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- Riverside International Raceway -
12th Annual
Los Angeles Times  Grand Prix
October 25/26, 1969

Scan: Times GP program cover   Riverside  1969     Scan: Times GP officials  Riverside  1969      Scan: Times GP scedule of events 1969 program  Click black area  to see a larger version      Scan: Times GP 1969  record in series to date

Scan: Times GP 1969  track changes page oneScan: Times GP 1969  track changes page two        Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list page oneScan: Times GP 1969  entry list page two

Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list version two page oneScan: Times GP 1969  entry list version two page two        Scan: Times GP 1969  Starting Grd        Scan: Times GP 1969  Finishers

Scan: Times GP 1969  action photo 1     Scan: Times GP 1969  action photo 2

Scan: Times GP 1969  action photos 3 and 4      Scan: Times GP 1969  action photo 5


You can see that Bruce McLaren, who qualified second to teammate Denis Hulme, did not finish. Reason was "wreck".

Jim Stoffaire was there, and he described the accident in this tribute posted to an auto racing site on the 35th anniversary of McLaren's death:

August 30th 1937— June 2nd 1970

"At 12:22 pm on June 2nd, 1970 Bruce McLaren was killed testing his newest Can-Am car at the Goodwood track in England. He was 32. His mother Ruth, in bed in Auckland, New Zealand, woke suddenly at the very moment of the crash. She had sensed what had happened."

I had an early breakfast on June 3rd. and when I opened the daily paper and turned to the sports section the words hit me like a sledgehammer. In bold headlines were the words that said that Bruce McLaren was dead. I read it again and again and the words and their terrible meaning refused to sink in. Something had broken on his car and he had met death instantly when it hit a concrete structure at Goodwood. What was haunting is that I had seen Bruce McLaren crash almost under the same circumstances almost eight months earlier at the Riverside International Raceway.

In October of 1969 the Bruce and Denny show was coming to town. I was filled with excitement as it meant a return to normalcy in my life. After a two year absence from the area due to military service I was back home. I had been an occassional SCCA corner worker at the track and had seen all the “greats” sweep through those classic “esses” on their way to victory. As a corner worker I could meet the drivers, and watch the races for free. This years Times Grand Prix would be sensational with the legendary Can-Am Group 7 cars battling it out for bragging rights and glory. If you are too young to have ever been to a Can-Am race then you will never know what incredible glory you have missed. There were few things more exciting than thirty plus Can-Am cars with 600-700 horses of American “big iron” all converging on Turn 1 at Riverside. Then through turns 2, 3, and 4, the famous “esses”, at 140+ mph the cars all blended as one and took the shape of a gigantic serpent with one car behind the other snaking their way to Turn 6. It was alive, it was loud, it was outrageously exciting, and the pride of New Zealand, Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme were the ones to beat.

I would watch the race at turn 1. It was just past the pit straight, a dogleg to the left that would connect to the esses. It was very fast as the drivers didn’t even apply the brakes here and they barely lifted their right foot. This is the site of the famous crash between the Corvette of Doc Bundy and the Ford Probe of Lyn St. James and the Jag of Chip Robinson in the 1986 race. In the horrific video Lyn’s car burst into flames and Robinson nearly cart wheeled into the crowd.

After the warm up lap the flag dropped and all hell broke loose as 35 cars crossed the start/finish line and thundered into turn 1 with Bruce and Denny leading the way as usual. I also remember the Ferrari of Chris Amon driving the brutish looking 712P with its awesome 6.9 liter V12 engine, the biggest Ferrari engine ever built. He lasted only 5 laps before it retired but could that engine scream. By far the strangest car in the race was the Chaparral 2H driven by John Surtees. Dubbed the “Great White Whale” it had a huge wing on struts hanging high up over the mid-section of the car with a large spoiler at the back. Surtees would retire on lap 5 when the engine let go. Gurney’s usual bad luck would not occur today as he would finish 4th in his McLaren nicknamed the McL’eagle.

On lap 34 it happened! As Bruce approached Turn 1 at nearly 150mph something broke in the car’s rear suspension. The car snapped to the right and slid backwards across the track and started to climb directly up the shallow embankment where I was standing. People were transfixed as it happened way to fast to react. How he kept the car from flying into the spectator area and killing scores of people I will never know but he did with remarkable skill. As the car spun around for the last time the rear side of the car slammed into the corner worker who had his back to the traffic. There was a shocking scream of horror from the crowd as the poor guy was flung through the air like a rag doll and came down a good 70 -80 feet away in a sickening thud . People started to jump over the barrier to render aid. The other corner workers were in a state of shock but soon were calling for help on the radio. Soon a large number of people had surrounded the victim lying lifeless on the ground.

While all this was going on Bruce was un-strapping his harness and removing his helmet and balaclava. He stepped out of his car cool and collected, like the wild ride he had just taken had never happened. He started calmly walking around his car, inspecting the damage, and trying to find the cause of his crash. He walked all the way around to the rear of the car and started inspecting what was left of the rear suspension. He was calm meticulous, focused, and had morphed himself from hell for leather race driver to engineer in a heartbeat. Meanwhile 80 feet away — utter chaos as people are frantically trying to keep a young man’s life from slipping into the abyss.

Someone walks up to Bruce, and he greets him with a smile, he starts making gestures with his hands and arms explaining how he loss control of the car and then breaks into laughter. No more than three to four minutes have passed since the disaster. Turn one is under a yellow flag, the race still goes on. At one point Bruce gives Denny a big thumbs up as he drives by, the sign that all is well. But all is not well.

As Bruce stands by his crumbled car with hands akimbo the ambulance with lights flashings arrives at the scene and stops. I was watching all of this just 60 feet away and I swear I could read his lips and gestures. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his arms and his lips were saying “What’s the ambulance for everything is ok.” The corner worker points over McLaren’s shoulder to the crowd of people huddled around something unseen on the ground and told him the awful news.

I will always remember his face at that instant as it transfigured from unattached calmness to absolute horror. What the horrific crash could not do, the realization that his shunt had badly injured someone else completely unnerved him. He threw his hands over his head in a gesture of shock and grief and ran up the hill where the man was lying and forced his way into the crowd that had surrounded the victim. The paramedics followed him and they soon had the man on a stretcher and were carrying his seemingly lifeless body to the ambulance. Bruce walked next to the stretcher helping them put the man in the back of the ambulance and then I believe got inside the back of the vehicle and they were off to the local hospital. Denny Hulme would go on to win the race — but I didn’t care. Nobody standing there at Turn 1 cared either.

Thirty-six years later I am honored to say that I saw Bruce McLaren as a race car driver, but I also had a rare insight of Bruce McLaren the man who showed compassion for another human being in need.

Rest in peace Bruce, you are gone but not forgotten.

—Jim Stoffaire

My friend Bill Atkinson was the injured corner worker. You can see the Phil Binks photo of Bill at Riverside Community Hospital, well into his recovery: Click H E R E

The substance of my experience on that and on some subsequent days is on the VW Camper page: Click H E R E

Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 1      Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 2      Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 3     Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 4

Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 5          Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 6        Scan: Times GP 1969  entry list support race 7

    Riverside              October, 1969

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