dream of being novelists, etc.


Friday, August 6, 2010


We bought a truck on eBay.

Like you buy a farm in Africa. Dangerous.

The truck was reminiscent of the pickup trucks in Bozeman when Kathryn was a pre-teener kickass cowgirl.

Could be almost useful on the ranch. Part of the lure was that it was in Paradise Valley, Arizona. And that we would drive through Death Valley (yea though I drive through the Valley of Death I shall fear no evil for my Truck is a Ford F250, 1969 Camper Special with the 390 V8, cherry, zero rust, 77,000 miles) to bring it home.


Ominous signs in the sky
were totally ignored


Wait a minute!!


Where's Barkley?

It also carried the risk of collapse, explosion and general feeble wobblies you expect from an old truck that sat under a car port in Arizona for twenty years with a camper on its back. Like nice lookin but could be heavy crap ready to ooze cripple over almost anything.

The owner was cool. Jim Howe made his millions selling native American crafts at the duty free in JFK. He sold us a good truck that his wife said, had to go. He was reluctant because he had been after it for twenty years. Loaded it with a case of water and a goody bag of treats to eat. Had his guy take out the tanks, have the 2 barrel rebuilt, a lot of stuff. Filled up the tanks. Plus an Indian hand made leather backed medalion made from porcupine quills.

The old red truck looked at home in Paradise Valley; a dry, high haven in the foothills above Phoenix. We loaded our suitcases in the back and left Paradise Valley. There were a few stumbles, a gas line notched by a fan belt, a nail in a back tire. But with so much spectacular country up ahead, you pause, fix it, and keep going.

Stopped with our great friends Bill and Mallory in Prescott: John Wayne and Joan Didion. We set off in the morning for the fish hatchery, and route 66. The sleek, cool, almost invisible explosion of the trout at the hatchery, spooked by some shadow, and the dank, dark scent of trout in fresh water brought me back to the streams in Chappaqua when I was a kid, full of trout that only my brother could see.

We headed out of Prescott, and what we remember, even more than the awesome valleys and high Sierras are the deep and craggy souls you meet.

Like the retired Army Colonel; call him Colonel Ballbreaker-Page, silver crew cut, steely blue eyes, a face that was losing the battle with time. Impatient with civilians. He saw I was about to wrap duct tape around a cut fuel hose. "For christs sake don’t do that. Gas’ll have that off in ten seconds." I told him I suspected he was right but what else to do out here in the middle of the desert. "You got any electrical tape?" I did. He wrapped it as carefully as a surgeon around the wounded rubber hose.

"OK, now gimme the duct tape." More wrapping and it held for thirty miles until we got to a town with a Ford dealer and 3/8s fuel hose.

A couple of days down the road, there was our breakfast waitress in Lone Pine. She was tall, maybe 35, had that tall, long legged curvy improbable elegance of a showgirl. Blonde ponytail, blue eyes. Nice smile. We asked directions to a local lake and she confessed she just got off the bus from Reno three days ago. "I started this end of the street and was going to knock on every door, but they hired me and here I am." Reno was a good town to get out of. She was living with her brother in Lone Pine. Which would explain why she was wearing men’s jeans way too big, and a man’s white shirt, also way too big. You imagined a hard life in Reno. Her getting off the bus without a suitcase. Kathryn left her a ten bucks tip and a nice note wishing her a good new life.

Out on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona we ate steaks at the Roadkill Steakhouse.


Motel Parking Only


Route 66

In the morning the truck was drooling so we met Randy, ran a truck towing business and a garage. A block of a man with 50 years experience fixing trucks and a fondness for old F250s. "That sag in the right rear is a weak spring. Probably comes from sittin’ under a camper for twenty year. A helper spring’ll fix it. I got that lower radiator hose sorted out, filled up all the fluids. You’re set to go."

And Charley, built like a linebacker, light on his feet, with the grace of an athlete. Moved out to Truxton "four kids ago" from south LA. "Everything in that shop came out here in that (1969 Ford F250 sitting in the back lot) truck. Musta took sixty trips."


Charley & Kathryn with
a '69 F250 brochure


Plumbing problems solved

Any regrets?

He looked out over that flat Arizona horizon for a while and grinned. "None at all."

He dove under the truck and emerged holding a long thin snake of a speedo cable. Wiped it clean, gave it a slick of lithium grease and slipped it back in. "You got a great truck."


We mozied home through Death Valley.

On up the backside of the High Sierra. Lone Pine, the waitress/showgirl’s new home town, was Kathryn’s favorite. Where Kathryn met two fine old ranchers, their hands knarled as old oak branches at the boot store. One had a big red bull named Clifford, so big and strong his calves had a hard time making it out into the world. Calf weighs over a hundred pounds it's hard for his momma to give it up. Kathryn volunteered to help with the calf pulling. Walked out with a new pair of glove soft calfskin boots instead. Thinking maybe she'll name the truck Clifford.

On up to Mono Lake, and up and over several passes.


Luggage adjustment at
Mono Lake


Kathryn at the Summit


Bob looking for the pass
through the mountains

"There’s a three day blizzard coming," the clerk at the hotel said.

Turned back at one pass we headed over to Reno armed with chains. Into the open howl of the blizzard and the later, high up in the mountains at dusk, the great quiet beauty of a mountain forest under snow.

Stopped on the sunny side in Placerville, Ca ("it never snows in Placerville") and had a fine Kathryn's birthday dinner at a classy joint where we were the last and only diners and they acted like they wanted us to stay.

Rolled home in the morning, the old truck with an engine the size of a locomotive saying what else you got?