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Swift happening at the Glen

At trackside the U.S. Grand Prix resembled Woodstock; on the pavement it was a spectacular first victory for a young Frenchman

Grand Prix racing produces many things: excitement, crowds, money, traffic jams, hard-won victories and the odd bloody knuckle. Thus it is no wonder that the sport also produces poetry. Road-racing fans, being the most literate of the car crowd, are the bards of the sport, and the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen last week generated a couple of memorable efforts. As usual, the speed freaks chose to inscribe their verses on the walls of pit row or, failing that, those of the nearest Port-A-John. Two of the poems took the moon as a metaphor. The first could be titled:


The moon, a gibbous goblet
In the praisemonger's phrase,
Decanted its leaden rays
On the foregathered faithful.

Huddled in trees and stoned on apple wine,
Beneath the grass fires and the burning Johns,
They studied on the sky: the clouds
Turned on the crowds, and the crowds
Turned on the moon....
Down the night, furious as usual,
Out of control in his controlling way,
Rode Rindt, too late for Sunday's grandeur,
Early to his inevitable grave, and grave
In death as he was in victory here
In the moon of '69.

Then Courage, shards of courage,
Spat sand from his scorched mouth,
Dead among the Dutch....
But Emerson, alive, too quick through the Esses
To be stopped...yestermoon's winner....
Fittipaldi sat in the first row, next to Hulme
Humming nicely now,
And Stewart, alive, the clothing designer,
Hirsute champ, high-pitched pal and self-promoter,
Canny co-owner of the whole wide world,
If not the Glen,
Now as then sat on the pole.

But only the moon could say
If Mark or Mario
Would drive today....

The second verse, briefer and therefore more memorable, was derived from an old hippie metaphor: "There are nights when the wolves are silent and the moon howls."

Ah, ah, the moon. Everyone at the Glen last week was watching the moon for a weather report. You could not get it from the local newspapers, or from the local TV. If it had a ring around it on Saturday night, the moon could predict whether Hurricane Ginger would disrupt the racing activities along the East Coast and thus profoundly affect events at Watkins Glen.

The two best road racers in America, Mark Donohue and Mario Andretti, were committed to running in a 300-mile Indianapolis-style race at Trenton, N.J., one which had been rained out the week previous and rescheduled on the date of the Grand Prix, where both were also entered. Without Donohue and Andretti, Watkins Glen would lose a grand come-on: Would an American at last win the American Grand Prix? Scotland's Jackie Stewart had already wrapped up the world championship, and second place in the point standings had been clinched by Ronnie Peterson. Names like Peterson, Jo Siffert and Jacky Ickx are not quite household words among speed followers. O.K., so Peter Revson was there, driving a Tyrrell-Ford just like Stewart's, but Revvie—who could very well become the first North American ever to capture the Can-Am Championship later this fall—was a long shot. And Sam Posey, the steatopygic star of many a minor-league race, was also on hand, winning, finally, the 18th place on the starting grid of 29 cars in a fragile Surtees-Ford. "You just gotta wait and keep trying," allowed Sam. "You gotta let it happen."

In a way, the Glen this year was a happening—a Woodstock-on-wheels. As Stewart turned his faultless laps on Saturday in pursuit of the pole and its concomitant $2,000, shirtless longhairs—male and female—hunkered on platforms in the treetops across from the start-finish line, smoking him on. Up the road apiece, peasant-blousy hippies were dealing "organic apple cider" and angelic smiles to any who would stop at two bits per shot. Others had organized an ox roast—how medieval can you get? Nailing down the primal nature of the event was prize money totaling $260,000 and the reek of manure that emanated from the freshly bulldozed earth behind the unfinished pit area.

The wizards of Watkins, in a much-needed renovation program, had widened their ancient roadway for safety's sake and lengthened the course from 2.3 miles to 3.377—adding a tricky, four-cornered loop at the southwest end. New surfacing and higher steel barriers finally had made the rickety course modern—and acceptable to men like Jackie Stewart, who insist on safety along with their prize money. Indeed, during a prerace ceremony sauced with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, veteran driver Jo Bonnier of Sweden/Switzerland presented the track's race director, Malcolm Currie, with a trophy from the Grand Prix Drivers' Association for having organized the smoothest race on the circuit—along with the German Grand Prix, which shared the honor for the season past. "I want to thank the thousands who have made this possible," said Mai, slack-jawed with fatigue. "Can't think of all their names just now."

