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Growing Old Gracefully


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#1 Ray Bell

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Posted 13 June 2000 - 17:34

I posted much of this as a reply in Readers Comments, but it really has much more significance here. It's about pre-war driver still alive in Western Australia, but there must be many more around the world. What are they like today?
For instance, Ken McKinney, who was to be a riding mechanic in the first (1928) Australian GP is about 92 and still drives his 220SE down to the shop to get the paper each day. His memories of those days he trialled and raced (circa 1926 to 1934) and helped organise the 300-mile Centenary Road Race at Phillip Island are clear as crystal.
George Reed, on the other hand, is sinking. He was a some time spectator at Maroubra in the twenties and actually drove down to Phillip Island to watch that first AGP, competing himself in the late thirties, but gaining most fame for building a succession of Ford V8 Specials, one of which won the 1951 AGP.
John Crouch won the 1949 race, but raced from 1938 when he was really quite young. He still looks at the odd Historic meeting and is invited to various functions... when he's not too busy chasing women.
The piece I've carried over from the other forum is this, starting with a discussion about Clem Dwyer:

I haven't met him in person, just on the phone. But they tell me you can pick him on the circuit with the old bikes because there's nobody else so quick. I imagine his cars would look immaculate... he built the Negus Plymouth (well, it became the Negus Plymouth after he sold it) and that was nice, he rebodied a pre-war SS Jag and that looked good.
One of the nicest testimonies I have heard to him was from 1939 AGP winner, Alan Tomlinson. Talking about the dirt hillclimb at Albany in 1933, he said:
"One run Clem got it just right (he was driving a supercharged P-type MG), you could hear the car all the way up the hill, it sounded glorious, and nobody could beat that time!"
These guys must be just so interesting, they all clubbed together before WW2 with their racing... Tomlinson was possibly the greatest driver there has ever been, if the Lobethal result is anything to go by... Jack Nelson went there with him in 1940. Tomlinson turns 84 later this week, Jack is 87, Clem about the same, all three of them lucid and with great memories of the thirties.
Also still hanging on of the pre-war competitors in WA are Ron Posselt, who drove a couple of Ford V8 Specials, and his riding mechanic (whose name I can't remember right now), and Bill Smith, who built a Hillman Minx Special with a lovely little 2-seater racing body and ran at Albany. The three of them I have also spoken to on the phone, all of them remembering with great pleasure those distant days.
One of the great things about these blokes when you talk to them is the way they appreciate that someone might now be interested in what they did then.
But Clem is the classic, he's still playing the game in his own way... just last year he also told me he went down to the Speedway almost every week to watch. "I just ride my bike down, it's not far," he said... "I don't know what the cops would say if they saw me, I usually sling a fold up aluminium chair over my shoulder when I ride down, a mate has a ute in a good spot and I sit up there on the chair and watch the races."
So, to recap, at 87 he rides his pushbike down to the speedway every week, takes his 1930s racing motorcycles out to Wanneroo for club days and shows the kids how it's done, he's supercharging his MGA that replaced his rotary-powered Westfield, is working his way back to owning a P-type like he started racing in, and visits his friends in a WRX.
Jack Nelson just keeps his magnificent photo collection available to jokers like me who need the occasional picture, while Tomlinson goes to work every day because he "enjoys the challenge."

I know Barry has had some chats with old folk, but who else can add to this collection?


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#2 404KF2

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Posted 14 June 2000 - 02:57

Marvellous story Ray. I hope I'm half as interesting if I make that age!

#3 Keir

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Posted 14 June 2000 - 15:44

I had a number of conversations with Rene Dreyfus, when he had his restaurant in New York. His passing was especially sad, because here was a gentleman, who would stop what he was doing and talk motor racing with whoever came through his door. I remember a visit where we spend some thirty minutes going through his Japanese motor racing book collection, joking that we must be trying to read them backward. His memories of his wins at Monaco and Pau, he told as if they took place yesterday. He made me laugh once when he sumed up his win at Pau by saying, "I beat those Germans." Rene didn't get the joke, then I spent some time explaining "Monty Python". A charming man.

#4 Ray Bell

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Posted 14 June 2000 - 22:00

I know Don will have a few of these, what about Dennis?
Mike, of course, met them all in their prime, but there would have been some visitors to Watkins Glen who came as VIPs... what about it, Mike?[p][Edited by Ray Bell on 06-14-2000]

#5 Barry Lake

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Posted 14 June 2000 - 23:12

Ray
John Crouch isn't still chasing women. He was married earlier this year, aged 81 (82 next August). Very nice lady, too. Younger and fitter looking than her years and very switched-on. They toured Vietnam, came home for a while, then went to England. He bought a new car, too.
Tony Gaze, at 80, is having a new home built, expects to be moving into it in the next couple of years. He's giving up the farm life, says he's "too old to be pulling calves out".


