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by Sam Posey

Excerpt from "The Mudge Pond Express" by Sam Posey
Le Mans is more than a great race; it is a French national 
Institution. The event has survived two world wars; the or- 
ganizing club was founded in 1906 and has proved more 
durable than the government itself. Every year in June 
350,000 devotees return to Le Mans for a total experience 
which can be compared only to the Woodstock rock festival. 
The track is on the outskirts of Le Mans, a large industrial 
city. The race is run on public roads which are in everyday 
use, so that a few hours after the last Ferrari has blasted 
down the Mulsanne straight a French housewife will drive 
the same road in her old Citroen The road surface has been 
much improved, however, and is billiard-table smooth. 
Over the years the organizers have repeatedly modified 
the track in the interest of safety. After Levegh's horrendous 
crash in 1955 the entire pits and main grandstand--three 
tiers high and a half mile long--were rebuilt twenty feet back 
to allow the track to be widened at that point. A decade later, 
when other track-owners were complaining about the high 
cost of safety guardrail, the Le Mans organizers lined the en- 
tire eight-mile course with guardrail on both sides. In 1968 
they installed a new turn, immediately nicknamed "Virage 
Ford," just before the pits in an effort to curtail the frighten- 
ing lap speeds being achieved by the big Fords and Ferraris. 
Within two years speeds were higher than ever, and fresh 
safety measures have had to be taken. 
The countryside through which Le Mans runs reminds me 
of Sharon  farms and farmhouses, open pastures inter- 
spersed with dense pine forests. You never have the feeling 
of going round and round at Le Mans; instead it is as if you 
are driving in the country from one town to the next. 
Despite the safety improvements Le Mans is a dangerous 
track. Its single distinguishing feature is the three-mile-long 
straight, called the Mulsanne because it is the main road 
from the outskirts of the city to a small suburb of that name. 
Before you are halfway down this straight your car is doing 
its absolute top speed; then you just sit there at 200 mph or 
more. Near the end there is a difficult right swerve followed 
by a hump which has launched several drivers to their deaths 
in the surrounding treetops. Several hundred yards before 
the end of the straight you stand on the brakes--it takes a 
long time to slow a car from that speed, and while you sit 
there you feel oddly weightless as the world comes back into 
focus. 
Like Sebring, Le Mans features an elaborate tech inspec- 
tion procedure, which the French call "scrutineering." It says 
a lot about the two tracks that Sebring always held tech in a 
supermarket parking lot, whereas at Le Mans there is a spe 
cial half-acre enclosure surrounded by high walls, with a per- 
manent building for the inspectors, a hydraulic lift, and so- 
phisticated scales with a digital read-out. 
Scrutineering goes on for three days and each team has an 
appointment; failure to show up on time incurs penalties. 
Even for a detail as small as checking the brake lights there 
are five or six inspectors, all dressed in blue business suits 
and each carrying his own official seal with which to stamp 
the car's papers. Over the years, as the officials have added 
rule after rule, scrutineering has become so complex that 
eventually NART entrusted the inspection of its cars to a 
specialist, John Baus, whose experience in dealing with the 
Le Mans bureaucracy went back twenty years to the time 
when he performed the same function for the Cunningham 
team. 
The drivers are as fastidiously inspected as the cars. In 
1970 the officials ruled that Charlie Parsons, slated to drive a 
NART entry, would not be allowed to race at Le Mans be- 
cause of his gimpy leg. We were all outraged and I argued 
with them for hours, pointing out that Parsons' leg had not 
prevented him from winning the USRRC in 1966 or the Day- 
tona twenty-four-hour race in 1969. But they wouldn't listen. 
The next day Mr. Chinetti arrived and was apprised of the 
situation. His response was like a thunderbolt. If Parsons 
could not race, then not only would he withdraw NART's 
whole entry but he would also have Enzo withdraw the fac- 
tory Ferraris. He would bring in the surgeon general from 
the nearby SAC base to certify Parsons' leg, and he would 
then get the American ambassador out to Le Mans and cre- 
ate an international incident. Suddenly the officials were 
honored to have "Monsieur Parsons" in their race.  .. 
I already knew about the French officials from my dis- 
qualification in 1966 when I drove for Bizzarrini. If only I 
had known Mr. Chinetti then! 
For 1969 NART decided to enter their venerable Ferrari 
275LM--the exact car with which they had won Le Mans in 
1965, and which even then was something of an antique. I 

was to drive along with Theodoro Zeccoli, who was Alfa 
Romeo's chief test driver at the time. There was no question 
of competing with the Ford GT40's or Porsche's array of 
908's and the brand-new 917's, but this was immaterial to 
me: the Bizzarrini ride had whetted my appetite for Le Mans 
and now I was getting another chance. 
