Heroes, yesterday and today

The list was supposed to be 5 drivers, but I had trouble limiting it to what turns out to be 16 favorites

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Larry Edsall, founding editor of the ClassicCars.com Journal, and I enjoy a mutual passion not only for the written word, but for motor racing in its many incarnations. We have been around the sport for longer than either of us cares to admit – but we both got to experience a gilded age, Larry in his career and me as a wide-eyed kid whose dad, along with a few other key players, was framing what would become the sports marketing industry.

We have met and known many personalities over the years. In a recent conversation, we got to talking about who we would list amongst our top-5 favorite race drivers.  Needless to say, our lists couldn’t stop at 5. So, we searched our memories and hearts, made our lists, and decided to share them with you. 

In the more gilded age, most of these guys were larger than life. It was an age when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. They were swashbuckling heroes of what is now called “toxic masculinity.” There was no #metoo movement to slow their personalities. 

It didn’t even matter that there were many fatalities in the sport. Most of these guys just knew it wouldn’t be them, though not all on these lists made it to retirement. They were driving different types of cars all over the world – and putting food on the table doing so. 

It was only all the corporate money that poured into the sport – again, thanks dad – that ultimately turned most racing drivers into dilettante corporate spokespeople bouncing off pillows and safety barriers. 

Interestingly, my list actually includes three women I admire as drivers and people – all of whom could drive circles around Marco Andretti (Remember folks, I never had to eat that crow – ed).

Chuck Parsons: Some of my earliest memories in racing are watching Chuck driving Lolas for Carl Haas. He and his wife Sherri were at our house a lot, too. I knew them well. One of the biggest thrills of my life was driving his Lola T-160 Can-Am car at Willow Springs.

T. Richard Stahler Sr. (R) with Chuck and Sherri Parsons at the Riverside Can-AM 1969
The author flies up the main straight at Willow Springs in the Lola T-160 almost 50 years later

Brian Redman: Still friends with the affable Brit. As a very young boy, I was enamored with how kind he was and how he would answer my questions in the Haas paddock during the F5000 series. He dominated that magical open-wheel series with three championships in a row. Even raced slot cars with him in my basement once.

The author and Brian Redman at Road America

David Hobbs: I still have the Goodyear hat that David gave me at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1974. Continue to see him around and always have a good chat. Most recently at the Gooding & Co. auction in Scottsdale. His very dry sense of humor has always kept me in stitches.

The author sits between Hobbs (L) and Steve Matchett looking pretty lost

Patrick Tambay: Patrick played surrogate for a wounded Brian Redman in the 1977 single-seat Can-Am. It was then he befriended a 10-year-old Tommy Stahler. He won the championship that year – then again in 1979. He won in F1 for Ferrari, driving the No. 27 that he took over after the death of his friend Gilles Villeneuve. Sadly, Parkinson’s disease has wreaked havoc in the past couple of years. Previous to that, we would chat frequently on Facetime from California to the Cote d’ Azure.

The author, at age 12, stands next to the Lola T-530 in the Highland Park, Illinois race shop of Carl Haas. Later in 1979, Patrick Tambay would win that year’s single-seat Can-Am Championship.

Tony “a2z” Adamowicz: Tony was one of my closest friends, clients and confidants. Funny, we never knew each other during his F5000 and IMSA years. We became buddies while he was reunited with his 1969 championship winning Eagle in vintage racing.  He succumbed to brain cancer in 2016.

The author sits shotgun in the 1969 Under-Two-Liter Trans-Am Championship winning Porsche — with Tony a2z — the champion himself.

Peter Brock: Peter is known for a lot of things. His iconic designs. His Datsun team in the early 1970s. The hang glider. But not everyone knows he was a rather competent driver – enough to be the lead instructor at Carroll Shelby’s Racing School. Peter is the only person among my friends that truly makes me starstruck.

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With Peter Brock and one of his many iconic designs.

Lyn St. James: Lyn had all the makings of a racing star. A dynamo personality, good looks, ambition and great car control. She had a great deal with Ford for a number of years and was the first female rookie of the year at Indy in 1992 – at age 45. I do believe she, above the rest before and since, moved the ball most for women in motorsport.

The author and Lyn St. James at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a vintage All-star race. Al Unser looks on from behind.

Rick Knoop: An absolute wild man back in the days when IMSA was known as the “International Marijuana Smugglers Association.” A real rock star race driver. He has toned it down to absolute temperance now – but still succeeds each year at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb and in vintage racing events driving a beautiful McLaren M8B. A dear friend.

The author and “The Knooper” celebrate his Historic Can-Am victory at Road America

Mark Donohue: Captain Nice wrote one of my all-time favorite racing memoirs: The Unfair Advantage. Without a doubt, he was the thinking man’s driver. I was 8 when he was killed in Austria, but I am glad to say I saw him race.

