Big goggles, big speed

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Story by Ron Kowalke, Old Cars Weekly archive photos

A young Dan Gurney is identified as the driver of this Ferrari #69.
Note the damage to the racer’s front fender caused by earlier contact.

What better way to spend a sunny afternoon in California than ripping around a road course in an exotic sports car. What is believed to be the racetrack at Palm Springs in either 1958 or ’59, was the gathering place for some of most famous names in motor racing on that afternoon. Racing lengends such as Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Lance Reventlow and Max Balchowsky strapped on their helmets and war-surplus driving goggles and went wheel-to-wheel in even more legendary machines badged Ferrari, Maserati, Scarab and the home-built Ol’ Yeller.

Richie Ginther, Ferrari #211, follows Max Balchowsky, driving his
home-built Buick-powered Ol’ Yeller I #70, on one of the Palm
Springs road course’s straight
aways. Note how close the corner
marshals and on
e of their cars are allowed to the racing action.



While he would become legendary for building competition Cobras
a few years later, Carroll Shelby, Maserati 450S #98, began as a
race driver until heart problems forced him out of the cockpit at
the conclusion of the 1960 racing season. Here he leads Ol’ Yeller
entering one of the turns on the Palm Springs road course. Note
that the nose piece of Balchowsky’s car has been knocked off
after contact.

The dust-covered asphalt road course proved a challenge to any skinny-tired racing machine. The slipping and sliding by the fearless drivers was part of what created their legendary status — for those that survived, anyway —  as these speed-loving icons muscled their racers with a minimum of safety equipment to rely if things went wrong.

The images on this page are a window to a period of time in sports car racing when innovation ruled. They reflect a time when brave young men pressed down hard on the accelerator and drove deeper into the corners than logic would dictate, all for the glory of beating their competitors and proving, at least on that particular afternoon, their skills as a racing driver were unrivaled.

 


 

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More Images:

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Gurney talks race strategy with John Edgar in the pit area.
featuredImage
Richie Ginther (left) helps out Competition Motors teammate John Von Neumann (seated), who receives instruction from an unidentified crew member. The Hollywood, Calif.-based Competition Motors team raced Ferraris.
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Lance Reventlow, #16, heir to the Woolworth department store fortune, powers his Chevrolet-powered Scarab through a corner.

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