The race traditionally begins at four P.M. but in 1969 it was 
started two hours earlier so that racegoers would have an op- 
portunity to vote in the presidential referendum the next 
day. On the morning of the race the customary ten-minute 
drive from my hotel required two hours. The entire pit area 
was an impossible crush of people; the crowds were so dense 
that the sixty cars, lined up in echelon for the start, were in- 
visible. Bands marched by on the track. An hour before the 
start a long line of blue-coated gendarmes swept the whole 
area clear of people. 
At the American races Mr. Chinetti customarily left most 
of the decisions to other NART personnel, but at Le Mans he 
was always the boss. He decided that since Zeccoli was a Le 
Mans veteran he should make the start: the traditional foot- 
race across the track. The old Le Mans start went like this: 
The cars are lined up diagonally on one side of the track and 
the drivers stand in small white circles on the other side. 
When the Bag drops, the drivers run to their cars and you 
can hear their feet slapping on the pavement. Then one en- 
gine bursts into life, followed by others; a car jerks forward 
out of line, the others begin to move; the noise reaches a cre- 
scendo-a very exciting business, but dangerous and quite 
meaningless in a twenty-four-hour race. As if to make this 
point, in 1969 Jacky Ickx walked to his car. 
Others should have followed his example. On the first lap 
the English driver John Woolfe, who had earlier announced 
his intention to take it easy in his new Porsche 917 because 
"the car frightens me to death," crashed and was killed, a 
victim of the excitement of the start: in his eagerness to get 
underway quickly he had neglected to fasten his seat belts. 
Zeccoli threaded his way through the crash scene but not every- 
one was so fortunate, and one car was ignited by the blazing 
wreckage. 
The early hours of the race were a sprint, with the new 
Porsche 917's predictably taking the lead. For a while the 
gaps between the front runners were measured in seconds; 
but gradually certain cars were delayed with minor troubles, 
or couldn't quite keep up, and toward dusk the character of 
the race had changed subtly as it always does at Le Mans. A 
car which seemed forever destined to be twenty seconds be 
hind the leader was now unaccountably three laps back. 
This transition was reflected by a change in the personality 
of the cars. In daylight each car could be recognized a mile 
away by its shape and color, and it was possible to distinguish 
between co-drivers by their helmet designs. Now the drivers 
were unseen, anonymous, and the cars only bursts of noise 
and lighted number panels in the deepening summer twi- 
light. 
For a competent driver there is no essential difference be- 
tween daylight and night driving, except at Sebring where 
the lights of the other cars point directly at you in certain 
parts of the course. Everywhere else, the darkness simply 
makes it harder to see, and your lap times may slow fraction- 
ally. Around midnight, however, you approach and pass 
your ordinary bedtime. The instinctive need for sleep is rein- 
forced by your realization that it is imperative to be well-rest- 
ed, but at the same time you are reluctant to miss anything, 
to sever your direct involvement, to lose touch. 
Besides, it is very hard to get to sleep. Close your eyes and 
you still see the road rushing at you; lie down, and the hori- 
zon begins to tilt and you become dizzy. You grasp the edge 
of the cot for balance. "Wake me up in twenty laps," you tell 
someone; time is no longer measured in hours and minutes, 
but in laps. 
Around one A.M. it became my turn to drive again. I awoke 
immediately, as if I had never been asleep, except that I was 
shivering with the cold. Three laps before Zeccoli was sched- 
uled to pit I began nervously to get ready. The earplugs felt 
chilly and unpleasant. The pullover hood reeked of clammy 
perspiration. As I pulled my helmet on I became aware of 
my own breathing, like a diver. 
Under the harsh glare of the pit lights the NART mechan- 
ics in their blue coveralls wearily prepared to refuel the car. 
Their tools were scattered everywhere, a mute contrast to the 
neat array of wrenches at the start of the race. 
I peered down the track into the darkness, careful not to 
blind myself by looking directly into the headlights. Our car 
loomed out of night, flashing its lights as it wailed past the 
pits: one lap to go. I tried to rehearse the procedure for get- 
ting into the car and buckling the seat belts. 
