The bicycle started it all. And it probably happened first on the summer day in 1894 when Tom McCarthy of the Athenaeum Bicycle Club of Toronto climbed precariously aboard the high seat of his safety bike, took off down Toronto’s Kingston Road on the first lap of the first annual Dunlop Trophy race, a 20-mile contest, and before he was out of sight of the starting line hit the superbly exhilarating speed of 12 miles per hour. McCarthy eventually won the race for his Athenaeum Club — though not without a later court challenge from the second-place Royal Canadians who claimed that he did not actually circle the barrel marking the halfway point, as he should have, but merely cut across in front of it — and, in his way, he accomplished something that reached much further than mere victory into the future of Canada’s sports history. Ever since that 1894 summer day or thereabouts, in an apparently unquenchable thirst for new highs in sheer speed, Canadians have conceived a remarkable variety of mechanical ways to move quickly — and, in some cases, to kill themselves just as swiftly.
Mike Duff began as a teen-ager racing motorcycles in the small-time events on dirt tracks in southern Ontario. His success persuaded him in 1960 to chuck his studies in aeronautical engineering in favor of a crack at the big-time European circuit. In four months, he didn’t come close to winning a race and he headed home to Toronto flat broke. But a loan from his parents sent him back to Europe the following season with two new $3,000 bikes, and this time he began to show strong finishes in a number of races.
He worked diligently at the technical details that spell the tiny difference between winners and also-rans. He learned, for instance, to take a corner at 100 mph, his cycle slanted almost level with the track, without
skimming the sole of his boot along the pavement to stabilize himself. And, as he mastered such lessons, he began to finish regularly up among the winners.
By the mid-1960s, Duff was celebrated as one of motorcycling’s premier racers all over western and eastern Europe where, in contrast to Canada, the sport enjoyed enormous popularity — 350,000 fans turned out to one weekend event in East Germany in 1964. He won races in every class of cycle — 250-, 350and 500-cc models, the numerals, which refer to the volume of the engine cylinder, indicating the bikes’ increased sizes all the way up to the bulky 500-cc model. In 1965, his accumulation of points in the 13 Grand Prix races that counted toward the world championship established that he was the world’s number two rider in the 250cc class and near the top in the other classes. He was good enough to earn over $30,000 in prize money that year and to be taken on as one of the two contract riders by the Yamaha company, a firm that spent $300,000 developing racing cycles for their stable of two aces.
But Duff’s victories cost him a high price in physical pain, some of it permanent. In 1964, as he lay on the operating table of a Tokyo hospital, he screamed through the anesthetic, pleading with the doctor not to amputate a finger that had been cut through to a single tendon in a 100mph crash during a practice run for the Japanese Grand Prix. The doctor saved the finger, but the following year Duff was back in the Tokyo hospital after another spill. This time he had driven his left thigh bone through a hip socket when he jammed his leg against a guard rail. He came out of the hospital with a lifetime limp, but the experience and the pain didn’t keep him away from the tracks. He continued his career into the late 1960s, still a member of the Yamaha
team, still a world-rated driver, still, by a wide margin, the best motorcycle racer Canada ever produced, and still a hero abroad and largely unknown at home.
“It seemed to me that, with the best motorcycle riders, 1 was seeing something close to a dream view of man and vehicle. No one watching one of the great Swedish riders come crossed-up off the crown of a hill under maximum power and nearly pirouetting in the air to change the bike’s alignment so that it would track when it landed could disagree. My own sporting proclivities run more to the contemplative; but to be blind to these riders’ feats was to miss something implicit in all of our routine transportation which was apotheosized in such hands.” Thomas McGuane, in Sports Illustrated,
May 3, 1971.
Peter Ryan was the well-to-do son of the founder of the Mont Tremblant ski complex in the Laurentians and the first authentically romantic figure of Canadian speed. Ryan was in love with speed. He skied expertly, and though he ranked near the top of Canadian ski racers in the late 1950s he abandoned skis in favor of cars. “In skiing,” he said, “all that can happen is that you can break your leg.”
Ryan attacked car racing with devotion, money and the cool daring of a madman. “You live in a higher way during a race,” he once said, “everything is duller after.” His skill and his bravado and his blond good looks attracted a following — “He risks more than other drivers,” one Canadian racing official said of him — and even though he was young and relatively inexperienced Ryan seemed capable of delivering on his promise. He drove his Porsche RS-60 to the Canadian championship in its class in 1960, and he managed some high placings in races in California and Europe. But all of his ambitions, and Canadian hopes for a driver to match the champions from other countries, ended when Ryan was killed in a race at Rheims in the summer of 1962.
“We’re fast approaching limits. Technology is outstripping the driver. At Indianapolis this year the pole car will average 175 mph; at Michigan International Speedway two years ago I ran 183 mph, and at a new track in Texas this season we’ll be averaging 195. Things happen before you can react. It used to be that when you blew an engine, for example, you had
time to pop the clutch, but now you’re into the wall backward before you realize what happened. Something’s got to be done.” Mario Andretti, racing-car driver, May 1970.
