1957 Catalina Grand Prix for Motorcycles

I’ve seen a few clips here and there from Catalina, but never anything this comprehensive. This collection of 22 minutes from the 1957 running of the 100-mile Catalina Grand Prix motorcycle race is absolutely fantastic. The chaos of that start is crazy. That everyone seems to just get up and start their bikes back up and continues is even crazier.

via Motobilia.

The BARC Boys Visit the ’57 Sebring

Corvette at Sebring - 1957

I’ve been re-listening to the “Sounds of Sebring 1957” album I posted about last week and all this talk up and down the pit lane about the Corvette entry made me want to see them again. And the Maseratis. And the Lotuses.. And so on.

If you’re familiar with the BARC Boys (Binghamton Automobile Racing Club, that is) at all, you’ll know that if there was a race in the mid-century anywhere on the East coast, there’d be more than a few members there. The group of enthusiasts always had cameras in tow and became chroniclers of the East Coast SCCA scene. Naturally, they were at Sebring in 1957 and had these wonderful photographs to mark the occasion.

Now that I see these photos, I can understand why the racers were abuzz about the new ‘Vette. Sure, the interviewers were asking some questions that were… slightly leading, but you have to remember the context of the arrival of the new Corvettes. After a jittery start, the Corvette program looked like it might actually be ready to take on European road racing stalwarts.

The power and performance of the home-grown sportscar—from the largest carmaker in the world, no less—must have been a thrilling prospect for American racing fans. Perhaps it was even moreso for the American drivers that were scraping together a career on European racing circuits, they must have hoped for a real American racing program that might bring them on. This was always my favorite styling era for the Corvette and it’s marvelous to see her in action at Sebring… and a few more from the more traditional pits for good measure.

More at BARC Boys’ 1957 Sebring page.

Sounds of Sebring 1957

The Riverside record company, in addition to a large catalog of musical acts, also put out a number of LPs of auto racing field recordings. Perhaps the most well known from their discography are the “Sounds of Sebring” series from 1956—1962.

For the 1957 outing, most of the pre-race interview chatter centered around Corvette’s effort for the race, which brought a huge unknown into pit lane. The concensus among the drivers and teams interviewed (including de Portago, Phil Hill, Briggs Cunningham, Huschke von Hanstein, Shelby, and others) was one of excitement that a huge manufacturer like General Motors was starting to enter European-style sportscar racing. Perhaps it’s just the American-centricity of the production and interviewer, but the interviewees really seemed impressed by the power and speed of the new Vettes. There were doubts (correctly so, as it turns out) as to whether they could go the full 12 hours, but it’s fantastic to see an as-it-happened impression that Chevy was making with people around the circuit.

Despite the gossip and chatter, Maserati was heavily favored and with Moss and Fangio in different cars, the only question was would the smaller 300 of Moss/Schell or the bigger 450 of Fangio/Behra take the checkers. I won’t spoil here, but it’s all there in the audio above.

I’ve started to track down the original LPs of these Riverside releases and when I sit in front of the turntable with the headphones on I imagine what it must have felt like for racing fans around the world—and particularly the United States (who had limited access to racing media)—for whom these recordings were the most visceral way to experience the race without actually venturing to the track. What a thrill it must have been to lie of the floor of a dimly lit room with stack of racing reports and magazine clippings spread out, hearing these astonishing engine notes for the first time.

You can almost hear the footfalls as the drivers run across the street and leap into their cars for the famous LeMans-style start. Glorious.

1957 Race of Two Worlds on Film

Reader Photos: Gary Mason’s 1957 Race of Two Worlds

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Thankfully, yesterday’s Monzanapolis track map forced my hand in sharing some of these amazing images from Gary Mason. In the mid-1950s, Gary was a teenager traveling through Italy with a pair of cameras on his hip—hitting every race he could (and rooting for Maserati whenever possible). What a tremendous opportunity to take in one of the great spectacles of mid-50s racing in Europe—the Race of Two Worlds.

Can you believe how empty these stands are? What a tragedy.

Can you believe how empty these stands are? What a tragedy.

What a rare chance to see Offenhauser-powered Kurtis and Kuzma sprint cars square off against Jags and Ferraris. Can you imagine seeing Indy cars and ALMS prototypes going head to head on a modern speedway? It’s almost comedic. But incredible. And beautiful.

Race of Two Worlds. Monza. 1957.

More of Gary Mason’s photos in the archives. Thanks again, Gary! There’s more to come.

Reader Photos: Gary Mason’s 1957 Italian GP Paddock

Ferrari Paddock - Italian GP, 1957

I’m continuing to wade through the box of slides and prints that Gary Mason sent in chronicling his lifelong love of photographing sportscar and formula racing (particularly Maseratis). In addition to these gorgeous images of the paddocks of the 1957 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, there is a large pile of shots that a then teenaged Gary was able to capture from the race itself (they’re coming, I promise). These particular shots of the Ferrari and Maserati paddocks really jump out at me though and are worth sharing on their own.

Maserati Paddock - Italian GP, 1957

It’s been well covered here and elsewhere what a shame it is that spectators are all but barred from the paddocks of contemporary Formula 1. But it’s not just the level of access that strikes me about these photos. It isn’t just that Jean Behra’s Maserati 250F or Peter Collins Lancia Ferrari 801 is just sitting right there, a hair’s breadth away; begging you to casually extend a pinkie and touch it and prove to yourself that it’s real. What catches my eye is what surrounds these magnificent machines or, rather, what doesn’t. This isn’t just access to the paddock; it’s access to a nearly empty paddock. Empty of security to be sure, but also eerily empty of other spectators. Plenty of room to stand back and frame up a photo. Nearly impossible today even at club races.

FerrariPaddock3.ItalianGP.1957

Bonus Denis Jenkinson on the left there gathering notes and photos on the Ferraris for Motor Sport, no doubt. A nearly embarrassing charge of excitement leapt through me when this image slowly revealed itself line by line as the scanner worked its way through the slide: “Hey, that’s Jenks!”

FerrariPaddock.ItalianGP.1957

As Gary pointed out in a comment on this similar photo taken a few years later, note the jump from garage 12 to garage 14. Can’t be too careful when you’re looking for luck on the track that day! No unlucky #13 garage for me, thank you.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Track photos of the main event and support races for the ’57 Italian GP to come as soon as I can get the images properly indexed and identified.

See more of the Gary Mason Archive.

Who Needs Umbrella Girls?

de Portago gridding up for the 1957 GP de Cuba

How hard do you think that Alfonso de Portago would laugh if we could tell him that racing teams have models in the pit lane who’s job it is to shield the drivers from the sun? De Portago didn’t need someone to cover his head when it started to rain before the 1957 Cuban GP and he certainly didn’t need it for the sun. A Shell ad wedged in the windscreen of his Ferrari 860 does just fine, thank you very much.