“Wouldn’t it be a kick in the ass to run the next Daytona? Get out there with the big boys. Run 1200 miles. Maybe win it? How’s that sound?”
It’s late October, 1963; the corner booth in Bernard’s Surf bar, Cocoa Beach, near Cape Canaveral, Florida. The boys are having a couple of rounds after work. They’ve got their drinks, and plates stoked with happy hour free food. The boys are Larry Perkins (Perk) and his cronies Jake, Pepi, Bob and Fred. They’re shooting the breeze. As always, the breeze blows toward cars and racing.
The casual chatter has suddenly taken a shocking turn — not so easy with a bunch of aerospace engineers and race drivers. Larry has just made a proposal which sounds … sort of … like a joke.
“Perk, the race is definitely going to fall to a Ferrari. If you were seriously gonna run it, a GTO’s the ride you’d need. So much for your idea.”
“Well, OK. But reliability’s the hot tip, and they’re known for it. I’m thinking even an old one — say 2 years? — could be made competitive. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to do?”
“Who knows the Speedway better than we do? Lord knows we’ve turned enough laps on it.”
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“Well, for sure, but you know the factory’s gonna bring the latest thing. And famous lead-foot guys like Hill and Rodriguez and Company. Anyhow, I’m pretty sure GTOs are as rare as chicken lips.”
“I’ll bet there’s one available somewhere, for the right price.”
“And what price would that be? Those damn things aren’t free, Perk. Where would that kind of dough come from?”
“Hey, maybe we could take up a collection at church?”
“Nah, we can’t let Jake inside a church…the place would disintegrate.”
[The discourse turns silly.]
“Those little red Ferraris are so pretty … they draw the sleekest pit bunnies.”
“If we had one, what color would it be? Not red. Maybe purple? It would confuse everybody. Make ’em slow down to gawk, and we’d whip their butts.”
“Yeah, or we could paint it barf green. Wouldn’t hardly piss off some uppity gentleman racers, would it?!”
“Hey, wait a minute … barf gree … Bee Aay Arr Eff. ‘Brevard Auto Racing Fraternity’ … BARF! How’s that for a classy team logo?”
“Pepi, you’ve got a new spray rig. Mal’s a lettering pro. We could get him to make big stick-on’s. ‘BARF’ on a pukey green background … I … can … not … wait.”
[Raucous yucks all around.]
“Hey, there’s Fred. Come on over, Fred. We’re talking a serious thing here. Perk thinks we oughta get a GTO and beat the big boys in the Daytona 13 Hours.”
“A GTO? A Ferrari GTO? You guys are drunk or nuts or all three. It could never happen.”
“Aw, you build fast cars yourself. You know the drill. Help us figure this thing out.”
“When’s the race?”
“February. Middle of February.”
“Man, where you hidin’ the opium pipe? No way there’s enough time. You don’t even have a car!”
“ARE there any cars? I mean, how many are there in the world? Maybe twenty? Besides, don’t they keep ’em all kind of … busy?”
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“Sabiston? Maybe we could get Sabiston to wrench on it? He’s a magician.”
“Yeah, John Sabiston. Perfectionist. And he knows a million tricks. I could really work with Sabiston.”
“You’re gonna need a quick codriver, Perk. I mean, you’re probably not the slowest guy in the world, but I have noticed it takes you a while to get over there to the bar.”
[More hilarious yucks and raised glasses at the table]
“Hey, Perk, you’re sideways half the time in your little bitty Cooper. What the hell would you do with a big-ass Prancing Horse?”
“Rings on his fingers ‘n’ bells on his toes. Round and round ol’ Perky goes!”
“Aw, bullshit, guys, it’s my tires. Blue Streaks. Hard as glass, twice as slick. Besides, my big spin at Osceola was in the rain. And Sorensen slammed the door on me.”
“Ohh, yikes, tires. Where could we get enough rubber for practice and a thirteen-hour race? Maybe Robinson would make us a deal on some Goodyears?”
“Children, please repeat after me: Bill-Rob-in-son-does-not-do-deals-on-rub-ber.”
“Sponsorship from Clyde the parts guy? Maybe he’d spring if we put ‘NAPA’ on the car.
What about Charlie at the bank? He’s the VP of Money, for crying out loud!”
“Maybe an airline would sponsor us … we could advertise their barf bags.”
“Hey, don’t laugh. Jack Slottag is getting a Porta Potty sponsorship for his Lotus.”
“Uh … entry fee? What’s it cost to get into one of these oversize shindigs?”
“Not too bad actually. I checked; 350 bucks. Covers garage space, fuel, pit passes, all the stuff. It’s not a showstopper.”
“But a pit crew could be. The tough part will be to keep a crew at Daytona during the week … it’s over an hour’s drive up there, and everybody’s on different schedules. And getting a codriver.”
“Eve. I’m thinking Bill Eve’s the guy. He’s super-fast, and a savvy mechanic too … gentle on the machinery. Bill’s gotta be an advantage in a long distance race.”
“Tough shit, Pepi. Bill’s in the Army, in Colorado or some damn place out West. He’d be out of reach, right Perk?”
“Not sure. I’m gonna try right away. His mom’s here in town; I can probably get in touch through her.”
“You serious? You’re gonna call Bill? You sound like you’re sailing your own dream boat here. Pretty sobering, man.”
“Look, Jake, this is starting to be at least halfway realistic. It could be a do-able do, and I think we oughta try. I’ve got a little money squirreled away, and it sounds like we can probably get some more. I’ll start looking around for a car first thing tomorrow. And we could use some help with the grapevine too.”