#6 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 June 2000 - 13:22

Mal Evans, now 82 and the proud owner of a Westfield with a 5-valve 1600cc Toyota engine, was another that I encountered. He competed in many low-level events in the mid thirties, including the notorious 'high speed reliability trial' at Woody Point. He was only the passenger, but it was the car he was in that got the event a bad enough name for it to never be repeated.. he has fond memories of those times, and of that day with his friend Charlie.. who died flying a Spitfire in WW2.
The other survivor of that event is Gordon Lee, now in his mid eighties and a former accountant who has been widowed. This means that the women in the retirement village where he lives have at least got one man to chase, and he reckons he's as close to heaven as he can be.
Both of them display that same characteristic that makes talking to their genre a joy... they're just so happy someone is interested in what they used to do!
Any more, anyone?

#7 Ray Bell

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Posted 28 June 2000 - 07:21

Keir, in your conversations with Rene Dreyfus, did he say much about Louis Chiron? How old would he have been when you were talking to him? What other things came out in his discussions?
Please tell more, or I won't post again on the Amon thread... and I'll start a move to ban Formula Vee.


#8 Ray Bell

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Posted 29 June 2000 - 00:03

How many were impressed by the detail in the von Brauchitsch story in Motor Sport... the only survivor of the German team drivers... and still lucid. It's just great that someone is putting these things on paper.
I recall many years ago that Road & Track commented on the passing of a driver who had raced against someone from the original Grands Prix... early in his career he had been on the track with them late in theirs, but there was a continuity.
The comment was something like: "What if someone had stuck a microphone under his nose and asked 'what was it like out there?'"
Very valid thought, and food for our thought.

#9 Ray Bell

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 00:34

Originally posted by Ray Bell
Keir, in your conversations with Rene Dreyfus, did he say much about Louis Chiron? How old would he have been when you were talking to him? What other things came out in his discussions?
Please tell more, or I won't post again on the Amon thread... and I'll start a move to ban Formula Vee.


Keir... I just noticed you haven't answered this question... any chance of catching up on this?

#10 Dennis Hockenbury

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 02:45

Originally posted by Keir
I had a number of conversations with Rene Dreyfus, when he had his restaurant in New York. His passing was especially sad, because here was a gentleman, who would stop what he was doing and talk motor racing with whoever came through his door.

Keir, I agree completely. Rene and Maurice were gentlemen in the truest sense of the term. I also loved his many stories.

Yes, he was a charming man and much missed.

#11 Keir

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 14:28

Ray and Dennis,

Strangely enough, not a single mention of Chiron, we spoke in length about motorcycles and other things modern and not so modern, but no Louis!!

Rene would have been in his seventies when I spoke to him and like I said earlier, "sharp as a tack!!"

He even gave me the whole fuel gimmick he used to win at Monaco, but again, his highlight was "beating the Germans!" at Pau!

BTW, He loved the "Dead parrot sketch!" :eek:

#12 Ray Bell

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Posted 01 December 2004 - 20:37

Thanks Keir...

Another memory for you to hold dear in your old age.

#13 Mike Lawrence

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Posted 02 December 2004 - 03:56

I have been lucky enought to meet, or at least speak on the phone to, some remarkable people. I did a piece for Classic and Sportscar on Len Prtichard, the surviving half of Williams & Pritchard who build all the early Lotus bodies. Len was completing a body for a Lotus Eleven and to my eye it was perfection. Len was not satisfied and pointed out two imperfect welds which he could, and would, make good.

Sometimes drivers would not paint their Elevens to save weight. They arrived in Italy and the Italians could not believe what they saw. Italian coachwork was all about hammers and filler. In Len's workshop was a welding torch, a wheel, a guillotine and the templates were cut from old cardboard boxes and hung from meat hooks. I am sure the same was true for Mo Gomm, who died before I could get to him.

I have met John Brierley, now in his nineties. Who he? After WWII (John was a prisoner of the Japanese) he worked for a short time as a racing mechanic and then took over 'The Hare And Hounds' pub at Stoughton, near Chichester. He used to turn rooms into dormatories for drivers (you could get a lot of the 500cc brigade into a room). The drivers loved it because the pub was still lit by oil lamps and, since there was no bobby for miles around, they could test their 500cc cars on public roads.

