1973 United States Grand Prix – Race Profile

Race day at the 1973 United States Grand Prix was overcast and cool but dry. Before the race Jackie and Helen Stewart walked down the pit lane and the crowd gave them a standing ovation. Nothing could have made up for what happened on Saturday but the race Gods gave the spectators a fantastic event with James Hunt chasing Ronnie Peterson the whole way for a nail-biting United States Grand Prix. Peterson won by less than a second, the closest finish in a USGP for the time. We were able to get into victory circle for the subdued celebration and take some photos to wrap up what would be a very historic United States Grand Prix.

1973 United States Grand Prix – Photo Gallery (click image for large picture)

Emerson Fittipaldi, Lotus 72
Emerson Fittipaldi rests in his Lotus 72
James Hunt, March 731
James Hunt finished 2nd in the March 731
Shadow DN1 of Graham Hill
Shadow DN1 of Graham Hill finished 13th, two laps down from the leaders
Brabham BT42 of Carlos Reutemann
Brabham BT42 of Carlos Reutemann finished in third place
Ronnie Peterson in Lotus 72
Race winner Ronnie Peterson in his Lotus-Cosworth 72
Ferrari 312B3 of Arturo Merzario
Ferrari 312B3 of Arturo Merzario finished 16th
Peter Revson - McLaren M23
Peter Revson snugs up a shoe on his McLaren M23
Denny Hulme - Yardley McLaren M23
Denny Hulme finished 4th in the Yardley McLaren M23
Lotus Boss Colin Chapman and Ronnie Peterson in the Watkins Glen garage Friday
Lotus Boss Colin Chapman and Ronnie Peterson in the Watkins Glen garage Friday
Shadow team on pit lane
Shadow team on pit lane
Surtees TS14A of Carlos Pace
Surtees TS14A of Carlos Pace retired with suspension issues after 32 laps
Jackie and Helen Stewart walking down pit road Sunday morning before the race
Jackie and Helen Stewart walking down pit road Sunday morning before the race
Jean-Pierre Beltoise - BRM P160E
Jean-Pierre Beltoise jumps in his BRM P160E
Peter Revson - McLaren M23 at 1973 United States Grand Prix F1
Start of the 1973 US Grand Prix, Peter Revson with hand in air is stalled. He would go on to finish 5th in his McLaren M23.
James Hunt and Ronnie Peterson in Victory Circle at Watkins Glen
James Hunt and Ronnie Peterson in subdued Victory Circle at the 1973 United States Grand Prix

[Source: Rich Martin]

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  1. Excellent story Rich. The memories of Watkins Glen run deep with me, as does the roar of F1 engines around that great track. Thanks for stirring them up.

  2. Personal story sticks to the point. Info and photos limited to what’s needed. Recounted today in the language of a kid at the time. Cannot do much better than this. Fantastic job.

  3. Isn’t that Chris Economaki wearing the red jacket and plaid pants in the winners circle?
    He just turned 90!

  4. It is indeed the famous Chris Economaki in the winners circle. He was always there at the Glen at that time asking drivers famous questions like ‘whats it like out there?” Or on a 100 degree day asking a driver “how hot is it in the car?” Always great entertainment!

  5. I remember him calling lots of races back in the day for the fledgling network attempts to bring motor sports to the forefront of entertainment. He was always entertaining.
    Thanks so much for sharing these memories.

  6. Rich, Thanks for sharing. We lierally must have been standing next to each other above the pits because I have the exact sequence of photographs from both mine and my dad’s archives. You nailed it when you said that it was all very surreal after the accident. My lasting memory is how eerily quiet everything became.

    1. Hello John,
      I’m French and my boss wants to write a book about François Cevert.
      We are in contact with Rich Martin following the great paper he published in sports car digest.
      Please, have you some pictures of François Cevert at the Glen the sad day of his death ?
      It would be great for us if you could share them with us.
      Best wishes,
      Corinne Malnou

  7. Excellent text and pictures. See the pretty blond returning James Hunt’s glance in the victory photo. Something going on there?
    I first went to the Glen for the 64 GP and returned many a times. Now, only for the vintage events, as I am vintage, too.

  8. I was there with three of my friends. We attended all of the Can-AM and F-5000 races east of the Mississippi that year. Great memories – ‘the bog’ and all. Wasn’t this the year that the Greyhound Secnic Cruiser was sacrificed in the bog?

    1. The infamous bus into the bog was the following year, 1974. A group of Brazilian tourists here to cheer for Fittipaldi to win the championship ended up with no luggage for the trip home!

  9. What a poignant story. I was 14 years old at the time and Cevert was a major reason why I became interested in racing. He was everything a racer should be. Good looking, glamorous, cultured and French to boot !!
    I had gone to my first Grand Prix at Paul Ricard earlier that year, where he finished second. As the season progressed, it became obvious he would be the guy to beat in 1974. Jody Scheckter (who had the Ricard race in his pocket until Fittipaldi punted him off) had just been announced as his new team-mate following Stewart’s retirement.
    I remember Ocfober 6th as an altogether horrible day. I was a cold, drizzly autumn dy in Holland and, if I’m not mistaken, it was also the day the Yom Kippur war was launched.

