Star-spangled rubber

2y ago


After the deception that was USF1, the Formula One circus finally welcomed an American team to the 2016 start grid. The first since 1986. The last American team to be racing was Team Haas Ltd., better known as Haas-Lola (not related to Gene Haas). Besides Haas-Lola, five other American teams graced the grid with their stars and stripes: Roger Ward and his Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser, Scarab Racing, Anglo American Racers Ltd., Penske Racing and Parnelli Racing. All of them did fairly well, but the European racing culture stood in contrast to the way the sport was performed on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The American offensive was usually short lived, but fierce. In a world dominated by money, where private teams with customer engines usually lack any advantage, where progress is aggressive, and where research facilities produce data 24/7, it is not difficult to imagine that the American effort became exhausted. Let’s hope that Haas F1 is here to stay.


Roger Ward (1921-2004)

'The rear-engined cars sped through the turn, while Ward seemed to almost come to a stop'

John Cooper, The Grand Prix Carpetbaggers

The American motorsports entrepreneurs started to interest themselves in Formula One in the late 1950’s. This had a lot to do with the fact that the American Grand Prix was a popular event. International racing events there meant that American constructors could enter races in which they would race against the best that Europe had to offer. Also, the Indy 500 was part of the F1-calendar until the late 1960’s, and we can’t undermine the fact that the American F1-drivers achieved big successes. Roger Ward was the first American to enter an American racecar in the Grand Prix of the United States at Sebring, 1959. He had difficulty getting a car, so he had to make do with an Offenhauser powerd Kurtis-Kraft ‘midget car’. He didn’t stand a chance, but with only two gears and an outside mounted brake, Ward became respected for his drifting skills. Imagine that! Ward got the chance to take part in a Grand Prix and decides to take with him a dirt-car. He even warned Brabham and McLaren to watch out in the corners, that's where his midget would crush 'those sports cars you have in Europe'. I think it's obvious what happened.

Roger Ward in his Midget. Notice the manual handbrake lever. Goodness me. Source and credits: Racerbrown, Open Wheel Racing Modeling,

Lance Reventlow - Scarab

A more serious effort was made by Lance Reventlow and his Scarab car. Reventlow was the wealthy son of Barbara Hutton. Hutton was heir to the Woolworth fortune. She is thought to be the wealthiest woman of the 1930’s, and lavished at parties while the Great Depression crippled the American society. She married the Danish count Kurt von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow in 1935.

The beautiful but troubled Barbara Hutton in 1931 (1912-1979). Source: Wikimedia Commons

During their marriage, Lance Reventlow was born, her only son. During their marriage, however, Barbara became victim of domestic violence. The divorce ended in 40 million dollars in alimony. Famous Hollywood actor Cary Grant soon became Lance’s stepdad. With the combined fortune, Lance had no problem raising sufficient funds for his dream to compete in Formula One. Chuck Daigh designed the Scarab F1-car for him to drive in a few separate races in 1958. The car had potential, as was shown by Carroll Shelby who drove it to victory in the Riverside International Grand Prix, beating attending Formula One constructors like Ferrari. The car needed to be properly developed for a full F1-season. It took so long however, that by the time it debuted in 1960, the car was already miles behind the competition. The team only reached the finish at their home Grand Prix, in tenth place. Daigh actually designed a rear-engined Scarab, powered by a Buick V8. It was declared illegal by the FIA and it never saw the start of a GP, but it did compete in a race in Australia where it finished fourth.

It's gorgeous, isn't it? The 1960 Scarab F1 car. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

All American Racers

'With an English engine, it wasn’t exactly ‘all American’'


Formula one driver Dan Gurney created his All American Racers Ltd., based in California. The initial idea was to build sports cars with which Gurney could compete in races in between the Grands Prix, but it was Shelby who convinced him to build Indy cars and F1 cars. Tire manufacturer Akron was willing to break Goodyear’s monopoly in the Indycar series and the Firestone monopoly in Formula One. With this sponsorship, Gurney invited Lotus designer Len Terry in 1966 to build him a car for the Indy 500 and the 1966 F1 season. The Eagles, as they were named, were powered by a Ford (Indy) and an older Climax (F1) engine. Gurney approached the English engine manufacturer Weslake to build him a V12. This took time, so the Climax had to do. Gurney changed the name of the F1 operations to Anglo-American Racers (with an English engine, it wasn’t exactly ‘all American’ as Gurney quite rightly puts it himself). The Eagle, with Gurney behind the wheel made its debut at the famous rain soaked Grand Prix of Belgium. The season was a mixed success, but the Eagle showed potential. The Weslake V12 was ready for the Italian GP but dealt with overheating. In 1967, Gurney took a spectacular victory at the Belgium Grand Prix, beating Jackie Stewart by a minute.

Gurney on his way to an amazing win at the 1967 Belgian GP. Source: F1-History, DeviantArt.

It was the first victory by an American constructor in Formula One, and the first in Grand Prix racing since 1921. Unfortunately, in 1968, Akron withdrew its sponsorship from the team, forcing Gurney to stumble on with few resources. At the end of the season, he decided to call it quits. His cars were quite successful in the United States, where they became contenders for Indy 500 wins. Gurney started focusing on the races back home. He would return to F1 in 1970, driving three races for the McLaren team. The Eagle T1G still remains one of the most beautiful F1-cars ever built. It's just jaw dropping.

Dan Gurney at the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix. Credit: Joost Evers / Anefo, Wikimedia Commons.