Canadian racing took several leaps forward through the mid-1960s until, in organization and in the calibre of its races if not its drivers, it ranked with other countries on the international circuit. The arrival on Canadian tracks of the most gifted international drivers inspired Canada’s own racers, but the driver who most struck other Canadians as an authentic boxoffice star was, as with Peter Ryan a few years earlier, a young and relatively inexperienced competitor. He was George Eaton, small, blond, striking-looking in the far-out style of a rock musician and, as the son of the richest man in Canada, John David Eaton of the department store empire, enormously wealthy.
In personality, Eaton showed the racing world a combination of flinty common sense and the special kind of arrogance that belongs only to young men born rich. Eaton made it a practice, for example, rarely to mix with his crew and the other drivers after a race. In Edmonton for the 1969 CanAm race in which he finished third, Eaton, unlike his fellow drivers and officials, ducked out of the prizegiving. “I drove the race and won the money,” he said later. “I don’t like big parties and I knew there would be a big crowd at that one.”
One quality he shares with all drivers is a talent for enduring agony. Racing hot roaring cars through 100 searing miles at high speeds is a unique kind of torture, and Eaton knows how to absorb it. In one race, the Can-Am at Mosport in June 1969, he held his car in the 80-lap grind, ending a creditable ninth, while his machine overheated to a punishing 120 degrees. He finished, staggered from his car, vomited and collapsed. The back of the seat in his cockpit was physically too hot for a bare hand to touch and on the floor of the cockpit swirled a large pool of liquid — his own sweat.
His endurance and his intuitive touch with a car pushed Eaton up into the advanced ranks of the racing circuit with remarkable ease. He began his full-time driving career in 1968, only 22 years old, but in his very first season he accumulated enough points in Can-Am races to finish in eleventh place among all drivers and to pick up over $11,000 in purses. In 1969 he suffered a
trying load of disappointments, stretches where he finished far back or didn’t finish at all. He experienced a couple of crashes that left him slightly shaken but physically intact, and he had trouble eliminating his spin-outs, those heart-stopping moments when the car slithers in circles and semicircles on the track, momentarily out of control, and surrenders valuable racing seconds to the other cars. But for a young man in his second full season his final record was admirable. By the end of the year, he showed a total of 50 points in CanAm competition, putting him in fifth place among the drivers, and a total of $51,300 in prize money from all races. (By comparison, the top driver, Bruce McLaren, the New Zealander who was killed in 1970, earned 165 points and $160,960 in prizes.)
But Eaton’s most significant reward was a contract with England’s British Racing Motors to join its crack racing team as one of three drivers of BRM’s Formula One cars. The Formula Ones constitute the very elite of car racing. They take part in the races on the international Grand Prix circuit, in such events as the Monaco and Spain Grand Prix and the Zandvoort in Holland. Since only 16 cars are permitted in these races, Eaton’s contract, which also made him BRM’s number one driver in the Cam-Am series, served as instant recognition that he belongs in the world’s fastest company. “George has the makings,” said Louis Stanley, BRM’s co-director. “He drives a car with sympathy. He’s young and he has things to learn, but in a couple of years he’ll make his mark.”
“Why do I race? There are a lot of answers and there’s no answer, you know? One thing, it’s exciting. Some days when you’re braking and coming out of the corners just right, you fall into a beautiful rhythm, a beautiful pattern. It’s almost euphoric. I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t know when, I don’t know where, but for sure some day you’re going to die, whether you’re racing or just walking across the street. Now the way you spend your days here is up to you. Now maybe it means you sometimes have to take a chance — stick your neck out — but if that’s a part of the things you enjoy doing, then it’s your own choice.” George Eaton, racingcar driver, 1970.
Victor Emery and Lamont Gordon were like George Eaton, dedicated to a sport that / continued on page 70
SPEED from page 39
demanded nerve and money and patience. They were bobsledders, the first of any achievement that Canada gave to the sport.
Bobsledding is a rich man’s sport, and Emery and Gordon, all-round sports and party lovers from Montreal, caught the bobsled bug in 1958 when they briefly traveled around in Europe with the Swiss jet-set crowd. They returned home determined to put together a Canadian bobsled team, and they recruited a few likeminded friends and, for financial backing, roped in Charles Rathgeb, the Canadian who also sponsored Canada’s first racing-car team (Comstock) in the 1960s. (Rathgeb, one of Canada’s most prolific patrons of sport, has involved himself as well over the years in tuna fishing and balloon flying.)
Emery and Gordon and their friends organized two crews for each of the twoand four-man sleds and traveled to the world championships or Olympics in 1959, 1960 and 1961 and never showed a standing above ninth place. In 1962, they were staked to expensive new sleds from Italy, the home of the world’s best bobsledders, and one of the Canadian four-man crews managed a fourth-place finish on the new equipment at the 1962 championships. But the following year they slid back down the standings. By the time the 1964 Olympics rolled around at Innsbruck, Austria, no one, certainly no Canadian, expected a medal or even a respectable performance from the crazy playboy bobsledders. Emery and Gordon knew better.