  10. thanks for sharing those memories, a time I will never forget. As I recall, poor Francois’ injuries were so grave that they didn’t bother to extricate him, merely throwing a blanket over his car at the esses….Very sad, especially considering that the outcome has been attributed to improper guardrail installation….

  11. the music was the french national anthem played shortly after noon. at the time, i knew nothin’ of the accident so i wondered why they played that music. i had juat left that section of the track jus’ before 12:00. i found out later that cevert had died.

    sad but the blue tunnel was something jackie stewart insisted be installed around “the glen”.

  12. Rich:

    Excellent story and photos. A sad day but overall, many great memories. 1973 was my first trip to the Glenn. I returned annually for the Grand Prix. The greyhound bus in the bog was 1974 – I know because I took a wrong turn and drove my car into the bog that year. Mud everywhere and my car (1972 Z28) was low to the ground and had an air dam on the front. Etched in my mind as I successfully spun my car around and headed back out was a large group of people ahead of me with a bus and several other vehicles on fire!

  13. Thank you for sharing this accurate account of the events of that October day at the Glen.

    My teammate, Bruce MacInnes and I, were at the Glen that weekend to compete in the Formula Atlantic race on Saturday. Before our race, Bruce was talking to Jackie Stewart in the pits (having met him at the World Formula Ford Championship at Brands Hatch) and I was just harging around Cevert, not making a pest of myself, taking in the sights and just happy to be able to compete in a preamble race to a Grand Prix.

    The F-1 cars then went out for a short practice and our race was to begin right after F-1 practice concluded. After about ten minutes the F-1 cars slowly came in to the pits and went to the paddock. There was silence around the track for at least an hour and we had no idea what had happened or what was happening. Then, roughly 15 minutes before our delayed race was to begin, there was an announcement about Cevert’s death. It really placed a heavy burden on us all, and yes, it was on Yom Kippur.

    I later learned that Cevert’s father was a Parisian jeweler and was Jewish. Several years later, I went to Paris and was going to look up Cevert’s jewelry store and stop in to see him. I decided not to, not knowing what I would actualy say, having been one of the last people to see his son alive.

    My race: If you believe in fate, continue reading. Our race started and there was bedlam in the 34-car field. When I reached the uphill esses, my car abruptly stopped, having had a black-box electric failure. I am Jewish, and it wasn’t the best day for me to be racing.

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful and accurate reporting of the Glen’s ’73 GP. Myself, having missed the bulk of the ’70s racing, as I was mostly traveling, I spent many a weekend during the ’60s at various racing venues. Sadly many events were occassioned by news of one hero or another sharing Cevert’s fate. While post “turbo years” regulation changes are not universally applauded the dramatic safety improvements are most welcomed.

  15. I was at the track that day as well. I was on the far side of the track from where the accident took place but as soon as I saw other drivers coming by with their helmets and bella clavas removed I knew it was going to be really bad news. Sadly it was. No doubt Francios was ready to assume the mantle of team leader at what was one of the most innovative teams ever to race in F1.

  16. Truly a sad moment for auto racing and the newest rising star at the time. If you get a chance read about that dreadful day in Sir Jackie’s book. I was recovering from knee replacement surgery this time last year and read the account of Cevert’s death and the tragic F1 years by Jackie himself, it’s very insightful.

  17. It was my first GP as well. Myself and 2 friends drove up to the Glen in his Kent motor Pinto, and slept (!) in the car! The following year we took my then new Mazda RX4 coupe that had reclining front seats, making for a far better place to sleep at the track. ‘ 74 marked our ‘arrival’, as we herded a Winnebago up route #17 from NYC, with 6 aboard. Of course, nothing worked on the darn thing; the dealer must have seen us coming.

    Cevert’s death was not the introduction to GP that we sought; we arrived just as it happened, and it was (indeed) surreal.

    I was down in the boot in 1974 when Helmut Koinigg went straight-off into the guard rail with a sickening thud and was decapitated. I’d had enough for a while, and it was another 15 years before I went to another GP.

  18. BTW, that first year we were parked next to the ‘Fabulous Farkelinos’ motorhome, and we happily watched as they preyed upon young women with a very clever pitch: ‘Boobs for Beer’.

  19. Great job, this was my first GP. It would cause the brains of today’s teams to explode, imagine everyone tramping through the garage with the cars disassembled.

  20. I,too,remember those days at the Glen, I’d come down from College in Buffalo. Strolling the Kendall garage I was face to face with the likes of Surtees, Lauda, Merzario and other heros to me.
    Such awful wrecks when that new armco was improperly installed, Koenigg also a victim.
    Now I race there regularly, and I’ve always been critical of those “blue bushes” although I’ve never been in them. So many incidents that would be simple spins at other tracks become total wrecks becuase of them. I hate it.

  21. Excellent piece Mr Martin. Thanks for sharing.

    To me, reading the comments is why the internet is a valuable tool that can never be matched by print magazines. On top of the story, we get to read multiple first-hand references to Watkins Glen and everyone’s fun stories. It’s as if the story takes on a life of its own in the hands of the readers.

