Maverick at 1969 24 Hours of Daytona – James Garner

Maverick at Daytona – James Garner and American International Racers

By Louis Galanos

In 1968 I attended Daytona Beach Junior College on the GI Bill. Due to the proximity of the Daytona Speedway I became interested in attending the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events held there.

Well, one thing led to another and I joined SCCA and began volunteering to help staff events from Regionals to Nationals and eventually professional events like the 24-Hours of Daytona and the 12-Hours of Sebring.

In January of 1969 I was working the 24-Hour race at Daytona and, when not on duty, spent time in the pits taking pictures of the fabulous cars and legendary drivers.

Like the 1970 Sebring race with Steve McQueen, the 1969 event at Daytona had a movie and television star in attendance in the form of actor and team owner James Garner.

For those of you out there who are too young to remember James Garner is best known for such TV shows as Maverick and Rockford Files. He also starred in movies like The Great Escape where he co-starred with good friend Steve McQueen.

In 1966 he made the movie Grand Prix where he loosely played the role of American Grand Prix Champion Phil Hill. The movie was made in a new process called Cinerama which, when shown in theaters, used three projectors simultaneously projecting onto three screens that were curved to take up your peripheral vision.

When I first saw this movie in the late 1960’s I literally got motion sickness during some of the racing action.

1969 24 Hours of Daytona

James Garner arrived at the Daytona Speedway with his American International Racers (AIR) team of two Lola T70s. These were the Mark 3 versions with 5000 cc Traco Chevrolet engines.

Photo of James Garner wearing his AIR jacket taken in the pit area at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Standing next to him is Bill France, Jr.  Not sure who the other fellow is.
James Garner wearing his AIR jacket taken in the pit area at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Standing next to him is Bill France, Jr. Not sure who the other fellow is.

Unlike Steve McQueen, who drove a Porsche at Sebring in 1970, Garner was not driving in this event but just acting as team owner. Driving duties were assigned to Ed Leslie, Lothar Motschenbacher, Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan.

When I said that Garner was “acting” as team owner I should also include the fact that at this race he also had a film crew there filming a documentary of racing that would be later called The Racing Scene.

Photo of James Garner with Chris Economacki (white shirt) of ABC's Wide World of Sports.
James Garner with Chris Economacki (white shirt) of ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

In the filming at Daytona Mr. Garner was just playing himself. Not as an actor but team owner. The Daytona 24 segment of the film was to be an honest look at big time professional sports car racing with his AIR team of cars and drivers as the focal point. Garner’s goal was to make a documentary film that would break the stereotypical mold that had developed in Hollywood concerning racing movies.
 
During the few days leading up to the start of the 24-Hour race I had a chance to observe Mr. Garner and how he interacted with his team members as well as the general public. To both groups he couldn’t be nicer. Not the image one might assume when dealing with Hollywood celebrities.

Photo shows the #8 AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B that was driven by Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher.  The AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B finished second behind the Penske Sunoco Lola T70 Mk 3B of Chuck Parsons and Mark Donohue.
The #8 AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B that was driven by Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher. The AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B finished second behind the Penske Sunoco Lola T70 Mk 3B of Chuck Parsons and Mark Donohue.

Mr. Garner was always very accommodating to folks who wanted to take his picture, get an autograph, pose with him or just talk.

One might assume that since he had a film crew there making a documentary in which he figured prominently that he would be on his best behavior lest something untoward be caught on camera.

The first place finisher #6 Sunoco Penske Lola T70 Mk 3B of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons crossing the start/finish line alongside the second place car #8 AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B of Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher
The first place finisher #6 Sunoco Penske Lola T70 Mk 3B of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons crossing the start/finish line alongside the second place car #8 AIR Lola T70 Mk 3B of Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher.

To correct that assumption let me tell you of something that happened to a friend of mine who had a car entered in the race. 

My friend had a Triumph GT6 entered in the race and he and his crew were on an extremely limited budget for the event. They didn’t even have enough money for hotel rooms so they planned to camp out in the paddock at the Speedway sleeping in and around their vehicles.

Daytona in late January and February can get quite cold and damp at night. On one particular night my friend was in his sleeping bag which was on an aluminum lounge chair next to his vehicle.

James Garner welcoming Lothar Motschenbacher after that car finished 2nd in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona.
James Garner welcoming Lothar Motschenbacher after that car finished 2nd in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona.

During the night a cold, damp fog rolled in off the Atlantic Ocean and by early morning my friend was covered in dew and he was cold to the bone.

Mr. Garner was an early riser and left his trailer as the sun was coming up drinking a hot cup of coffee to keep warm. He was on his way to the garage area when he noticed this fellow in the lawn chair who was just beginning to wake up.

