One day in late September 1972, my friend Tommy Carone and I were hanging out at the Farm Shop Restaurant in Glastonbury, Connecticut, and I asked him what he wanted to do for the weekend. His answer surprised me: “Let’s go to the Canadian Grand Prix.” Tommy had a tired 1959 MGA roadster, and I thought he was kidding when he suggested driving 500 miles each way in that thing. He wasn’t. On today’s roads, it might take eight hours if you drove straight through, but 50 years ago, it took closer to 12.
We filled the minuscule trunk space with tools and spares—hoses, a fan belt, ignition parts, a generator, a fuel pump. The luggage rack was piled high with a two- person tent and split firewood beneath a tarp. We had shelter, plus the parts, tools, and skills to keep rolling, but we had almost no room left for our stuff. With the MG’s top up, there was a tiny bit of space behind the seats, and there was some room in the passenger side footwell—where my feet were supposed to go—so we each crammed in a towel, a pair of jeans, a few T-shirts, some socks, a couple of pairs of underwear, and a toothbrush.
It rained steadily from the very start. The top kept us halfway dry, but Tommy’s MG didn’t have side curtains—the removable windows designed to keep out the rest of the rain. Water also came in from the tired rubber seal under the windshield and through the dried-out rubber grommets in the firewall. After about 50 miles, we were soaked to the skin, and our spare clothing was sopping wet.
Although we were half-drowned and miserable, the MG was running perfectly. In fact, other than the weather, things were great until the border crossing, where the immigration officers were visibly concerned by the two kids in a clapped-out sports car who wanted to enter their country with relatively little cash. Eventually, they let us in, and as soon as we neared Mosport Park outside of Toronto, we found a cheap motel in Bowmanville. This broke one of our most important rules: always camp. But we just wanted to get warm and try to dry our clothes.
In the morning, we went to the motel’s breakfast room for a frugal meal of English muffins and were surprised to find ourselves one table over from March driver and future three-time world champion Niki Lauda. His manager explained that Lauda spoke little English, but we still shook hands. Afterward, I followed his career with more interest than ever.
At the track, we camped right on the edge of the back straight. It was gray and drizzly much of the weekend, but our tent kept out the worst of it, and we were never as wet as we’d been on the trip up from Connecticut.
We didn’t have pit access, but a flimsy fence was all that separated the spare parts and tire storage area from the public. We pushed pens and paper through the fence to claim autographs, including those of soon-to-be triple world champion Jackie Stewart, plus Brabham driver and double world champion Graham Hill.
The race itself was wonderful, and two sensations stick most in my mind about the day: the unholy shriek of Chris Amon’s Matra V-12 in a field made up mostly of V-8s, and the way the cars became airborne on the straight following the hairpin. Jackie Stewart won comfortably in the Tyrrell-Ford, beating the McLaren duo of Peter Revson and Denny Hulme.
The trip home was much less damp, and at one point we had to pull over because the car was running on three cylinders. We had what we needed, of course, and with spare plugs, wires, a cap, and a rotor, it didn’t take long to get back on the road.
This trip was a big deal for Tommy and me. We had talked about going to the Canadian Grand Prix for years, and then, on just a few days’ notice, we left the country on our own and drove to Canada. We were 19, but it still felt like a part of our growing up. Even today, it remains one of my greatest adventures.