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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.