It had been a $2.6 million effort, and though the new track extension and pit facilities were not quite completed at race time—hammers still hammered busily along pit row—nobody could really complain.

Came Saturday night and the moon had no golden ring—indeed it vanished in a thick ground fog. So sure enough there was no hurricane and the Trenton race ran as rescheduled. (Andretti was second, Donohue sixth as Joe Leonard clinched the domestic driving championship.) But the record crowd of more than 100,000 at the Glen hardly missed Mark and Mario, so tight and quirky was their own action.

The fog burned off as race time approached, and at the drop of the green flag Hulme outdragged pole sitter Stewart into the first 90-degree right-hand corner, named after Jim Clark by the announcer, then outsped the field up into the wider, quicker Esses. It looked for a time as if Hulme's comeback from the slows that had beset him since he was burned at Indy last year was materializing, but Stewart soon established his authority on the back stretches and took a lead of five seconds after a dozen of the race's 59 laps. Then something went mildly squirrely with Stewart's suspension. On lap 14 his young teammate, François Cevert, pushed his own Tyrrell-Ford up to Stewart's tail pipes and Jackie waved him past. "Jackie is a very good man, a sensible man," said Cevert later amid geysers of celebratory champagne. "He has taught me a lot."

For a while, though, it seemed that perhaps Stewart had not taught him enough. With the two Tyrrell-Fords running first and second, up loped Jacky Ickx in a hungry Ferrari. On the 15th lap Ickx slipped past Hulme into third place, almost clipping the right-hand barrier at the top of the Esses and saving himself only by a lightning tap of the brakes, followed by an instinctive twitch of the steering wheel. Then he gobbled up the world champion and set his gaze on the flying Tyrrell of Cevert.

By this time mechanical breakdowns had begun to drag down some good men. Revson dropped out on the second lap with a blown clutch on his Tyrrell-Ford—normally Stewart's training car. A burned valve put Posey's Surtees-Ford out. Hulme pitted for fresh rubber at midrace, and you don't pit in Grand Prix events nowadays and expect to win. Emerson Fittipaldi, last year's surprise winner, had three surprises awaiting him on Sunday. The first was a stuck throttle that required costly pit work. Then a shredding left rear tire. Then a broken wishbone resulting from the tire problem. Clay Regazzoni, the able teammate of Ickx, moved ahead of Stewart into fourth place only to spin a full 360 degrees in one of the new corners in that southwest sector and ultimately finish sixth.

With the pack spread out into pairs, trips and fours of a kind, the traffic pattern was getting sticky, precisely the situation that suits Ickx. A daring—some might say too daring—driver, he nipped his way through traffic, nearly kissing the barriers inside and outside the slick ribbon of asphalt and eroding Cevert's lead from a healthy six seconds to a nervous three. And then slicing it to a threadbare two.

But 16 laps from the end Ickx blew past the pits with a bit of coiled wire trailing beneath his tail pipe. Visually, it tore the clean lines of the Ferrari like a run in a well-filled stocking. It was the magneto. Four laps later Ickx coasted into the pits, leaving the honors—and the $50,000 in first-prize money—to Cevert. The young Frenchman was followed by Switzerland's Seppi Siffert ($20,000), Sweden's Ronnie Peterson ($12,000), New Zealand's Howden Ganley ($10,000) and a persevering Stewart ($9,500), who had grappled with his balky Tyrrell all afternoon.

Ickx at least had the consolation of winning $5,000 from Ballantine beer for the fastest lap of the race (117.495 mph) just before his magneto began to part company with the car, though some of that joy might have dissipated during Mel Allen's long-winded presentation of the award.

It was the third year in a row in which the Glen had provided the first Grand Prix win for an up-and-coming young driver. Rindt won his first Formula I race there in 1969, and Fittipaldi did the same last year. Cevert, 27, the son of a Parisian jeweler and brother-in-law of hard-boiled veteran Jean-Pierre Beltoise, took the prize with grand aplomb. "Fifty thousand dollars, that is about 28 million old francs," he said, his big eyes blue as ice. And then it was his turn to howl.