James Garner seeks to offer congratulations to Lothar Motschenbacher after they finished 2nd in the 1969 24-Hours of Daytona.
James Garner seeks to offer congratulations to Lothar Motschenbacher after they finished 2nd in the 1969 24-Hours of Daytona.

Garner went back his trailer and got another cup of coffee and gave it to my friend who by now was awake and flabbergasted that this celebrity was bringing him a much needed cup of hot coffee.

Both of Mr. Garner’s AIR Lolas finished the race. The #8 car of Ed Leslie and Lothar Motschenbacher finished second behind the Roger Penske Lola T70 of Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons and Garner’s #9 Lola driven by Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan finished seventh. It was a remarkable first performance for the team.

Garner’s team also raced at Sebring that year, Lime Rock and the circuit at Canada’s St. Jovite. At the end of 1969 Garner disbanded American International Racers. His movie, The Racing Scene, was released in late 1970 and while not a top box office earner is considered one of the best racing films ever made.

The second American International Racer Lola T70 Mk 3B entered in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan drove the Lola to a 7th place finish.
The second American International Racer Lola T70 Mk 3B entered in the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Scooter Patrick and Dave Jordan drove the Lola to a 7th place finish.

From 1967 to 1969 Garner’s AIR cars raced in a number of events both in this country and Europe. However, the racing community best remembers Jim Garner for using his celebrity to help promote off-road racing in the early years of that sport.

At 81 James Garner is still active but life has slowed a little for him following a minor stroke in May of 2008.

[Source: Louis Galanos]

Show Comments (32)

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  1. Louis

    Thanks so much for this great eye-witness account and fabulous photos of the James Garner’s AIR team’s participation in the ’69 Daytona. Wonderful spotlight!

    That was really quite a spectacular finish for that new team.

    It’s funny you mention Garner’s role in “Grand Prix” being modelled on Phil Hill. Mr Hill played the fictional character Tim Randolf in the movie, who at one point yells “He’s on fire!”, referring to Jame Garner’s character’s burning Grand Prix car!

    I look forward to more of your racing experiences.

    Cheers!

  2. A great story and the facts were very interesting. I wonder if the film the “Racing Scene” is on DVD? This is the first time that I have heard of it. The period of the mid 1960’s through the mid to late 1970’s were exciting in GT and Endurance Racing with the Big Displacement Engines and the Great Cars like the Lola T-70’s the Ferrari 512’s and Porsche’s 910-917’s real magic. Awesome story.

  3. I, too, was at the ’69 Daytona 24 Hour Race and remember Jim Garner and AIR very well. My wife and I were standing immediately behind the fence in the pits when a mother gestured to Mr Garner to hold her child while she took a picure. Mr Garner willingly obliged the mother with a great smile and the photo op was completed. All this took place while the race waas running! A tribute to a genuinely decent man and a sad contrast to the routine celebrity-snobs we see too much of.

    Jim

  4. Thanks all for the compliments on the article.

    If you Google The Racing Scene you will find a website called Edgar Motorsport.

    That site give a detailed discussion on the making of the movie and the current attempts to bring it to DVD.

    Take a look.

    Lou Galanos

    1. The Racing Scene movie looks like it would make me sick, as the coloring looks very different than what we are used to.

    2. Mr Galanos –

      I have enjoyed looking at all the late-60s & early 70s pictures on your website. It just so happens that I am currently scanning over 200 negatives taken during those very days, most from the 24Hrs of Daytona.
      Is there any way I can contact you? I would like to purchase/have copies of some of the photos you have posted. In addition, I will be photoshopping a number of the cars & mug shots of their drivers composed together. I also have a mug shot of a driver whom I cannot identify and would appreciate your identifying him if possible. You are most welcome to have and use any shots you might want. I could send you a DVD of all my scans for your use.
      I sincerely hope to hear from you!

      Chuck McLaughlin

      1. Hello Chuck I was co-Chief mechanic with Jim Culleton on the Lothar’s Car, I am standing directly to the right of Garner (hand on car) in the photo titled

        James Garner seeks to offer congratulations to Lothar Motschenbacher after they finished 2nd in the 1969 24-Hours of Daytona

        At the request of my grandkids I am very interested in getting copies of photos that I am in associated with our 2nd place #8 car. Thanks Richard

        1. Dick –
          Sorry to be forever getting back to you but hadn’t seen your comments before! I was a horrible photographer at the time and only got random shots, some of which are in Lou’s current Flicker gallery. Very unfortunately I took none of Garner’s operation. I do remember how animated he was in his pit area and engaging with the fans – just a great guy!
          If you wish, I could send you a CD of the shots I took from 1970 to 76. Some are good, some are terrible!

          1. Hello Again Chuck, Thanks and would love to find out what you have for photos that may involve cars that I “wrenched.”

