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Do you remember the 1976 U.S. Grand Prix?

by Brian C. Mackey
Thursday, September 26, 2013

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It’s kinda weird getting older.  Mind you, I’m not quite Social Security “old”, but I am 61.  I’ve come to an age where my mere memories can spur looks of amazement, if not bewilderment, from my younger-aged colleagues and casual younger acquaintances.  For those my age, you understand immediately what I’m talking about.  For those of you not this old yet, let me explain.

Several years ago, I went to see the movie “Secretariat.”  While in the lobby waiting in line to buy popcorn, I engaged in a brief conversation with a much younger adult woman waiting beside me.  She told me that she had seen this movie seven times, and was simply amazed at the story. 

When I mentioned to her that I had watched Secretariat run the Kentucky Derby in person, she was simply dumbfounded.  “You SAW Secretariat?” she exclaimed.  Well, it was technically true, I attended the event that year, in the infield along with perhaps 75,000 others.  I saw Secretariat’s rump blast past me in a stampede of sound and speed.  It was indeed a thrilling moment.  She was amazed that I was there and had been lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of this remarkable horse in person.  She was probably not even alive when that day occurred.  I was in my 20s!

Then, a few months back, I told a much younger baseball loving colleague of mine, that I saw Sandy Koufax pitch a game against the St. Louis Cardinals.  I was probably about eleven.  His jaw dropped, and he was stupefied, face frozen, that I was old enough to have seen Koufax.  “You-saw-Sandy-Koufax-pitch?  You were there?” he blurted.  “Did you see Babe Ruth too?” he joked. 

Simply being old enough to remember has become a source of amusement and bafflement among some of the younger generation that I come in contact with.

Mario Andretti's Lotus 76 outside the Watkins Glen Garage the morning of the 1976 US Grand Prix
Mark Cipolloni/AR1.com
And so now, we come to “Rush,” the movie.  I’m hoping  to see it this opening weekend.  I’m wondering if the 1976 U.S. Grand Prix is at least a mention in the storyline.  It was the final race before the season ending and climatic Japan Grand Prix.  I wonder what part it might play because I was there as was AR1.com president Mark Cipolloni. 

And if there is some actual footage taken from that event and used in the movie, most specifically from some form of driver’s meeting held before the race, well, that would be me in the background, with my face pressed up against the glass peering in from the outside, catching a glimpse of drivers that I only read about for 51 weeks of the year. 

I saw Niki Lauda, with his still healing burns, sitting just fifteen to twenty feet away from me, along with James Hunt and many others of my heroes of the day.  My friends and I had arrived very early at the paddock gates and gained entree via a casual "racing" friend of the time who somehow, inexplicably, managed to get a gopher job with the Lotus team.

We managed to gain access to the paddock area to see many greats such as Ronnie Peterson, Jody Scheckter and Mario Andretti.  It was cold that morning and rather than close the garage doors of the famous Kendall Garage paddock in our faces, a Shadow team mechanic graciously allowed us to stand in their garage space to get warm. 

Wow, those were the days! 

As I look back, there was a record crowd of 100,000 that attended that event.  Realizing that most people there that were my age then are now, statistically speaking,  likely deceased , meaning that there are significantly fewer than 100,000 souls alive today that shared in this experience of attending the U.S. Grand Prix in that year of 1976.  For all of you far too young to have been there, you missed a great, albeit often tragic, era.  I still consider it the golden age of Formula One.  Spectacular cars, stupendous sounds, heroic drivers and impassioned fans.  I hope and trust “Rush” does the era justice.  From the reviews thus far, it appears to be a great film.

So go see the movie, and maybe, just maybe, look for me or Mark Cipolloni.  I’m that handsome young man with the long, dark hair and the button down fly jeans in the background straining to catch a glimpse of as many drivers as he could.  It was October of 1976, it was cold, it was Watkins Glen and we were there!

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