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Peter Giddings Racing

This Is What It's All About

by Vern Jaques


... The Maserati 250F is not a particularly unique car; built from 1954 through 1958 for the 2.5 liter Formula One of the period, there were 32 constructed. A good many were run by private owners of no great fame. Although a straight forward car with a six cylinder, in-line engine, and period chassis, it was one of the most beautiful single seat racing cars ever built.

The 250F played a large role in Grand Prix racing in the 1950s. Many of the best journeymen drivers of the period wheeled them. Some of the very best did also, including Moss and Fangio. Phil Hill had his first F-1 drive in a privately entered 250F when his Ferrari factory team insisted that he was only a sports car driver. A lot of Grand Prix history starred Maserati 250F's.

I saw my first 250F in November 1960, when Bob Drake drove one in the 2nd U.S. Grand Prix at Riverside -- the last for the 2.5 liter Formula One. It was no longer close to competitive with the new generation rear-engined cars, 10 seconds too slow, but it finished in a respectable 13th place, making glorious noises and cornering with the spectacular tail out attitude typical of cars of its generation all the way.

Thus, when Peter Giddings showed up with his recently acquired 250F at the VARA races at Riverside May 30-31, 1987, I was more than casually interested. I considered it a real privilege to get on the track with that marvelous car and hoped to get a chance to watch it in action from close up. Somehow, it didn't work out either in practice or the first two of the weekend's three races.

When the Formula cars gridded up for the final "fun" race, there were initially only four cars on the grid. It looked like a lonesome drive, two were much faster, one considerably slower, than mine.

I and my "humble" formula - but ten years newer -- car were capable of lapping a couple of seconds faster than Peter and the Maserati, but I wasn't interested in beating Peter -- I wanted to watch it at least for a while! Therefore, I dropped in behind the Maserati on the start.

Up through the esses, roughly as old as the Maserati, but far less well-preserved, the red car bounces over the bumps, its wheels bounding in a far less controlled manner than a more modern car, and hanging its tail out on high speed swerves. Peter sticks far enough out of the car that I can clearly see him leaning from side to side, and his elbows flying as he works the steering wheel. On one lap I am so enthralled watching that I forget to drive my own car and have a high speed "moment" at four, reminding myself that I am not just touring around.

Up through six, the Maserati now in great hands-full of opposite lock as the tail hangs out to the left. I can watch over Peter's shoulder and see the big steering wheel turning from side to side to catch the slides. Up and over the hump and down into seven, and the Maser's front wheels flick from side to side to keep the tail from coming too far around -- it is the end of the weekend and things have gotten slippery from left hand turn seven to the right hand turn 7A onto the long back straight. Once "hooked up" the Maser pulls away here. It may be elderly, but is after all a Formula One car.

Into the 1500 foot long, banked over-180 degree turn 9 and I can close back up. The Maserati takes a high line, exiting the corner with almost unbelievable amounts of opposite lock, hurtles by the start/finish line, kicks its tail out over the bump on the flatout first turn and heads up to do the esses again. And each time Peter peers into the mirrors exiting a turn the green nose of the Lotus is right there, inspiring a driver not known for hanging about to even greater efforts. Grand! Glorious ! Marvelous!

After the checker, I pull up alongside Peter on the back straight for mutually appreciative gestures. In the paddock, I climb out of the Lotus and take my helmet off. My daughter said to my wife: "I've never seen Dad get out of a car grinning like that before."

Friends come up , shake my hand, tell me what a wonderful drive it was -- no one seems to notice that I lost.

But they do ask: "Why didn't you pass him?"

Well, that wouldn't have been as easy as it might have looked from the sidelines, but I ask in return: "Did that Maserati look spectacular from the corner where you were watching?" Enthusiastic affirmation that it did.

So I answer: "You thought it was spectacular in one turn. I watched it from much closer up in nine turns. Why should I pass. I had the best seat in the house!"

I walk over to Peter, shake hands, and thank him for giving me the best experience I've had in vintage racing.

But I was wrong , Peter, I won my class earlier in the VARA Championship point race. It will be long forgotten when that chase with your Maserati is still evergreen. After sober reflection, it was the most fun I've had in 38 years of vintage racing.

And it's what vintage racing is REALLY supposed to be all about.

(excerpted from Victory Lane, July 1987)