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. RACER.com is 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…
In the week leading up to the 1977 Long Beach GP, Pook had to deal with the physical and mental condition of defending world champion James Hunt.
“James flew in on Sunday afternoon, the week before the race, and he wasn’t feeling well,” Chris recounts. “He was pissed off because he had just been in New York and had bumped into Suzie Hunt, who was in the process of getting a divorce from him and she was in a limo with Richard Burton driving down Fifth Avenue. Suzie Hunt and Burton had become an item, and James was not too happy about it. We had laid out our plan for James’s promotional appearances during the week in LA and suddenly, out of the blue, James said he wasn’t going to do any of it despite the fact that Marlboro had committed to him doing this work.
“Very late that Sunday night I got on the phone directly to John Hogan, who ran the Marlboro program, and told him about our problem with James. Hogan said he would have Paddy McNally on the first flight that afternoon to LA, and Paddy would sort it out. Paddy arrived around 6 o’clock that evening and went immediately to see Hunt, who by this time had a raging fever and wasn’t feeling at all well.
“We all went over to St. Mary’s Hospital and dropped James off, and a little later that night my phone rang at home. Dr. Geoffrey MacDonald told me that James needed to have complete rest for the next 24 hours. On the assurance of strict confidentiality, Geoffrey said James had a massive case of gonorrhea and they had loaded him up with antibiotics. They said he needed to continue taking these antibiotics for 30 days, and he should go and see his own physician in England to see how bad the infection was. My first thought was how is Hunt going to drive in the race four days away, but then I did not know James Hunt!
“The next day, Tuesday, Paddy McNally told me James was feeling better and that it was only a mild case of the flu. Paddy said James wanted to do the press lunch on Wednesday, regardless of his condition. Paddy said James’s new girlfriend was coming into town and he wanted to introduce her to the press at the Moet & Chandon champagne reception. James showed up wearing cut-off jeans and a T-shirt with a badge saying, ‘P****, the breakfast of Champions’. He had this long-legged woman with him who was absolutely gorgeous. He called her, ‘Hot Loins’.
“On cue, James got up in front of the press and said, ‘I want to introduce you guys to my latest lady friend, ‘Hot Loins’. I leaned over to John Hogan who arrived the night before and said, ‘Has anyone told her that he’s got the clap?’ Hogey, laughed and said, ‘Well he won’t be the first world champion with the clap, nor the last!’
“What happened from there, I don’t know, but at the start of the race that year James went flying at the first turn. James cut down on Jacques Lafitte on braking at the first turn just before the Linden Leap, as it had become known, and flew into the air. The photo of James in the air became an iconic Long Beach shot.”