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Was Mark Donohue the most talented American driver?


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#1 POLAR

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 15:03

There are so many stories about the great talent of Mark´s that I need to know. Who was the most gifted american driver ever? Andretti (father), AJ, Donahue? Whats your guess?

Polar

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#2 David T.

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 15:11

I have never seen M.Donohue racing but reading his remarkable book "The unfair advantage" I understood he must have been a very clever and skilled guy. He was one of the first to understand the importance of intensive testing and had a very scientific way to solve the problems of the car. It should have been very interesting to get to meet him. I warmly recommend his book - there's a lot to learn from it.

#3 Henri Greuter

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 15:18

Depends on if you use the classic American pair of spectacles or not.

Some American historians dont take any driver serious if he drove at tracks with right turns and being paved and only care for dirttrackers, midget drivers etc. That they won an occasional road race, so what....'(Even AJ never cared so much for his Le Mans victory (Compared with Indy), Bob Wollek could have nearly died for one Le Mans victory)

I'm damned certain that a number of US race fans will respect Donohue (he did win Indy in a period of time when it was the Holy Grail of US racing ...) but without a decent history on the oval dirt tracks won't rate him as high as Parnelli Jones.
But the problem with validating Donohue in my point of view is: How would he have done in any other team but Penske? Because that's certainly a factor to consider: Penske has always been top of the line . I think Donohue still would have been good but as good as with Penske?


Back to topic.
So it pretty much depends on what kind of standards you set; More in line with the rest of the world or including that typical American dirt-track racing in all its varieties too.

Foyt was very talented and I regret that he never tried to see what he could achieve in F1 andor road racing in general. But at the time, why should he. But because of that, we never know. Same for guys luke the Unser brothers, Rutherford, Johncock etc.
Mario gave it a try and proved his stuff. And he was on par with those guys in US racing.
So.....

Henri Greuter
Henri Greuter

#4 JACKINDYDUDE

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 15:19

I will shy away from the question of whether Mark was the greatest American driver. In conversation with my mother who is 73 and has always been a race fan, We vote for Mark as the most 'Endearing' American Driver. He was the consummate gentleman, as well as a fine racer. God Bless Him! :up:

#5 Joe Fan

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 16:23

Donohue was an exceptional talent and had he not been killed, he may have produced a resume that would have earned him the title of greatest American driver of all-time in many minds. However, if were a car owner and could hire any driver in their prime based upon their driving skill alone, I would have to hire A.J. Foyt.

#6 rolando

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 16:36

My vote goes to Dan Gurney :up:

#7 2F-001

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 18:02

I've always admired Donohue, his dedication and his versatility. His disarmingly open book 'The Unfair Advantage' (as commended by David) is one of my favourites - a really good read.

Regarding the ''one team'' thing - there are a couple of points to balance that: not many seem to think so much less of Clark though, once at the top, he drove more-or-less exclusively for Lotus; and wasn't Donohue largely responsible for making Penske what it was?

#8 Keir

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 19:32

After maybe Ginther, Gregory and Gurney!!! And that's just the G's!!! :eek:

How about Mario Andretti and Phil Hill??

Does Peter Revson ring a bell??

I liked Mark, aka Captain America, but he wasn't the only gem in our American collection!

#9 POLAR

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 19:49

I´m not trying to say he really was the best, thats just my perception through the articles I´ve read. The guy have a certain Clark mistike...am I completly wrong?

#10 Mark A

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 20:08

To answer the original question,

Of Course.


My signature says it all really. :D

#11 JacnGille

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 20:14

Having seen almost all of the American drivers mentioned here in action, I would have to put Mario Andretti at the top of the list. Many of the others would be tied for second.

#12 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 20:32

Phil Hill was pretty good the day I remember him... but the way Dan Gurney arrived on the scene and simply shone the whole time he was there eclipses that.

Apart from the Revsons and the Donohues, what about the likes of Jerry Titus, Walt Hansgen, Augie Pabst, some of those trail breaking guys who led the charge as the V8 came to power in some of those sports car series?