            1. Dick –

              I can make one or two discs for you like I did for Lou. There are about 225 pics covering 1970 thru 1976. Some are good, some horrible. I don’t have any copyrights on any of them so you are free to do what you will with them. However, I’m going to need your mailing address. Please send it to me at my email address, [email protected] then give me a little time – got new computer and haven’t burned any discs on it yet.
              Chuck

  5. As usual great photos and ,now, great articles to bring further life to the scenes.
    Keep it up , Lou !

    Mario Levetto

  6. the cars pictured from AIR were mark 3’s. the 3B cars had much improved downforce as evidenced by the angle of the nose, incorporating dual headlights, radiator opening lowered for better air flow etc. and improved tail lines for drag management. Suspension and chassis changes were also put in place for the 3B. The Penske/Donohue cars were 3B’s.

  7. A face that seems to be absent from your excellent photos is that of Mr. Dick Guldstrand. Dick provided more than a little assistance
    Mr. Garner’s AIR effort. Perhaps Dick did not make the trip to Daytona,I just felt he should be mentioned.

  8. Wonderful pictures, back in the 1970’s in Ireland the only way you would get to see some of the race, was a few clips in the cinema, before the main feature.
    Thanks for sharing them, and the history.

  9. Wonderful to see such evocative images. I read somewhere that Jim set very competitive lap times during the making of the Grand Prix film.
    It is nice to hear that he is not just a talent but also a gent.

  10. when James Garner FIRST showed up at Daytona in 1968 with two gen 3 ? ? AIR Corvettes,that both broke very early, we were pitted next to his team with our Camaro . . . . he was very gracious in defeat . . . . walking around holding a rather large rubber chicken by the neck and TOTALLY engaged in “flirting with” my “barbie doll” wife (#1). . . . who was a whole lot more interested in him than she was in keeping our lap times ! !

  11. Thank You …. Thank You …………. Thank you .. a thousand times .. This little story was a peach…

    ” Here’s to the sunny slopes of long ago”

    with kindest regards, C.D. @ Austin Tejas .. who was 7 years old at the time of the race….

  12. I was co-chief mechanic with my late dear friend Jim Culleton on the Leslie/Motschenbacher #8 Lola. I have a hundred stories for the 24 hours of this race. The gist of it all is we would have won but for a radiator. It seems the aluminum radiators we ran had fins that were so soft that when flicks of rubber hit the fins at high speed they folded over, restricted air flow and finally overheated the engine. This was a situation we could not have foreseen in testing. A long pit stop allowed the Penske Lola to pass us for the lead. I have fond memories of working with Culleton and we enjoyed a very intense inter team rivalry with the other AIR Lola. We went on to finish sixth overall at Sebring that Spring. Just as we went into the lead, we lost a left fron wheel bearing and lost many valuable minutes to change the red hot inner race – the burn scars still with me. Regards to all readers. Richard “Dick” Corrow

  13. Forgot to mention, Dick Corrow is standing to the right of Garner (with hand on car) in the photo of the #8 Second place car titled;

    James Garner seeks to offer congratulations to Lothar Motschenbacher after they finished 2nd in the 1969 24-Hours of Daytona

    Thanks again for a great report.

    Richard “Dick” Corrow

  14. I believe, in the photo with Garner and Bill France Jr. the third gentleman is Larry Truesdale, head of Goodyear’s racing Division.

    Best Regards, Davey Jordan

  15. When I was reading about the Making Of Grand Prix (a story almost as interesting as the movie) I read that the trainer for some of the stars, Bob Bonderant, said that Garner had enough innate driving talent to have gone with the pros.

  16. Thanks so much for the wonderful story. I have been a fan of James Garner for most of his career and have been researcning his racing life recently. I am glad to have found your story.

  17. I grew up around Southern California Sports car racing and worked as a Tech Inspector and Flag Man. Then I got into Offroad racing. Mr Garner was often seen around both. Bill Brandt’s note about Bob Bondurant’s comments re Mr Garner I can verify, as Mr Bondurant told me the same thing the 1st time I saw him after the filming of Grand Prix.

    There were a lot of celebrities around sports car racing then. Some, like Jim Garner, Steve McQueen and Dick Smothers were great people to be around. Others, such as Tom Smothers who when he visited Dick’s pit behaved like his stage persona, or Ursula Andress who felt she was above being asked to leave the starting line of a CanAm race were not pleasant.

    Neat that Co-driver of the No 9 Lola, Davey Jordan posted in here. Unfortunately, Davey, my dad Jack Parcells, as Toyota’s Rep had to witness your Shelby Team Toyota 2000GT being crushed. The Tiger we wrenched and Ron Dykes drove to beat you at Riverside is still being run at Vintage races though.

    Many of the people involved in the AIR were regulars around Cal Club/SCCA races in that era. Bondurant, Jordan, Scooter Patrick, Dick Guldstrand, Lothar Motschenbacher…

    I find that the Jim Garner movie “The Racing Scene” is not available. I’d like to have it in my collection.