Then I saw one of the mechanics out in the pit lane, wav- 
ing his arms, and suddenly where there had been darkness 
there was the red mass of the Ferrari instead, with steam ris- 
ing from it. The door opened and the back of Zeccoli's driv- 
mg suit forced up through the opening. Then I was getting 
down into the dark cockpit, reaching around behind my back 
to hook my arms in the shoulder harnesses. I could sense 
arms reaching in to help me and then I felt the belts click 
together. The windshield was being wiped clean and I could 
see the legs of the mechanics--nothing more than that be- 
cause the car was so low. I found the toggle switch for the 
fuel pump; then they were giving me the signal to start so I 
threw the switch and pushed the starter. The engine noise 
was startling in spite of the earplugs. I drove out through all 
the legs, flicking on the headlights as I moved down the pit 
lane. Then the pit lights were gone and there was only the 
pool of my own lights ahead of me on the track. 
Into the darkness. The first rush of acceleration was calm- 
ing; it spun the tumblers of my mind and reset them. Once 
again I was alone with the Ferrari. The cockpit was warm 
and sweaty. The instruments glowed. Driving in a groove 
which I had developed after hours behind the wheel, I guid- 
ed the car with an economyof physical movement. 
The tense effort of the earlier hours, the pinpoint concen- 
tration, gave way to reflexive motions and intuitive thoughts. 
My mind contracted until all that mattered was the sensation 
of speed and of covering distance, Lap after lap,like an auto- 
maton. The miles spun off in an endless journey to nowhere. 
The lighted Ferris wheel beside the track seemed to turn as if 
it were  geared  mysteriously  to the cars  revolving on the 
track. 
It is a strange psychological phenomenon of Le Mans that 
the thousands of miles which the drivers accumulate on the 
track do represent a vast journey away from the common 
space and time which they shared with their team at the start 
of the race. In the middle of the night the drivers begin to 
feel distant, as if rather than going in circles for hours they 
had actually been driving away from the starting point. 
At four A.M. I replaced Zeccoli again and headed down the 
Mulsanne in the Ferrari, slipping through small patches of 
fog. As I reached the point where the road kinks slightly to 
the right, everything--the trees, the sky--flashed pink as if 
millions of stage lights had just been switched on. I hit the 
brakes automatically and a moment later I went into a fog 
bank suffused with eerie pink light. It was like driving into a 
huge ball of cotton candy. 
I stopped the car. Then I realized that I could be hit from 
behind so I jumped out and hurdled the guardrail. Now I 
was in the woods. I noticed another driver wandering 
around as if in shock and recognized him as the German 
Udo Schutz. As I ran toward him the fog lifted for a moment 
and I saw a car burning in the middle of the track; it was the 
combination of flames and fog which created the pink light. I 
could see the course workers bravely trying to fight the fire, 
so I got my arm around Schutz, brought him to the guard- 
rail, and shouted to the rescuers so they would see that he 
was out of the car. Then i ran back to my car and accelerated 
away. 
Just before dawn the fog worsened. Shooting down the 
Mulsanne, I would be confronted every lap with an impene- 
trable gray wall and no way to tell whether it was a little patch 
or a whole bank. If I slowed down and it turned out to be a 
harmless wisp I knew I would feel like a fool; so as long as my 
nerves could stand it I would roar into the fog at full speed, 
traveling the length of a football field every second into fog 
so thick that I could not see more than two car-lengths 
ahead. 
When dawn finally came it was a shock to see the changed 
appearance of the surviving cars. Even those which came 
through the night unscathed were stone-blasted and 
streaked with oil. Racing along, I could smell breakfast cook- 
ing over ten thousand campfires. 
Shortly after lunchtime Elford's Porsche 917 broke down 
after leading for seventeen hours. For some time the Ford 
GT40 of Jacky Ickx had been dueling for second place with 
Hans Herrmann's Porsche 908. Now they were racing for 
the lead, and with ninety minutes to go they were only a fewfeet apart. 
I had taken the wheel for the final two hours. The track 
was almost empty. Near the end of the race the crowd began 
to gather near the guardrails. A few waved. Five laps to go. 
Four laps. More were waving. Past the pits. Crest the hill un- 
der the Dunlop bridge. Down into the esses. The crowd was 
massing behind the guardrails, waving, waving. In the signal- 
ing pits the NART people were waving a bottle of cham- 
pagne. As I made my dreamlike progress around the track 
for the last time I felt an electric contact with the crowd. 
On the Mulsanne a big cargo plane flying very low slowly 
caught and passed me. its rear door had been removed and a 
television camera was pointing out with two men standing 
beside it. Realizing that they must be following the leader on 
his last lap, I looked in my mirrors and saw both Ickx and 
Herrman bearing down on me. As they went by, Herrmann 
had just pulled out to pass Ickx, and for a moment the three 
of us ran in line abreast. Then Herrmann completed the pass 
and Ickx tucked in behind him; but at the end of the straight, 
just before they vanished from sight, Ickx repassed. When I 
reached the finish line the entire area was hooded with peo- 
ple. I slowed to a crawl, trying to find my pit, but people were 
pounding the roof and sitting on the fenders. Trapped and 
exhausted, I was finally rescued by the NART mechanics. 
