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Original Issue


In its seventh year, Bahamas Speed Week enjoyed its best racing yet. Most responsible for this success is big Red Crise, an American who says: 'I'm not a peaceable man'

An automobile race in which Stirling Moss drives a car can have one of two endings. Either Moss wins, or Moss breaks down and someone else wins. At the seventh running of the International Nassau Trophy Race last Sunday on the most famous of the Bahama Islands, Moss, who had won in 1956 and 1957 and who had broken down last year, failed to complete the first lap in the rapid little Lotus sports car which he had only recently driven to victory in two big California races. Once again the mechanical gremlins that have been pursuing Moss these last few years closed in on him.

However, the Lotus name still came through on top as it has so often during the past year. Dan Gurney, the tall, blond 29-year-old Californian who shared Moss's triumph at Nürburgring last summer, finished first in a new Lotus 19 with a comfortable lead of more than a minute over a front-engined three-liter Ferrari driven by the teen-age Rodriguez brothers from Mexico, Ricardo and Pedro. Although the race had to be cut short by two laps, Gurney's average of 89.544 for 243 miles beat the Lance Reventlow-Chuck Daigh record by exactly two miles an hour.

The first two-thirds of the race belonged entirely to Ricardo Rodriguez, the younger of the pint-sized, bland-faced Mexicans. The siren whine of Ricardo's car sounded so utterly powerful that it seemed impossible that he could be caught by the comparatively quiet Lotus, which was lying comfortably back in second, 20 to 40 seconds behind. But the big six-cylinder Ferrari gulps gas considerably faster than the lighter four-cylinder Lotus. With roughly an hour of racing left, the Ferrari was forced into the pit for more fuel. Gurney sped into the lead and was never headed after that.

Strictly in terms of racing and speed, this was the most impressive renewal ever of the Nassau Trophy Race. And aside from the racing itself, the event was full of the flavor that has made Bahamas Speed Week just about the most fun there is on the American racing calendar. From as far away as Europe and the Pacific Coast, some of the best cars and drivers in the world showed up for the eight days of festivities. On the opening Sunday there was a race of just over 100 miles for grand touring cars. Then, after a four-day layoff, there were two more days of minor races for ladies and local residents and Formula Juniors and cars of special makes and sizes, winding up with the Nassau Trophy as Sunday's grand finale. "We like to think it is 50% racing and 50% fun," says big Red Crise, the ebullient American racing promoter who started Bahamas Speed Week back in 1954 and has run it sternly ever since.

Racing in Nassau is almost entirely a participant sport. Across from the starting grid there is a small, ramshackle wooden grandstand. It is hardly large enough to seat the spectators at a Little League baseball game, and it is mostly filled with amiable natives, whooping it up for Stirling Moss, their favorite. The handful of fashionable whites who turn out like to picnic off the tailgates of their station wagons in the field at one of the more exciting curves on the course. "Actually, we don't care if we ever sell a ticket," Promoter Crise is able to say with satisfaction. The reason is that Nassau's nearly $30,000 in prize money and all the other expenses of Speed Week are subsidized by the Bahamas government and the local merchants. For eight days the off-season colonial slumber of the town of Nassau is unsettled by the harroom-harroom of sports cars growling through the narrow streets. The beards and the beat chicks of the racing set prowl through the perfume stores and crowd the tables at Dirty Dicks and Blackbeards Tavern and the Pilot House Club at night. The less dedicated of the crowd go over the hill to the native late spots like Club Crazy.

One constant presence at the track is a tall pretty blonde by the name of Lady Greta Oakes. Her husband, Sir Sydney Oakes, the son of Sir Harry Oakes, was the cofounder of the Bahamas Automobile Club along with Red Crise. Ever since the first Speed Week, Lady Greta, 32-year-old mother of three children, has dutifully driven in the ladies' race on Saturday morning. "You might call it," she says, "my contribution to Speed Week." This year, in a borrowed Lotus, she came in third.

Although the fun and games side of Speed Week gives the event a social flair that is unique in big-time racing, it has its drawbacks. The event has attracted the very best of the world's drivers—among them, Moss, Phil Hill, Joakim Bonnier of Sweden and Masten Gregory. These pros must take their work seriously to stay alive, as Bonnier put it while watching one of the warmup races last week. "I have more fun at a race where everything is a little more serious. I don't like to think that someone else on the track has a hangover. It is hard enough working your way through all the small cars that they allow to run in the big races here."

Despite these objections, Nassau still pays top starting money to the leading pros, and those who can find a ride in a good car are bound to turn up, particularly at a time of year when racing is hibernating elsewhere. This year, for instance, Nassau had 280 applicants for its 100 invitations.

The man who thought up Nassau and has kept it running ever since is Crise himself. He had been coming to the island off and on for more than 30 years, ever since, as a young man of Prohibition times, he flew liquor to the States. "One afternoon," as he recalls it, "Sir Sydney and I sat down on my boat and decided we'd have a hobby race. We started romancing the thing around and then brought over 50 cars. It was just a little thing, but look at it now."

If Red Crise had not been born in New York City 54 years ago, it is certain nobody would have invented him. He stands 6 feet tall, weighs a round 252 pounds and is topped by a shock of bright orange hair. He is always in motion and, as he puts it, "I'm always in trouble. I'm not a peaceable man." His life story sounds something like the script for an early silent film, jumping from climax to crisis to crisis to climax in double time. At one moment he is a young man racing a speedboat that flies apart in a vivid explosion. Next he is making a small killing in a seaplane promotion, putting up a ramp near Wall Street so rich New Yorkers can fly to work from their estates on Long Island. There is a fadeout, and the next thing you know Crise has just dropped a fortune in midget car promotion and his partner has dived out the window of an office building. In another scene Crise is ferrying gasoline over the China Hump during World War II, bailing out when his plane runs out of gas and breaking his back when his parachute lets him down too hard. Before you know it, Crise is recovered and running a magnificent yacht base at Miami Beach, but the pier burns one night in a spectacular holocaust. Pretty soon you see Crise, his fortunes recouped, restlessly commanding his 65-foot yacht and commuting between his ranch in Fort Lauderdale and his winter home in Nassau.

Doers vs. readers

"I know how to put things together," he will tell you without any false modesty. "I know how to make things work. Trouble with most people, they'll get an idea but they can't make it go. You take my marine base at Miami. I had this partner, but he liked to read books. He wouldn't work, so I got out. Me, my phone gets answered 24 hours a day. I'm up at 6. If you get in my way and try to bust up my plans, I'd just as soon bust a bottle over your head."

Even as he says it, Crise is laughing and slapping his thigh over the recollection of some incredible and outrageous exploit of the past. "What do you think of that, mon?" he will ask. He calls everyone "mon," in imitation of Bahamian jargon. They like to tell a story down in Nassau about a drivers' meeting Crise was conducting before the race when the event was young. Stirling Moss made a number of suggestions, such as changing the starting time, eliminating the Le Mans start and limiting the entries to only the bigger, faster cars. Moss was seconded by several other big-name drivers, while Crise listened in silence. When they were through, Crise said: "Are you through? The race will start as scheduled. There will be the same number of cars as planned, and there will be a Le Mans start. You came here to drive, didn't you? Well, then get in your cars and drive." Moss turned to someone next to him and said, "Stubborn feller, isn't he?" But there was more admiration than anger in his voice.