    1. Hi Rich,
      I was surprised to hear that the Toyota 2000 GT I raced for Shelby went to the crusher! I was told that number 06 was sent to Toyota Tech. in Japan and converted into a replica of their endurance car that set international records. That car sits in the Toyota museum in Tokyo. The original car was destroyed in a racing accident.I’m disappointed that 06 is no longer around.
      Davey

  18. I was drafted to crew for the Dr. Art Mollen/Art Riley Volvo sedan for the 1969 Daytona 24 Hrs.

    Around 3AM on Sunday while I was half asleep, the back door of the pit flew open and James Garner popped in shouting “Where’s Fred Opert”? Opert was at that time the Lola importer and as I glanced down pit row I saw one of the AIR cars on jack stands. I asked Garner if he was looking for parts and he said yes. Then I asked him if the car were still under warranty and it stopped him cold. He smiled and said he would ask Fred about it. And then he was gone.

    So it was a radiator you say, did Fred cover it?

  19. We ran an Alfa Sprint Speciale in the ’69 Daytona 24. One of the Lolas–wish I could remember which–had a coolant leak and one of their crew told one of my guys they were going to withdraw. Our guy said that we had some excellent stopleak and gave it to the Lola crew to try. I swear that one of the Lola crew came by hours later and said it worked…but which Lola was it? And there’s a beautiful fullpage color photo in Car & Driver (I think!) showing just the Lola and our white Alfa on the banking. Bought the Alfa for about $2200 and sold it after the race and fixing the clutch and the usual second gear synchro for $1750. We couldn’t find black contact paper for our numbers so used dark green suedelike paper; we told the tech inspector that the fuzzy numbers helped the boundary layer airflow…

  20. Thanks to Sports Car Digest for re-running this 2009 story of James Garner and his racing team at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona, written and illustrated by Louis Galanos. And thanks to Lou for mentioning that Garner’s documentary film “The Racing Scene” is “considered one of the best racing films ever made.”

    I agree that it is, not only because it truly is about real (not scripted) racing, but also because I had the privilege of knowing Jim and of writing his narration and supervising the editing of this film. Nine months on the road and in production with him was a treat of the highest degree, even though the Garner team cars and drivers suffered some bad luck on track along the way. A joy, too, was working with the film’s director, Andy Sidaris. Let’s just say there was a lot of laughing involved during the shooting and editing, and it was Jim’s and Andy’s way to have things happen.

    For more on the making of James Garner’s “The Racing Scene” documentary there’s a section all about that on my website at http://www.edgarmotorsport.com

    It’s certainly worth mentioning at this point in time, following Jim’s passing, that “The Racing Scene” has become available for home viewing through Amazon.com and well worth the film’s 90 minutes of any enthusiast’s time. You’ll find that at:

    http://www.amazon.com/Racing-Scene-James-Garner/dp/B009Y95U6M

    William Edgar

  21. Mr Galanos,
    Thank you so much for writing this lovely article, I am so glad I came across it.
    I have always felt that I was born a little too late and missed out on the golden era of most things mechanical, especially aircraft and racing cars, recollections like this really add weight to that feeling of having missed out, these stories allow me to live In the moment for a short while
    I never met Mr Garner but enjoyed his TV shows and movies and am happy to find out that despite his success, in real life he was a down to earth gentleman, something many modern stars would do well to take note from.
    I was particularly interested in the wonderful story of your friend who entered a GT6, being a life long lover and owner of these lovely little cars I wonder do you have any more information about the team and car, there seems to be precious little in print about the competition exploits of the GT6, especially first hand knowledge, stories like these just could not happen at today’s racing events.Any info you might have would be really appreciated, now I am off to visit your flickr page……

    Andrew Robson

  22. Dear Louis,
    For years I have enjoyed your coverage of James Garner’s A.I.R. racing team. I was a member of the team and co-drove with Scooter in the #9 Lola. In the 1969 24 hr.We had a solid chance to win overall, had it not been for the failure of the right rear wheel bearing. Scooter brought the car into the pits at about 1.00 AM with sparks flying
    from the right rear of the car. The wheel bearing was finished and had ruined the hub carrier as well. The team didn’t have a spare and went scrounging to find a replacement. The Norinder, Bonnier Lola T-70 had crashed out of the race early and they said our team could borrow the parts needed to get the #9 car back into the race. 2 1/2 hours later I pulled #9 out of the pits and rejoined the race. It was very cold outside and I was very happy to see the sun come up and warm things up! The car ran flawlessly to the end of the race, Just as it had before the bearing failure.The winning Penske Lola had their own problems with broken headers and a minor accident, They were out of the race for about 1 1/2 hours, At the time of our wheel bearing failure Scooter and I were leading Donohue and parsons in the Penske Lola.

    Thanks for everything, yours truly, Davey Jordan