Once Siirling and Ken Gregory arrived for a weekend with a couple of show girls and the other guys laced their pyjamas with cayenne pepper. I reminded Sirling of this a few years ago and he said, "We were up until four in the morning sitting ins cold baths. It shows you how long ago it was, we had pyjamas."

The Fox and Houns is still there, but has become a tad pretentious of late. John then took over The Fleece in Chichester and Stirling used to stay there. Stirling;s last memory of The Darkest Day In History, 23rd April, 1962, is of John helping him re-fit the exhaust pipe on his Lotus Elite.

John took up photography and with Goodwood being only five minutes away, he was there for testing. One of his photographs, of Ron Flockhart in a BRM P25 at St Mary's made the cover of Autosport because it showed the front of the car twisting (Ron was on three wheels) and that led to BRM brinigng in Colin Chapman who turned the P25 into one of the sweetest chassis of its time.

John and Stirling went into business in a car hire company in the late 1960s. John found that he worked at the ebginning and end of the day so took up making model trains. He was the first model engineer to win a gold medal for one of his engines, and that was the first of several. John's models had a five-figure price tag and that is in pounds. Sir Stirling has one, I've seen it.

The old boy having problems pushing his trolley in a supermarket may once have flown a Mustang or a Lancaster, or have been a driver or mechanic. Give him a bit of space and patience.

#14 HistoricMustang

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Posted 02 December 2004 - 10:41

No where near the conversations of the individuals here, but during the few that I have had the honor of a one on one discussion, there is always one feature they all have - unique eyes. There is something about the eyes with individuals that have had success in motorsports. Even after they leave the sport.

I recently spent some quality time with Rex White, the former Grand National (NASCAR) champion and he still has that look 40 years after retirement.

Interesting.

Henry

#15 Arthur Anderson

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Posted 02 December 2004 - 15:23

Originally posted by HistoricMustang
No where near the conversations of the individuals here, but during the few that I have had the honor of a one on one discussion, there is always one feature they all have - unique eyes. There is something about the eyes with individuals that have had success in motorsports. Even after they leave the sport.

I recently spent some quality time with Rex White, the former Grand National (NASCAR) champion and he still has that look 40 years after retirement.

Interesting.

Henry


Years ago, I used to see George Souders, 1927 Indianapolis 500 winner (and for decades thereafter, noted as the "last rookie" to win at the Speedway, sometimes almost daily, in Lafayette, Indiana.

While of course, Souders was pretty much down on his luck, and working as a groundskeeper at Purdue University's golf course at the time, he still took time to talk about his racing days, particularly if we went to The Chesterfield Tavern, in the 50's and 60's a quiet little bar on North 6th Street in Lafayette, owned by Eddie Grove, a retired racing mechanic from the 20's and 30's.

While others may have looked at Souders as just a sad old man with a withered arm and loving his beer, there were a few of us back then who realized that there was a man who had been to the top of the game in the US in the late 1920's, won the BIG one, and then survived a nearly fatal crash. He was pretty good at relating his racing stories, but the only thing you did not mention to him was Peter DePaolo, for whatever reason.

Souders left two quiet landmarks in Lafayette's North End, around the block from the former rooming house owned by his mother, on North 14th Street; the American Tavern (still in operation, but the current proprietors changed the name to something else about a year or so ago), and his racing shop next door, which is now a motorcycle shop (my brother and nephew owned the old racing garage building for 7 or 8 years and operated their cabinet shop/furniture restoration business out of there.

I did lose contact with Souders when, after he retired from Purdue, the Hulman family moved him to Indianapolis, where he lived out the rest of his life in a mobile home across Georgetown Road from the track until his passing.

Souders was, underneath all the patina, and a rather crusty demeanor, a pretty neat old guy to listen to, his reminiscences of racing in the 1920's were fascinating.

Art

#16 Lotus23

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Posted 04 December 2004 - 04:04

Some really great tales here, esp Art's remembrances of George Souders.

I got to spend a bit of time with Hans Stuck Senior at the Nurburgring in '61. My biggest regret is that as a callow 23yo, I did not fully appreciate Who He Was. I mostly recall him as an old guy who could still drive very quickly. Same with Piero Taruffi, who was also there as an instructor.

Now that I have a better-developed sense of history, I wish I could return to speak with each of them for just another hour or two...


Somewhat OT, one of my former bosses was a physician who had the bad timing to graduate from med school in Berlin in early 1942. A few months later he was shipped to the Russian front, and ultimately ended up in a Russian P.O.W. camp, where 90% of his Wehrmacht compatriots died. Not surprisingly, he didn't like to talk about his experiences, but under my gentle prodding he'd occasionally let slip a few bits of the horrors he'd witnessed and endured. Would make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.