#13 Don Capps

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 20:44

Mark Donohue was one of a near legion of American drivers who were talented, fast, and incredibly versatile. I never waste time trying to figure out who or what the greatest or best because it is usually a fruitless exercise. However, there are those people, places, and things which are clearly a cut above the rest. Mark Donohue is one of those racers I think was a true Talent. He always managed to make his presence felt when he showed up to race. Was he a "Nuvolari" or a "Clark" or a "Murphy? Perhpas, perhaps not. Whatever Mark Donohue was, he was one of those who gets the nod from me as a Racer. It was a sad day when we lost Donohue. Even among a gaggle of Racers, he got your notice....

#14 Doug Nye

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 20:55

Are you talking 'driver' per se or about the man as an all-round racing 'package'?

As a driver per se I never thought of Mark Donohue as being in the same class as, say, Dan Gurney, but as an all-round racer - a driver capable of maximising his machinery and then exploiting it to the full, his 'unfair advantage' - that was something very different.

As that, he came from very near the top drawer...along with Frank Lockhart, though I suspect Dan might take issue if I left him out of an American racing 'driver/engineer' classification....as might AyJay...

DCN

#15 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 April 2003 - 21:40

Only in Henri's post...

Mustn't have made all that much of an impression after that first Indy appearance, then?

#16 Mike Argetsinger

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 01:16

Mark Donohue was a tremendous driver and an awfully nice guy. I remember watching him in the Group 7 Lola at Mid-Ohio in the USRRC in 1967 I believe. He was leading the race but it was close. But when the leaders came up on traffic for the first time Donohue was suddenly just gone. He had that great ability to pass lapped cars where ever he found them. It made a big impression on me.

And he was a winner in everything he drove. I remember seeing him drive his Elva Courier and various F-Jrs. in the early 60's. Eventually he was rookie-of-the-year at Indy (69 I think) and won the 500 in '72. He was also 2nd one of those years. He won the Trans Am at least twice - I think '68 and '69. He also won the the USRRC at least once and I believe was twice winner of the American F-5000 championship.

One of the tragedies of his loss was that he had retired after the 1973 season - absolutely on top of his game. That year (just from memory - I hope someone will correct me if I've got the sequence wrong) he had won just about everything there was to win in American road racing. He had won the CanAm that year and the IROC. He was also 3rd in his Grand Prix debut at Mosport in an F-1 McLaren.

But of course when Penske entered F-1 racing the temptation was just too great and Mark returned.

I was just thinking about Mark the other day - I am researching a book on Walt Hansgen and, of course, it was Walt who was Mark's mentor and Walt who got him the leg up in professional racing. First with Mecom and then with the Ford GT program. Walt overcame a great deal of resistance to get Mark put on the Holman&Moody team for Daytona and Sebring in 1966.

In September this year at Watkins Glen Mark Donohue is being honored. More than 30 of his race cars will be on hand and his son David will be there along with Roger Penske and other figures from his career.

#17 bournenville

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 01:27

IMO Dan Sexton Gurney :up:

#18 911

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 02:56

Dan Gurney & Mario Andretti

#19 JtP

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 10:01

Well lets start with who can be discounted, Donna Mae Mims and Denise McCluggage.

Foyt was in discussion with Ferrari in the 60s for an F1 drive. The concensus of opinion was it wouldn't last 5 minutes, but it would be an interesting 5 minutes.

For a American driver, probably Dan Gurney and for a naturalised American driver Mario Andretti.

Does anyone have a copy Road & Track from the mid 60s with cartoon of the universal GP car with the truck shift for Dan Gurney.

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#20 Ray Bell

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 10:04

Lemme see...

Dutch GP, 1962 that would have helped, IIRC... and there was one race in the Brabham, wasn't there?

#21 rdrcr

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 14:02

Not the most talented driver, even by his own admission, but Donohue forged the way for a new type of driver. For he was the "thinking mans" racer. I've read the book "The Unfair Advantage", on a couple of occasions.