The crowd was going wild in the excitement of the finish. 
Ickx had clung to the lead I saw him take; the man who had 
walked to his car twenty-four hours earlier had won the race 
by fifty feet. 
Zeccoli and I had finished eighth: the highest-placed Per- 
Udo Schutz had survived intact--only to be killed in a race 
just one week later. 
Later that night I asked the NART people what they 
thought had happened when I was missing for so long when 
I stopped for Schutz. "Oh," said Dick Fritz, "there was one 
lap that seemed a bit longer than the others, but we didn't 
think anything of it." 
The following year, 1970, was the year of the rain. When 
the race started at four P.M. the track was bone-dry but the 
the lead, and with ninety minutes to go they were only a fewfeet apart. 
I had taken the wheel for the final two hours. The track 
was almost empty. Near the end of the race the crowd began 
to gather near the guardrails. A few waved. Five laps to go. 
Four laps. More were waving. Past the pits. Crest the hill un- 
der the Dunlop bridge. Down into the esses. The crowd was 
massing behind the guardrails, waving, waving. In the signal- 
ing pits the NART people were waving a bottle of cham- 
pagne. As I made my dreamlike progress around the track 
for the last time I felt an electric contact with the crowd. 
On the Mulsanne a big cargo plane flying very low slowly 
caught and passed me. its rear door had been removed and a 
television camera was pointing out with two men standing 
beside it. Realizing that they must be following the leader on 
his last lap, I looked in my mirrors and saw both Ickx and 
Herrman bearing down on me. As they went by, Herrmann 
had just pulled out to pass Ickx, and for a moment the three 
of us ran in line abreast. Then Herrmann completed the pass 
and Ickx tucked in behind him; but at the end of the straight, 
just before they vanished from sight, Ickx repassed. When I 
reached the finish line the entire area was hooded with peo- 
ple. I slowed to a crawl, trying to find my pit, but people were 
pounding the roof and sitting on the fenders. Trapped and 
exhausted, I was finally rescued by the NART mechanics. 
The crowd was going wild in the excitement of the finish. 
Ickx had clung to the lead I saw him take; the man who had 
walked to his car twenty-four hours earlier had won the race 
by fifty feet. 
Zeccoli and I had finished eighth: the highest-placed Per- 
Udo Schutz had survived intact--only to be killed in a race 
just one week later. 
Later that night I asked the NART people what they 
thought had happened when I was missing for so long when 
I stopped for Schutz. "Oh," said Dick Fritz, "there was one 
lap that seemed a bit longer than the others, but we didn't 
think anything of it." 
The following year, 1970, was the year of the rain. When 
the race started at four P.M. the track was bone-dry but the 
sleep, but when I closed my eyes the rain would start coming
at me again. For the first time in my career I was aware of the 
possibility that I might not live through the race. In any race 
there is always the danger that something may go wrong 
unexpectedly, but at Le Mans almost every moment on the 
track was perilous. Nevertheless there was only one thing to 
do, which was to continue. 
Hans Herrmann, who would eventually win the race, was 
interviewed at dawn. "You cannot see a thing," he said."You 
daren't use more than third gear on the straight; you cannot 
brake, accelerate or decelerate; the car doesn't respond to 
the wheel at all." 
Dawn usually provides an emotional uplift which helps to 
offset the fatigue, but at dawn it was raining harder than 
ever. Each car trailed a wall of spray, so that in order to pass 
you had to drive into the spray completely blind, trying to 
guess where the other car was and knowing that you had to 
complete the pass before you arrived at a turn. Out of sheer 
exhaustion I sometimes hung back behind a slower car for 
nearly a lap, just out of range of his spray, summoning the 
courage to pass. 
Sometime in the early morning Vic Elford passed me in his 
Porsche 917. 1 tried to follow but I couldn't make myself take 
the risks he was taking. Before he became a racing driver El- 
Eord had been one of the world's top rally drivers and had 
plenty of experience driving in ice, snow, fog, and rain. Per- 
haps that gave him an advantage over me; but there was also 
the likelihood that Vic was just braver. That depressed me so 
profoundly that I forced myself to try things that seemed ir- 
rationally dangerous. An hour later Elford crashed; perhaps 
he had been driving too fast, I don't know. .. 
