Saturday, March 11, 2017
John Surtees Dead at 83 - Adios and God Speed Johnny Shirtsleeves
An English gentleman of fine up bringing, who won his first road race on his dad's Vincent Black Shadow, only to have the victory stripped from him because he was way to young at 13 years old to be racing. His dad was a racer and young John learnt some of his trade by being the passenger on his father's sidehack and then his own Vincent 500 and 1000s. Only racer to ever win both Motorcycle World Championships (500cc 4 times) and Formula 1 World Championship ( 1964 Ferrari) and be No.1 rider and driver for the best racing teams ( Norton , MV Augusta, Ferrari). And a keen Vintage racer during all of his later years. He knows the fickleness and the cruelty of racing , having lost his son in a Formula Ford crash. Thank goodness he battled on with his own racing from that date, probably in memory of his son's passion.
My old friend Don Langford was a Can Am mechanic on the Geo. Bignotti Special which was driven by Mario Andretti. One late night they were working on the car getting it ready for the next days race and Surtees showed up in his Tuxedo during a big Vegas extravaganza for the drivers, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and grabbed some tools and started going over his Lola T70, making certain everything was shipshape. He was there till late in the night with the other mechanics, far happier to be there wrenching on his car than hob knobbing with Vegas Royalty. From then on he was known to the Mechanics as Johnny Shirtsleeves and they idolized the guy. Surtees went on to win the Can Am Championship that year in the Team Surtees Lola T-70.
I have always been a Surtees fan, loving his two and four wheel abilities and accomplishments. He rode and drove for the best Teams and yet struck out on his own in cars and had incredible success for an independent. Today is the end of an era and I don't know if there will ever be another one racer to be World Champion in both Motorcycles and Cars. John Surtees, you set the bar incredibly high and most likely ,unattainably high. Thank you for the joy you gave us all and God Speed ( you will no doubt teach him a thing or two about going fast.)