To have the fastest car, means that you don't have to drive 10/10's to extract the best out of it or yourself. The utilize the rules to your advantage, to bend them, to expand the interpretation of them, anything to gain an upper-hand.

As a highly educated man, a Brown University Graduate, and as a creative thinker enabled him to look at things outside the box. His engineering relationships with Cox and Cantrell (Sp?) were the first of such where the driver was as knowledgeable about the dynamics of a racing car as the engineers. He also saw the great value in testing that research. It made for a formidable combination.

His driving was what I would classify as aggressive without the red mist element. Always having something in reserve. Though I never had the chance to see him race in person, I have watched his efforts on T.V. and in racing films.

Attention only needs to be drawn to the Porsche 917/30, where the combination of great factory HP, (1,200 IIRC in qualifying trim) and engineering from Porsche, demon tweaks and superb management by Penske and driven by Mark Donohue, destroyed, literally, an entire racing series.

Dominance like no other.

#22 Joe Fan

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 15:35

Originally posted by JtP
Foyt was in discussion with Ferrari in the 60s for an F1 drive. The concensus of opinion was it wouldn't last 5 minutes, but it would be an interesting 5 minutes.


Certainly not for his driving. Although A.J. was an oval racer, he was a quick study in any type of car and circuit. He would have been an equally good road racer had the money and prestige been in road racing in the U.S. during his era.

A.J. wouldn't have lasted at Ferrari simply because he was very independent and outspoken. This would have clashed with Ferrari since they were the type of organization that did things their way and not accomdating to driver preferences on car set-ups. If my hometown hero Masten Gregory went round and round with Enzo on occasion, you can bet A.J. would have too. In many ways, A.J. and old man Ferrari were too much alike.

#23 dmj

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 15:42

Along with David Bruce-Brown, Mark seems to me as most sadly unrealized great racing talent originating from USofA.

#24 troyf1

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 15:54

I read where Jim Clark once told his father that Dan Gurney was the one driver that he truely feard. That is a mighty big endorsement for Dan IMHO :up:

#25 Roger Clark

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 17:20

Originally posted by Joe Fan


A..J. wouldn't have lasted at Ferrari simply because he was very independent and outspoken. This would have clashed with Ferrari since they were the type of organization that did things their way and not accomdating to driver preferences on car set-ups.


On the contrary, those were exactly the type of drivers who prospered at Ferrari. In particular, John Surtees and Niki Lauda were not drivers who would be told how to set their cars up, or anything else for that matter. It was the drivers who allowed themselves to be dominated by the organisation who failed at Ferrari. It is still true today.

#26 Joe Fan

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 17:24

Originally posted by Roger Clark


On the contrary, those were exactly the type of drivers who prospered at Ferrari. In particular, John Surtees and Niki Lauda were not drivers who would be told how to set their cars up, or anything else for that matter. It was the drivers who allowed themselves to be dominated by the organisation who failed at Ferrari. It is still true today.


Those drivers may have prospered but few stayed for very long.

#27 Roger Clark

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 22:04

Originally posted by Joe Fan


Those drivers may have prospered but few stayed for very long.


Three and a half years (Surtees) and four years (Lauda) is good going by any standards. I still maintain that the drivers who did best at Ferrari were the strong characters.

#28 Ray Bell

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Posted 10 April 2003 - 22:15

Both left, however, when really good years could have been ahead of them...

Indeed, Surtees left when he was in the middle of having his best year ever.

#29 Dennis Hockenbury

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 00:05

Originally posted by troyf1
I read where Jim Clark once told his father that Dan Gurney was the one driver that he truely feard. That is a mighty big endorsement for Dan IMHO :up:


Dan Gurney has to be my selection as well. Many are certainly worthy and there is no question that Mark, Mario, and more are in the pantheon. But Dan's the man.

I was just sitting down to dinner at an IMSA event in the late 1980's when from the adjacent table I hear the voice of Dan saying, "Haven't we met before?". We had run across each other at various events but never really conversed in substance prior to that evening.

