The wait for racing cars to return to the streets of Long Beach is a little longer than usual this time around. But in the decades since the inaugural event, enough stories have sprung up around the race to fill a book – which is exactly what Gordon Kirby has done with Chris Pook & the History of the Long Beach GP. Starting today, RACER.com will be running a series of excerpts to help you pass the time while we wait for racing to resume. Given that’s still some weeks away though, you might want to order the entire thing…
On the Wednesday evening in the week prior to the first F1 race in Long Beach in 1976, renowned photographer Bernard Cahier organized a private party for the Formula 1 drivers through his friend Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills.
“Bernie had told the drivers to be in town for that press lunch and Bernard Cahier seized upon the timing for Hugh Hefner to organize one of his infamous parties at the Playboy Mansion,” Pook relates.
“Through Hefner’s staff, Cahier organized limousines for the drivers, most of whom were staying on the Queen Mary, to take them to and from The Mansion. Of course, everyone had a great time, but the following morning we got a call from the Beverly Hills police complaining about the theft of a limousine. They said they believed one of our drivers was responsible and they wanted to talk to me.
“It wasn’t long before a Beverly Hills cop and a Long Beach police sergeant arrived with another guy, who apparently owned the missing limousine. They told me that the fleet of limousines had been parked outside the Playboy Mansion and one of the drivers, who had a receding hairline and a mustache and was either French or Italian, decided he wanted to leave the party with another driver and two girls. They said the race driver apparently couldn’t find the driver for his limousine, but saw the keys laying inside the driver’s cap on the front seat. So he put the keys in the ignition and off they went.
“While the cops were in our office discussing this situation, Jean-Pierre Jarier was also in the office looking for some passes. So I asked Jean-Pierre if he knew anything about this story the cops were telling me. He said, ‘Yeah, it was Regazzoni. Clay wanted to leave and we had these two girls with us. We were going down the freeway at 100mph with the roof open and the girls took their tops off and were showing their breasts to everyone. It was one big joke!’
“I turned to the cops and said I wanted to talk to Clay before they did. I said I wanted to be delicate with this. I told them I didn’t want them putting him in handcuffs and taking him off to the station. The Long Beach cop agreed, but the Beverly Hills cop said he wanted to arrest Clay.
“I said, ‘If that’s your attitude, you’re on your own. Go find him and arrest him and create a mess. I’m trying to find a solution, get the limousine back into the owner’s hands and provide some compensation if needed.’ The cop looked at the limousine owner, who said he just wanted his car and keys back and to cover the costs if there was any damage to car. The limo owner said, ‘Give me $500 and 25 tickets to your race, and I’ll be OK.’
“Meanwhile, we reached Regazzoni on the phone. He was still in his room on the Queen Mary and the Long Beach cop asked us to bring him over to our offices. Clay objected strenuously, but finally came over. It was about noon by then, and I said he had apparently borrowed one of the limousines to drive back to Long Beach last night. Clay said, yes, he had and told me the car was parked in the Queen Mary’s parking lot.
“I asked him if it was locked. He said no, and I asked him where the keys where. You have to understand that he was telling me all this in French, so neither the police officers nor the limo owner understood a word. Clay looked me, grinning, and said, ‘Oh, the keys are a bit of a problem. As I was walking up the gangway onto the Queen Mary the keys fell out of my pocket into the water!’ All the time, he was grinning and laughing.
“I asked the limo owner if he had a spare set of keys and he said, ‘Yeah.’ So I told the cop and the limo owner I would take care of the $500 and the tickets he wanted, and asked the cop to take Clay over to the Queen Mary to show them where the limo was parked. After that the limo owner came back with his car and said he needed 50 tickets, not 25. Then he complained that we were giving him only general admission tickets and he needed grandstand seats. So we did.
“We could ill afford to give away free tickets like that, but I didn’t want a silly, negative story to get out there. Nevertheless, we all had a good chuckle about Clay driving down the freeway with a chauffeur’s cap on his head and two half-naked women showing their breasts to the world!”