June 6 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Mosport Player’s 200 car race, won by New Zealand’s Bruce McLaren and witnessed by more than 52,000 spectators, setting a Canadian sports event attendance record.
My assignment on June 6, 1964 as the After Four roving cartoonist for the now-defunct Toronto Telegram newspaper was to travel down Highway 401 east of Toronto to Mosport Park and capture in my cartoons the spirit of the fourth annual Players 200.
Mosport was conceived by the British Empire Motor Club, which in 1958 purchased 450 acres of farmland just north of the town of Bomanville, Ont. Mosport Ltd. was formed to develop the project. Renowned British driver Stirling Moss, behind the wheel of a Lotus 19, won the inaugural Mosport Player’s 200 in June, 1961.
The 1964 Player’s 200 was sponsored by Player’s Tobacco and with help from the Canadian Racing Drivers’ Association (CRDA) there was an impressive list of international entrants. The weather was an ideal, sunny 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the spectators were young men and women out for a good time.
The previous Player’s 200 races and overnight camping parties had established the event as the place to be at the beginning of summer. The Telegram’s After Four newspaper supplement was published every Thursday and it was aimed at students. My job was to humouruosly illustrate the goings-on at the track and I took my queues from how people dressed, from their conversations and from the cars. For example the Telegram’s title page cartoon of a guy cooking a chicken on a race car engine was inspired by my observations of a pit crew keeping foil-wrapped food warm on a hot exhaust manifold.
The Toronto Telegram’s June 6 Sports section ran an aerial photo of the track, showing an infield littered with cars and tents. The caption read “15,000 Wait All Night For Big Race At Mosport.”
The Toronto Daily Star’s June 6 front page read “It’s D-Day for Mosport as 20,000 invade,” under a photo of a guitar player serenading his friends. Of the six other photos, one pictured the colossal traffic jam that travelling race fans created on Highway 401 – then, as now, Canada’s busiest highway. This volume of cars foreshadowed the record setting attendance of 52,224 spectators.
The list of entrants included local drivers Nat Adams, Rudy Bartling, John Cox, Ludwig Heimrath, Wayne Kelly, Norm Namerow and Vic Yachuk. There was Scotland’s Jim Clark in a Lotus 19B and Englishman Hugh Dibley in a Stirling Moss-sponsored Porsche 904. The Americans included Indy winner A.J. Foyt in a Scarab, Dan Gurney in a Lotus 19B, Jim Hall and Roger Penske in Chaparrals, and Augie Pabst in a Cooper Ford. New Zealander Bruce McLaren entered a number 47 Zerex Special, based on a Mecom Formula One Cooper that sported an array of eight straight exhaust pipes splaying off an Oldsmobile engine.
The race was run in two 100-mile heats, each heat being 40 laps. Cars were divided into three classes: under two litre, over two litre and grand touring. Prize money was $11,000.
Gurney, who held the Mosport 1:31.5 lap record, was on the pole. Also in the front row were McLaren and Hall in one of the two Chev V8 Chaparrals.
The first 100-mile heat did not go well for Gurney as his Lotus failed to start. Once he got going he charged through the field but soon encountered mechanical problems that forced him out. McLaren prevailed in the first heat with an elapsed time of 1:03:35.4, finishing ahead of Penske’s Chaparral and Pabst’s Cooper Ford.
At 4 p.m., the second heat started with McLaren and Penske in the pole positions. Gurney, Hall and Foyt were in the back of the grid due to poor first heat results. After just 10 laps Hall and Foyt were back in the fray. Hall led Foyt followed by McLaren, Penske and Pabst. Gurney once again had to retire due to transmission troubles.
Penske was eliminated by fuel problems. Foyt’s race ended with a flat tire. With two laps to go, Hall’s engine blew, allowing McLaren to take the checkered flag in a total two-heat time of 2:07:42.2 and average speed of 92.51 mph.
Top finishing Canadian, in fifth overall, was Ludwig Heimrath in a Cooper Ford, the eventual winner of the 1964 Canadian Driver’s Championship.
In the June 8 Globe and Mail, sports writer Dick Beddoes wrote “Juan Fangio, the Argentine hero once said, ‘The ideal way to drive is at the slowest speed required to win.’ That’s how Bruce McLaren of New Zealand won the Player’s 200: careful, considerate of his Cooper-Olds, a driver who prefers to finish a race rather than wreck a car.”
McLaren is quoted as saying, “To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not on years alone.”
McLaren would die tragically in 1970 at the age of 33 while testing a McLaren CanAm car in England. McLaren’s legacy carries on through the Bruce McLaren Trust in Auckland, New Zealand and in the McLaren Formula One Racing Team.
Life is, indeed, measured in achievement.
In the days before big stadiums, the sports event to be at on June 6, 1964 was the Players 200 at Mosport, having fun and making history.
Jake Fowell contributed cartoons to the Toronto Telegram on a freelance basis while a student at the University of Toronto. A retired architect, he manages the York Jazz ensemble and drives a 1967 Firebird OHC convertible.
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