Very graciously Dan invited me to join himself and Evi as I was alone. Over the course of a very enjoyable evening (certainly for me!) we discussed a broad range of topics and Dan seemed to relish talking about "the good old days".

Having heard the stories regarding Clark Srs. comment, I asked Dan politely about this.

A very long look with eyes down ensued (Dan can have a verrry long look) and the mood had been momentarily altered by the question, creating for me, a very pregnant pause. It seemed to me that in that interminably long but fractionally brief moment, Dan was thinking back to the actual event.

He looked back, eye to eye and softly said, "The highest compliment I ever received".

#30 scdecade

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 00:24

Originally posted by 911
Dan Gurney & Mario Andretti


Here's one more vote for Mario Andretti. I first became a fan of F1 in the 4th grade reading Innes Ireland's Grand Prix reviews in the back of Road&Track magazine at my school library. The year was 1978. Mario Andretti Formula One Word Champion -- the other American drivers mentioned don't hold that title.

#31 m.tanney

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 01:22

Originally posted by Doug Nye
As a driver per se I never thought of Mark Donohue as being in the same class as, say, Dan Gurney, but as an all-round racer - a driver capable of maximising his machinery and then exploiting it to the full, his 'unfair advantage' - that was something very different.

As that, he came from very near the top drawer...along with Frank Lockhart...



  I agree with Doug's assessment of Mark Donahue. The other drivers mentioned in this thread - A.J., Mario, Dan Gurney, etc.- are all great drivers too. It's not for me to say who's best.
  I would point out, though, that almost all of the drivers mentioned above are from the 1960s or later. The only exeptions are Frank Lockhart (mentioned by Doug), Jimmy Murphy (Don Capps), and David Bruce-Brown (dmj). Let's not forget the likes of Ralph dePalma, Tommy Milton, Peter DePaolo, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Rex Mays, Ted Horn and Jimmy Bryan, to name just a few. And, as Henri's pointed out, we tend to forget the men who achieved most of their success on the dirt tracks. If you've ever seen video of Jud Larson or Jan Opperman in action, you would know why they deserve a place on any list of great American racing drivers.

  Mike

#32 Dennis Hockenbury

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 01:38

Originally posted by m.tanney



 I would point out, though, that almost all of the drivers mentioned above are from the 1960s or later. The only exeptions are Frank Lockhart (mentioned by Doug), Jimmy Murphy (Don Capps), and David Bruce-Brown (dmj). Let's not forget the likes of Ralph dePalma, Tommy Milton, Peter DePaolo, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Rex Mays, Ted Horn and Jimmy Bryan, to name just a few. And, as Henri's pointed out, we tend to forget the men who achieved most of their success on the dirt tracks. If you've ever seen video of Jud Larson or Jan Opperman in action, you would know why they deserve a place on any list of great American racing drivers.

  Mike


Here, Here. I totally agree.

The pantheon is large.

I did find "American Grand Prix Racing; A Century of Drivers and Cars" by Tim Considine to be a good overview of the subject.

Info on Frank Lockhart seems to be scarce. The odd article in MotorSport and CSCC, references in The Miller Dynasty/Dees and Miller/Borgeson, but not too much that I've found. Any recommendations?

#33 theunions

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 03:05

Originally posted by scdecade


Here's one more vote for Mario Andretti. I first became a fan of F1 in the 4th grade reading Innes Ireland's Grand Prix reviews in the back of Road&Track magazine at my school library. The year was 1978. Mario Andretti Formula One Word Champion -- the other American drivers mentioned don't hold that title.


You'll get no disagreement from me on Mario, who was a very influential figure when I first learned of racing the year following his World Championship.

But...is there anyone here who disagrees with the bumper sticker that says (paraphrasing) Gurney SHOULD be U.S. President (something Mario is not eligible for by birth)? :)

#34 doc540

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 03:19

Jud Larson

;)

#35 m.tanney

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 03:20

Originally posted by Dennis Hockenbury
Info on Frank Lockhart seems to be scarce. The odd article in MotorSport and CSCC, references in The Miller Dynasty/Dees and Miller/Borgeson, but not too much that I've found. Any recommendations?