    Quite enjoyable to read all of the comments.

  22. Well done Rich!

    You have brought back many memories of our annual treck to the track. My first GP at the Glen was five years later, in 1978. We would drive all night from Cleveland, Ohio, arriving at dawn on Saturday morning. We also chose to stay at the track, camped on the outside of turn one. Strolling thru the garages Saturday night as the teams made their final preparations for the next day were as interesting and informative to me as the race itself.

    Ron Cohn, thanks for sharing your comments.

  23. Dear Cevert fan’s

    It’s so good to see this reactions on F. Cevert, so many years after.
    He was my first idol, later it was Keke Rosberg, only the best could be my idol……now I’m a BMW team Schnitzer fan, and this for over 40 years

    1. Thank you Rich for sharing this. Your piece has really brought back the memories.
      I was there that weekend, my 6th GP at the Glen as I recall. Was on the pit roof with you for the weekend but we had decided to walk the circuit that morning, taking photos out on what was then known as “the new section.” When all became quiet, we assumed the practice session had ended and we walked back to our rented motorhome, parked just up the hill from the esses. We first learned of Cevert’s accident when we walked to the garage area. I recall the crowd around the Tyrrell area. I’ll never forget the look on Jackie Stewart’s face. Others were snapping photos but we just couldn’t. I’ve never regretted that decision. I have some good photos of Cevert, taken two weeks earlier at Mosport.
      Sad to look at them, even now, and realize he only had a few weeks left to him.

  24. Thanks for your post, Rich My first USGP was the year before, and I had intended on returning in ’73 but was not able to. Cevert was my wife’s favorite driver (yeah, just a bit jealous ), and we had enjoyed seeing him the year before and at several Can-Am events. Needless to say we were greatly saddened by his death and that was one race I’m glad we missed. In that time, with so many top line drivers dying in the line of duty, I eventually lost interest in professional racing for a time. We can look back now at 1960s and early ’70s and remember it as a golden era of racing, but I for one remember it with a great deal of ambivalence.

  25. Given the severity of Cevert’s accident and its gruesome consequences I find it hard to believe that anyone felt able to race on the Sunday. Still, drivers at that time seemed accomplished at blocking out the more brutal side of their sport ; only Pace’s reaction seemed in anyway normal when he said, ” I wonder why we bother doing this when such terrible things can happen “.

  26. Rich,

    We must have rubbed elbows in the stands. I have similar shots to yours. My friend and I hadn’t heard the news either and we wondered why everyone was so quiet Saturday afternoon. I asked a woman passing us and she broke the news to us. I remember that after the last practice session the track announcer asked for a minute or so of silence in memory of Francois Cevert. A Ferrari mechanic was driving Merzario’s car back to the garage when one of his teammates gave him the “cutthroat” sign to shut it off. The only sound was the wind. Then the French national anthem was played over the PA system. It was a very sad moment. But, being young and stupid we didn’t think much about it on race day even after seeing the Stewarts walk down pit road. Sadly, it would happen again the following year with Helmut Koinigg. And, a couple of years earlier I was at the Norisring when Pedro Rodriguez died. Those were bad times when it came to safety.

    I have several memories of Cevert at Daytona with the Matra team, standing next to him in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco in ’71 (or was it ’72). But, the most significant was that weekend in ’73 when I was standing by the Tyrrell garage when in walks Jody Scheckter. Seeming to want to prevent a fight, Ken Tyrrell got between them. But, I think Scheckter only had come to apologize for the crash he caused the weekend before in Canada, probably why Cevert was limping. As luck would have it Scheckter was the first one to arrive at the crash site and tried to help. But, seeing how bad it was he was reported to have sat on the Armco and cried. The next year he drove for Tyrrell.

    I enjoyed your article. Thanks.
    FL

  27. I would also like to leave a comment. This was my first ever F1 race. I agree with ALL of the above comments, but would like to add my own.
    First, it was an extremely sad day. As I arrived and stood in line to pay for my entry, they shut down the entry because of an accident. That accident (of course) was the fatal accident of Francois Cevert. (Paul Newman stood by a racecar trailer while a Scottish bagpiper played a dirge…..all alone)
    I would like to focus instead, on the extreme camaradarie that existed in F1 at that time.
    Each Lotus F1 car had a sticker on the rear wing which read ” Won two, One Two”, because the Lotus F1 cars had won the two previous races in first and second places.
    However, I noticed on the rear wing of the newly crowned winner of the 1973 Driver’s Championship, a LOTUS sticker which read: “WORLD CHAMPION……Nice one Jackie”. Please note this was a Lotus sticker on the Tyrrell F1 car of Jackie Stewart, and NOT on an Lotus F1 car.
    Try to imagine that happening in the incredibly contentious times of the F1 Driver’s Championship of 2014! It’s not going to happen, because 1973 was in fact, a kinder, gentler time for racing. I really miss that kinder/gentler time:-(

  28. The music which was played at the track on Saturday 1pm with the announcement of Cevert’s death was the French National Anthem. Every time I hear it played I remember that day at the Glen.