Donohue at Indy in 1972 | IMS Museum

Peter Revson: When Revlon heir and movie star-handsome man-of-the-world Peter drove for Carl Haas, Dad was his PR guy. I wish I had known him better. We lost him at Kyalami, South Africa, in 1974. I occasionally check in with his sister, Jennifer, who is on the board of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Peter Revson (L) chats up Don Nichols while Jackie Oliver (R) discusses strategy with Tony Southgate and Alan Rees

Paul Newman: Every interaction I ever had with “Mr. Newman” was very pleasant. He really was a genuinely nice guy who just lived and breathed motor racing. Newman just loved being around it. He also was a heck of a shoe with a number of championships under his belt.

A fitting role: Paul Newman plays a race driver in the movie ‘Winning’

Masten Gregory: Masten was a sweetheart of a man and quite the character. He was also best pals with Carl Haas, so we saw him a lot. He added levity to about every situation he was present, including dinners at the house. I didn’t even know he was “The Kansas City Flash” until my late teens. He was just Masten.

“The Kansas City Flash” Masten Gregory |Wikipedia Commons

John Morton: BRE Datsun, Single Seat Can-AM, IMSA, airplane pilot/enthusiast… the list goes on. Ask John sometime how I out-qualified him at Spring Mountain in the C-Production feature, then ask me how he blew by me and about 12 other cars by the first corner. John and Sylvia (an ace author and his life partner) are wonderful people.

The author with John Morton (R) and John Paul Jr.

Courtney Crone: Watch this girl closely. The 19-year-old might just be the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500. She has won in everything she has touched going back to stadium motorcycles. She is now driving Formula 4 and climbing the ladder. Her dad, Jack, is a heck of a wrench, too.  Both dear pals!

The author’s daughter, Kira, gets behind the wheel with Courtney Crone

Sarah Montgomery: The Ragin’ Cajun has taken full advantage of every opportunity that has come her way behind the wheel. Her gumption to race goes back to a very young age.  While she is from a comfortable middle-class family, she is no debutante and has had to claw her way to drives with her skill – and charm.

With the ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ Sarah Montgomery

James Hunt: James was real. His world championship in 1976 was a testament to God’s sense of humor. One of the greatest characters to turn a wheel in anger, James continues to inspire fun-loving people everywhere. Despite his death by a heart attack at age 45 in 1993, the thought of him brings a smile to my face.

The incorrigible James Hunt
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Tom Stahler is the Managing Editor of the ClassicCars.com Journal. Tom has a lifelong love of cars and motor racing – beginning with the 1968 USRRC race at Road America, in a stroller, at eight months of age. His words, photos and broadcasts can can be found on a myriad of media. He has won the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor Award and a Gold Medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Guess I am older than you. I have to pick Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill. Saw both of them many times at Watkins Glen. I have had a life long love of Brit cars and still have several. Morgans are my favorite.

  2. I guess you are John. However, I do know Sally (Stokes) Swart. We all have our own lists and i certainly acknowledge Clark and Hill. My list could have been 100 drivers-long. The ones you read about here have all been people I know/knew personally to various extent.

    • Good choices of some drivers I hadn’t thought about in a while.
      Say- didn’t your fireman boots make it hard to heel’n’toe that flash Lola? (!)

      • Sometime later in life, I traded those fire-boots for nomex driving boots… As for the fashion I was sporting in 1979, it can be said even today, I’m a bit scrappy… Thanks for reading Ryan!

  3. Thank you Tom for including Peter Brock in your recent article. He truly was “King of the mountain”
    Mount Panorama Australia.
    His unfortunate loss was a loss to Motorsports in Australia. Hopefully with the interest in the Bathurst 1000 it will highlight just how great he was as a race car driver.

    • Well, mate, sorry to say I wasn’t talking about the legendary “King of the Mountain” Peter Brock from down-under. However, you are right as he was awesome! If I ever made a longer list, both Peter Brocks would be on it. Bathurst is on my bucket list as it is such an iconic track.

  4. The golden age of the 50’s produced some great ones to add to your list. Mike Hawthorne, the fun loving, press on, hard living driver that when his kidney disease was not holding him back, could match Moss or Fangio.

    Peter Collins, mon ami mate to Mike. A personal favorite of Enzo. And gave up a world championship to Fangio because he was just that nice.

    Stirling Moss, the greatest to never win a world championship. Won everything he competed in.

    • Indeed, Tim. honestly whittling the drivers down to sixteen was tough. The drivers I included were people that I know/knew to various extents. I had many more heroes — and have been blessed to have met some of them.

  5. It’s wonderful to see a few female race car drivers that made into this list, among many top famous male race car drivers. So awesome to see Kira being part it too!

    • In 2011, when I won the Dean Batchelor award, I called you out during the acceptance speech to, “please read the article,” which got much laughter. It is clear that as the years rolled on, Jennie, that you may have caught the bug a bit. At this juncture I will say, “…and to my supportive wife who cares about what I do for a living, thanks for reading the article.” : )

  6. Dear Larry,
    I trained with the famous children’s hip surgeon – Dr. Sherman Coleman at Shriner’s forty years ago. Just wondering if you saw him and what your diagnosis/procedure(s) were.
    Regards,
    Mark

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