  If you're interested in the board track era in general, Dick Wallen's Board Track is a good book to have. A few months ago, a very talented historian/biographer (it wouldn't be fair to indentify him) told me that he was thinking about doing a book on Lockhart. Given the fascinating subject and the quality of the author's previous work, let's hope that he does.

  Mike

#36 Don Capps

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 03:40

Originally posted by doc540
Jud Larson

;)


Now there is a name that one rarely sees mentioned anymore! And a Racer whose talent and abilities seems to have been forgotten by most it seems. The Real Deal.

#37 Ray Bell

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 06:14

Originally posted by Dennis Hockenbury
.....He looked back, eye to eye and softly said, "The highest compliment I ever received".


Frankly, that might be the quote of the year in this forum.

It certainly stands a chance with Buford not around. Beautiful, just beautiful...

#38 Dennis Hockenbury

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 12:56

Originally posted by m.tanney


  A few months ago, a very talented historian/biographer (it wouldn't be fair to indentify him) told me that he was thinking about doing a book on Lockhart. Given the fascinating subject and the quality of the author's previous work, let's hope that he does.

  Mike


I would look forward to any work on Frank Lockhart. I would think though that it would be a brief work as Lockhart was only a few weeks past his 25th birthday at the time of his tragic death at Daytona Beach in 1928. An all too brief career.

#39 Ray Bell

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 21:00

Dennis, as a new chum here, you won't yet have caught up with it...

But on a related subject, we're mighty interested in David Bruce-Brown. He was even younger when he died, just how much so we can't tell, for we are unable to find an accurate date of birth.

Do you have any information on that subject?

And what about your unnamed author, Mike, anything there?

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#40 Dennis Hockenbury

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 21:33

Originally posted by Ray Bell
Dennis, as a new chum here, you won't yet have caught up with it...

Ray, yes it's only my second day here on TNF and I'm working very diligently to get up to speed on the previous threads and such. It will take me a while given the sheer volume of wonderful ideas here.

Originally posted by Ray Bell
But on a related subject, we're mighty interested in David Bruce-Brown. He was even younger when he died, just how much so we can't tell, for we are unable to find an accurate date of birth.
Do you have any information on that subject?

Only in the past year or so have I been developing an interest in the first 20 years of American racing. Heretofore, I've "specialized" in current and historic GP racing and more recently the 60's and 70's Can-Am/Trans-Am era.

My only impressions of DB-B are from Posthumus and Considine, and apart from those narrow references, I know very, very little. From a read of the DB-B thread, I noted that he was a virtual unknown to most as well. And as is becoming my usual experience (after 2 days now) of being on TNF, I was simply blown away by the work of Hans Etzrodt and Tony Kaye on the topic.

Originally posted by Ray Bell
And what about your unnamed author, Mike, anything there?

The answer is in another thread, but I shall defer to Mike on providing the name.

#41 Vitesse2

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 22:16

As a fully paid up member of the TNF David Bruce-Brown Appreciation Society I was rather disappointed to see that he doesn't seem to be remembered as part of the Ormond Beach Centennial of Speed celebrations. :

http://www.centennia...d.com/bios.html

One or two odd names in there, I feel .... not to mention a few other omissions.

#42 theunions

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 22:25

Originally posted by Vitesse2
As a fully paid up member of the TNF David Bruce-Brown Appreciation Society I was rather disappointed to see that he doesn't seem to be remembered as part of the Ormond Beach Centennial of Speed celebrations. :

http://www.centennia...d.com/bios.html

One or two odd names in there, I feel .... not to mention a few other omissions.


Have you talked to Buz McKim or Nancy Kendrick at ISC about rectifying this (too late for the specific Centennial of Speed weekend, but for other events to last the year)?

#43 Vitesse2

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 22:34

Originally posted by theunions


Have you talked to Buz McKim or Nancy Kendrick at ISC about rectifying this (too late for the specific Centennial of Speed weekend, but for other events to last the year)?


