“I decided that when I went to Europe, I was somehow going to get a testdrive in a Formula 1 car. It turned out to be the ATS at Monza, Italy. If I did well on the testdrive, I’d be driving the car the following year.

“I figured the ATS wasn’t as fast as the Ferraris and after a few laps I began taking the corner flat-out at 150 mph. They gave me the signal to pull in and I decided to take one more lap.”

As Bob went through the corner the rear axle broke sending him off the course backward and down a ravine. He was thrown out of the car. After he regained consciousness, Bob crawled out of the ravine, saw the hole in the hedge where the car went through—it was sitting with the windscreen and rollbar sheared off. (You can judge by this account how quickly the safety crews got to Bob.) He was flown to England to receive medical attention.

“If I’d been strapped in the car I would have been decapitated. Do you wear belts or not? I read later the axles were the weakest part of the ATS.” In Bob’s case, not wearing a belt saved his life.

What Was That?

Formula 1 came to the United States on a course steeped with racing history dating back to 1956: Watkins Glen. Located in the Catskills of New York, the Grand Prix was held at the “Glen” in 1961 and continued until 1980.

It was in October 1965 that Bob drove a V-8–powered Formula 1 Ferrari for the North American Racing Team entered by Luigi Chinetti, the U.S. Ferrari distributor. This comes under the heading of “this stuff doesn’t happen today!” Instead of being kept at the track garages, the Ferrari F1 cars were at a Chevy dealer in town. When the transporter to take Bob’s car to the circuit didn’t arrive, it was decided that Bob should drive the Ferrari to the track.

Bob must’ve pinched himself: it was one thing to cruise the streets in his hot rod, but in a Formula 1 Ferrari! Bob had never driven a Grand Prix Ferrari at all, and now he was about to go cruising not only through town, but out through the countryside to the track in a full-blown F1 car. How many sharing the road with Bob that day did double takes to make sure they saw what they thought they saw? “What a great feeling,” was Bob’s comment on the occasion.

The Scottish World Champion, Jim Clark, was on the pole with a time of 1:11.35 around the 2.3-mile circuit. Bob’s time was 1:12.9, which put him on the outside of the seventh row next to Jochen Rindt from Germany (Rindt was killed at Monza in 1970).

It’s important to note that Bob was driving an eight-cylinder Ferrari while the factory drivers had V-12s. Bob had a faster qualifying speed than Pedro Rodriguez at 1:13.0 in the 12-cylinder Ferrari. During the race it started to rain; it was cold with 40-mph winds. (But this was Formula 1, it’s supposed to rain, be windy, and cold.)

After 12 laps Bob moved up to Eighth from his starting position of 14th on a completely wet track. With the wind, plus rain, Bob’s goggles were blowing off his face; the elastic strap had stretched and at one point his goggles blew down around his chin with the wind gusts. Being new, he was unaware the drivers carried spare goggles around their neck. Bob had trouble seeing but by turning his face into the wind, the goggles would stay pressed against his face as long as he kept one finger on them while shifting with his other hand and grabbing the steering with his knees.

The veteran F1 guys were spinning out; Bob being a newcomer to F1, but a seasoned dirt-tracker, weathered the storm, so to speak. Jack Brabham spun, Rindt spun twice, Bob worked his way through the spinning field driving a masterful race considering his handicap, and finished Ninth. Graham Hill won the event in a BRM.

What Now?