Kessler at the wheel of Warren Olson’s Cooper Mark IX-Norton at Paramount Ranch, on his way to winning the 1955 West Coast Formula Three championship. That success helped gain him broader notice as a driving talent beyond just his local California clubs.
Photo: Allen Kuhn
Bruce Kessler had a meteoric motorsports career, which started with drag racing his mother’s Jaguar XK120, progressed to practicing for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, and ended with a horrific crash in a sports car race at Pomona in 1959, and it all happened in the span of six short years. Born in Seattle, his family subsequently moved to the Los Angeles area. His academic career ended with graduation from high school, and it was just as well because road racing was all that consumed his waking hours. The list of Bruce’s accomplishments in racing is impressive, as are his connections with both the racing and motion picture communities. He hung out with James Dean and Steve McQueen, who came to his house to talk cars. He raced against Phil Hill and Bill Stroppe in his first race. He was a boyhood friend of Lance Reventlow and assisted at the birth of the Scarab racecar. He co-drove at the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney. After a catastrophic accident at Pomona that left him in a coma for four days, he reevaluated his racing career and went into the film business. After guest-directing about 100 episodes in 40 television series and directing four films, he retired to the power-boating scene where he made history of sorts by circumnavigating the globe. John Wright recently caught up with Kessler at his home in Marina Del Rey, California.
So Bruce, tell me about that first race at Santa Barbara in 1953.
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