By noon, with four hours to go, the track began to dry. We 
were running fourth, miles behind the leading Porsches. 
Two of the Ferrari's cylinders were out and our top speed 
was cut by 30 mph. There was no point in pushing hard now; 
we were driving deliberately, trying to avoid the easy mis- 
take. With an hour to go Bucknum brought the car into the 
pits for the last time and lifted himself wearily from the cock- 
pit. I climbed in and drove slowly back onto the nearly empty 
track. The crowd began to come to the guardrails to wave. 
The year before I had felt as if their emotions were being 
transmitted to me like electrical energy, but this time I felt 
nothing. On those last laps I had no emotion at all left in me. 
After winning the race Herrmann announced his retire- 
ment. He had enjoyed a long and illustrious career; in his 
fifteenth Le Mans he had finally won the race and given 
Porsche their first-ever Le Mans victory. But as he explained, 
"Even if I had not won, I made up my mind to chuck racing 
altogether. In the rain one found oneself in situations so ab- 
solutely beyond control that the risk was really too great." 
Only seven cars were classified as finishers. Of those which 
failed to finish, eleven had been put out by crashes. For the 
second straight year I drove the highest-placed Ferrari. 
In the week prior to the race I had been sharing a hotel 
room in downtown Le Mans with Charlie Parsons. Every 
morning at five A.M. We would arise, lift our suitcases onto 
the beds, and wait. "Long after we've forgotten whatever 
happens in this race," Charlie said philosophically on one oc- 
casion, "as long as we live we'll always remember sitting here, 
before dawn, watching the bidet overflow." I agreed with 
him then; most races are soon forgotten. But not Le Mans 
1970. 
The year 1971 proved to be by far my most successful Le 
Mans. Tony Adamowicz and I were third in NART's 512M 
and for the third consecutive year mine was the first Ferrari 
to finish. But the race was an anticlimax after the epic strug- 
gle of the previous year. 
There was, however, one high point. Our car was delayed 
in the opening laps, which gave me an excuse for some fast 
driving to make up the lost time. When I pulled into the pits 
to hand the car over to Adamowicz I was startled to receive a 
standing ovation from the crowd. 
"What's happening!" I asked. 
"You just broke the lap record!" someone told me. I shot a 
quick glance at Mr. Chinetti, who was forever ordering me to 
drive slowly to save the car, but although he was trying to 
look stern he could not keep the smile off his face. 
Mr. Luigi Chinetti is a little old man. To look at him you 
would never guess that he has won Le Mans three times as a 
driver. In his third victory, except for two hours, he drove 
the entire race himself--at the age of forty-nine. That was 
the first time a Ferrari won Le Mans; years later, when Mr. 
Chinetti's car won in 1965, it was the last time a Ferrari won 
at Le Mans. Now another of his cars had broken the lap rec- 
ord, and he could barely conceal his pride. Seventy-one years 
old and stilla racer. ... 
My record was bettered later in the race by a Porsche 917, 
but it didn't matter. For years NART had shown that their 
cars could finish a race; now they had also shown that they 
could be fast. 
Six weeks later I had another chance to show the car's 
speed. The day after the six-hour event at Watkins Glen 
there was a Can-Am race, and many of the long-distance cars 
were entered, including Penske's Ferrari 512M and the Gulf 
Porsche 917's. After an hour of racing I was trailing Dono- 
hue by a scant two seconds when his steering broke; I went 
on to defeat the two Gulf Porsches and finish sixth overall. 
By the end of 1971 NART had come a long way from that 
afternoon at Daytona when Dick Fritz let me drive the beige 
GTB to the garage. Surprisingly, they were becoming a team 
to be reckoned with. But just as they reached the threshold 
of success the rug was pulled out from under them. In 1972 
the rules were changed and the magnificent 512's became 
useless museum pieces. The Ferrari factory introduced a 
new 312 which proved to be invincible. At NART we waited 
and hoped for the day when a 312 would be made available 
to us, but the day never came. Meanwhile, as a stopgap mea- 
sure we ran the Daytonas, which were better than nothing 
and proved well suited to Le Mans; I co-drove a Daytona to 
sixth overall there in 1972. But trying to eke out a class win in 
a glorified street machine just wasn't the same as rushing 
down the Mulsanne at 230 mph. 
Driving for NART had been like riding a merry-go-round 
while NARTs fortunes rose and fell according to Ferrari's 
whim. In five years I had ridden every horse and I had 
reached for the brass ring; but the music was fading now and 
the merry-go-round was slowing to a crawl. It was time to get 
off.