“OK, I know a guy. Dad’s a car dealer in Cocoa, Al Hodges. He just got one of those brandy-new Pontiac GTO’s in for sale, and he races stock cars too. There could be a promo connection. I’ll call and check it out.”
“What d’ya think, Fred?”
“IT WILL NEH-VUH HAP-PEN!”
Bernard’s Surf is a 1960s Cocoa Beach institution — if a 15-year-old seafood joint in a ragtag, sun bleached, shore-side village can somehow live up to such a lofty title.
If a person craves a beer and a mess of fried catfish, after a day’s work around America’s emerging space port — you can visit The Pier. But if you prefer a perfectly crafted drink, upscale hors d’oeuvres, and satisfying conversation, you stop by The Surf during Happy Hour. Hordes of Cape denizens pour through the doors. Astronauts, engineers, executive secretaries, space journalists, gawking tourists, all chattering and schmoozing, especially in the weeks leading up to a major rocket launch. The Surf at such times defines the Cape social atmosphere.
The Surf has gained fame for a menu of absolutely fresh fish only hours out of the water — and its increasing popularity as the go-to place for visiting Space Race dignitaries. The shiny new Mercury astronauts gather there. Real life rocket scientists from all over are regulars. Marty Caidin, the prominent and colorful aerospace writer, is a fixture. Walter Cronkite, ex-race driver and budding TV superstar — not yet the “most trusted man in America” — often frequents a big corner booth in the dining room. And owner Bernard Fischer’s hospitality is known far and wide.
Larry’s racing crowd are Surf regulars, and the slightly daft decision to get The Car has been reached in Bernard’s bar. As for the car, it isn’t “The Car” yet. It’s just a race car, but it’s the kind you need to beat the factory teams in the first Daytona Continental 2000 Km road race. A car capable of going very fast, slowing down even faster, and enduring thirteen grueling hours at top speed on a twisty road course and the most daunting banked track in the world.
Players in the scenario:
Larry Perkins — Age 31. Family guy with a positive, independent manner. Day job: IBM systems engineer developing real time computer systems with Eastern Test Range contractors. Has raced a Cooper Formula C single seater in SCCA for two seasons. Loves the sport but has no FIA (big time international racing) experience.
Jake Jacobsen — Age 28. Sharp-edged, wiry guy with a New York accent. Races an Austin Healy 3000 in SCCA. He is funny and smart. Also, goofy and sarcastic, and his hair always stands on end like he’s been electrocuted. Jake works for Grumman on the Apollo LM—the Lunar Module the astronauts will fly from lunar orbit to the Moon’s surface and—according to plan anyhow—back to orbit. The LM is unique in man’s flight history. Since it never has to operate in air, it is utterly un-aerodynamic. And, somewhat like a race car, weight comes at a premium, so the vehicle is covered with metal film not much thicker than kitchen foil. The thing looks like a big, shiny, angular alien bug. Jake also has no FIA experience.
Raymond “Pepi” Kelso — Age 30. Another guy with a droll style and razor-sharp wit. Pepi has been a racing mechanic much of his life. He has touched every sort of race car at one time or another, and once worked for the truly legendary hotrodder, Ak Miller. Pepi knows about engines and gearboxes and rear ends and brakes. He solves problems on the fly, an asset to any pit crew. He’s a good buddy too but does not suffer fools gladly. Pepi has never been seen without a lit cigarette between his lips and loves to shock people around racetracks by stubbing out his butts in pools of liquid gasoline (laughing and explaining that only the vapor is dangerous). So, he’s sort of a scientific guy. Pepi also has no FIA experience.
Bob Rodamer — Age 28. Bob works for Martin Company on the launch crew for the Titan III, a workhorse for the USAF and other agencies needing to put big payloads in Earth orbit. He races a D Production sports car in SCCA. Perhaps owing to his work on the giant rocket, Bob is the cool, unflappable member of this group. He is systematic and meticulous and has an indelible memory for details. Bob’s an experienced driver but has had no FIA exposure.
Fred Minning — Age 35. Technical advisor with RCA. Fred has an engineer’s precise analytical manner, lots of energy, and a persistent (some would call it “stubborn”) streak. He has come late to sports car racing, then embraced it like a new lover. Last year he announced he would build his own car, from the ground up, and was met with a barrage of skepticism. “Oh, man, that’s impossible.” “Aw, Fred, your brains are scrambled—why not just buy a car?” Etc.
Maserati had recently introduced a blindingly hot car, the Type 61, which earned the nickname “Birdcage” because of its frame construction—lengths of tiny steel tubing arranged in sophisticated triangles. Fred didn’t even know how to weld when he started, but he pressed on, building his car in a similar way. A smaller chassis with a diminutive engine, he calls it the “Squirrel Cage.” But the thing goes like a scalded dog, handles nicely, stops on a dime and he’s won plenty of trophies with it. Fred’s a good driver, but like the rest he has no FIA experience.
After due consideration, and several rounds of beers, this team of SCCA amateurs, none of whom has ever run a race longer than 40 laps, has decided: it is possible to win the 1964 Daytona 13 Hour FIA race with the right tool. They all agree on what the tool is—a Gran Turismo Omologato. A Ferrari 250 GTO. If you have one of those, how hard could it be?
Petra Perkins is a Colorado author of memoir, fiction, poetry, essay, humor, and stage play. She decided to get serious about writing in 2011 after retiring from her management career in aerospace engineering. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Colorado Independent, The Denver Post and other newspapers, as well as Sports Car Digest, ArtAscent and other journals and online publications. Learn more at www.petrapetra.com.