I've been trying to compose a suitable email to Nancy, who I've had contact with before. Can't seem to get it right though .....

And as they've decided on 100 who are they going to take out? :)

#44 Joe Fan

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 22:56

Originally posted by Vitesse2
As a fully paid up member of the TNF David Bruce-Brown Appreciation Society I was rather disappointed to see that he doesn't seem to be remembered as part of the Ormond Beach Centennial of Speed celebrations. :

http://www.centennia...d.com/bios.html

One or two odd names in there, I feel .... not to mention a few other omissions.


I don't think this was intended to be a 100 greatest list in American motorsports, it is really a list of those who made a name for themselves at Daytona, whether it be on the beach, the oval or road circuit.

#45 Ray Bell

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 23:09

Well that's an opportunity to mention Fireball Roberts on this thread, isn't it?

Another worthy of consideration...

#46 Vitesse2

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Posted 11 April 2003 - 23:17

Originally posted by Joe Fan


I don't think this was intended to be a 100 greatest list in American motorsports, it is really a list of those who made a name for themselves at Daytona, whether it be on the beach, the oval or road circuit.


All the more reason for DB-B to be included, when you consider his record there in 1908, 1909 and 1910!

#47 MPea3

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Posted 12 April 2003 - 01:51

thinking of some of the names mentioned here, and some not, i have to admit that i've always loved the "tigers". (i always loved that description for drivers.. jenks, wasn't it?) while mario was a WDC, and while gurney's record was so very impressive (3 maiden wins for 3 teams in F1... remarkable), AJ was always the tiger. i don't know that i've ever seen such a will to win so consistrantly displayed on the track, regardless of condition, or type of track or race. he just seemed to want to race and get to the front, every time. i can't imagine that any of his competitors ever felt secure in their position with AJ behind. for me he's the one.

vukovich was that way too i believe, a tiger, although his racing being limited to ovals might disqualify him in some poeple's minds. still, we are talking about american racers here.

also curtis turner. talk about the right stuff, even if mostly known to us redneck southerners.

#48 Jim Thurman

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Posted 12 April 2003 - 05:39

Originally posted by Vitesse2
As a fully paid up member of the TNF David Bruce-Brown Appreciation Society I was rather disappointed to see that he doesn't seem to be remembered as part of the Ormond Beach Centennial of Speed celebrations. :

http://www.centennia...d.com/bios.html

One or two odd names in there, I feel .... not to mention a few other omissions.


See, that's precisely why I don't make lists, though I'm good at pointing out omissions.

Overall, I think it's a pretty good list (as most of them have been with the exception of the inclusion of Tony Stewart on MotorSport's "Best All Arounders", but I digress). I hope it's not the Stock Car or Motorcycle names that are the odd names to you.

Iggy Katona...one of my heroes, won something like 4 or 5 ARCA races at Daytona, and I believe he was past 50 years old when he won his last. I'll have to dig around to find the exact figure, but his last was at age 60 or so.

I also notice some "builders" in there, people responsible for promoting or organizing events. Only four members of the France family is kind of a surprise :D

You're right, some omissions, but who to drop?


Jim Thurman

#49 rgsuspsa

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 16:43

Talent is not the same as skill. Talent is intrinsic to the physical and mental potentials
of the person in question. Skill is the development of talent. In my opinion, having followed
U.S. road racing, Indianapolis 500, sports car and F1 since the mid 1960's, Mark Donohue
is to date the most highly skilled U.S. automotive race driver the U.S. has seen.
Note: Race driver includes racecraft skills, which are far more important to race wins
than ability to take pole position, or turn fastest lap. Mark Donohue understood how
to win, which in the final analysis is the definition of skill as a race driver.

R. Sparks

#50 VAR1016

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Posted 04 January 2004 - 16:48

Almost certainly Jimmy Murphy - possibly Frank Lockhart.

Mario Andretti and Phil Hill too.

Ralph de Palma was American wasn't he?

PdeRL