To register a low time in any bobsled run, it’s essential to push the sled off to a quick start through the 15metre zone in front of the course. At Innsbruck, the Canadians inspected the icy ground in the starting zone and chose, for best footing, bowling shoes with strips of file cleaners glued to the soles. The shoes worked. In the first of the four runs down the course in the four-man competition — lowest combined time on the four runs to decide the winner — Emery, piloting a sled that held his brother John, Peter Kirby and Doug Anakin, sprinted through the starting zone, shot down the course and jumped off with a lead of almost a full second over all other sleds. The teams from Austria and Italy pressed him hard through the next three runs. But the combination of the shoes with the nonskid grip and Emery’s splendidly mature driving savvy kept the Canadians in front. At the end of the four runs, Canada’s sled showed a time of 4.14.46 to Austria’s 4.15.48 and Italy’s 5.15.60. The figures added up to a Gold Medal,
the only first-place showing for Canada in the entire 1964 winter Olympics, and an upset the more experienced European sledders could barely comprehend. But to prove his win was no fluke, Emery led a four-man crew to the 1965 world championships and once again won first place.
Lingering dreams of more championships were wiped away in 1966 with a tragedy. An Italian driver named Sergio Zardini, an ace who had won many titles, emigrated to Canada, and one day at Lake Placid that winter he was piloting a fourman Canadian sled, when, inexplicably, he ran too high into a turn and piled into a wooden ledge. Zardini was killed instantly, and bobsledding in Canada rushed into decline.
“My hearing cuts out at 600 mph and it’s all beautifully still, quiet.
It’s better than sex, man, it’s better than anything.”
Gary Gabelich, holder of the world land-speed record, 622.407 mph, November, 1970.
Bob Hayward seemed an unlikely character for such a risky, flamboyant
“My hearing cuts out at 600 mph . . . it’s better than sex, man, it’s better than anything”
activity as hydroplane racing. He was an inlander, born and raised in southwestern Ontario. In appearance, he was short, stocky and unathletic. He had none of Peter Ryan’s devilish style or George Eaton’s natural glamour. He was, instead, a square — an easygoing rural fellow who preferred to keep quietly to his friends and steer clear of crowds and fuss. Best of all, he liked the company of engines.
Hayward got into powerboat racing in 1947 when Jim Thompson, the president of Supertest Petroleum Corporation, asked him to lend his expertise in working with Thompson’s boat, Miss Supertest II. Hayward took naturally to the big craft — and a hydroplane was not an easy machine to love. It radiated danger. In its upper speeds — Miss Supertest clipped along at 160 to 180 mph — it rode on a delicate cushion of air. Only part of the propeller, some of the rudder and pieces of the sponsons at the front actually cut into the water. The rest floated on nothing, and the boat’s balance was, putting it mildly, precarious. None of the risks seemed to faze Hay-
ward. He possessed the rare kind of nerve that only a few men are blessed with, and though Jim Thompson originally hired him for his mechanical talents Hayward soon graduated to a job as Miss Supertest II’s pilot. He won some races with the boat through the 1950s and once he propelled her to the world record speed of 184 mph.
Encouraged by Hayward’s skill and Miss Supertest II’s superior power, Thompson decided to put together another boat that would go for the Harmsworth Trophy, the symbol of world supremacy in hydroplane racing. Miss Supertest III was ready to take on the world in the summer of 1959. As a warm-up Hayward piloted her in the Detroit Memorial on the Detroit River, and she won handily. The 1959 Harmsworth came next on the same river. Miss Supertest’s opposition came from only one other boat, Maverick, the American champion piloted by Bill Stead, but Hayward roared his boat down the final laps, bursting with speed and confidence, and finished triumphant with the first-ever world hydroplane championship for Canada. Miss Supertest and Hayward won again in 1960.
On August 10, 1961, Miss Supertest was entered in the Silver Cup regatta at Detroit and Hayward was once again in the pilot’s seat. Two other boats, Century 21 and Miss U.S. I, made up the opposition, and in the second heat, both of them beat Hayward’s boat across the starting line. Hayward immediately pressed from behind, pushing powerfully to pass the other two at the first turn. But his boat moved too fast into the turn. It was out of his control.
John Wilson, the driver of Miss U.S. I, could see better than anyone that Hayward was in a life-and-death struggle with his steering wheel. “We went into the turn at 140,” Wilson later said, “and we’d slowed down to 135 when I saw Miss Supertest for the first time. Her right side actually passed over me as she went by. She was airborne and doing 30 to 40 miles an hour faster than we were. I ducked down in my cockpit. I saw Hayward fighting to get control.”
Hayward lost his fight. The boat bounced in the rough water, then flipped over, wrenching Hayward’s body with a brutal tug. His neck was broken. Hayward was dead. He had probably been the most accomplished of all the Canadians who have devoted their energies and minds and courage to speed. He had never been beaten — except, finally, by death. ■
Condensed from Champions, a history of Canadian sport, by Jack Batten, published in September by New Press.