Stirling Moss at the United States Grand Prix West at Riverside

History of the United States Grand Prix

History of the United States Grand Prix – Page Two

Due to WWI producing a lack of European entries, the series was discontinued. Between the wars, racing in the U.S. was almost exclusively on ovals. Even though Formula One started in 1950, none were held in the U.S until Alex Ulmann promoted the first post-war U.S.G.P. at Sebring on December 12, 1959. Bruce McLaren won in a Cooper when his team-mate, Jack Brabham ran out of fuel.

An interesting footnote is that both the 1958 and 1959 USAC Times-Mirror sports car races at Riverside were billed as “The United States Grand Prix.” I particularly remember the 1959 because I entered my Devin SS for Andy Porterfield to drive. I watched the race at a spot just before Turn One, a fast left-hander. I marked the spots where each driver would shut off. Everyone shut off at a slightly different point except Stirling Moss who took it flat out!

1958 LA Times Grand Prix at Riverside
Chuck Daigh in Lance Reventlow’s Scarab is a nose ahead of Phil Hill in a Ferrari 412 MI at the 1958 “United States Grand Prix” at Riverside on October 12, 1958. Daigh went on to win the race, while Hill's Ferrari and the #181 Mercedes-Benz 300SL of Chuck Porter failed to finish. (Photo: Allen Kuhn)
1959 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside
Andy Porterfield in my Devin SS at the 1959 “The United States Grand Prix,” actually the Times GP at Riverside on October 11, 1959. (Photo: Allen Kuhn)

In 1960, Ulmann moved the U.S.G.P. to Riverside where Stirling Moss won. Then it found a home at Watkins Glen, where it was held through 1980. In 1976, the Long Beach Grand Prix was added to the Formula One calendar giving the U.S. two World Championship events: East and West. Starting in 1980, Formula Ones were held at various U.S. venues. From 2000 through 2007, they took place at Indianapolis on an inland road course utilizing part of the oval.

1960 United States Grand Prix West at Riverside
Stirling Moss at the United States Grand Prix West at Riverside on November 12, 1960. (Photo: Allen Kuhn)
Fittipaldi, Lotus-Ford 72
Emerson Fittipaldi won the 1970 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in the Lotus-Ford 72 (Photo: Autosports Marketing Associates)
Ferrari 312 T3
Carlos Reutemann drove the Ferrari 312 T3 to the overall victory at the 1978 United States Grand Prix East at Watkins Glen. (Photo: Autosports Marketing Associates)
Williams-Cosworth FW07
The 1981 United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach was won by Alan Jones in the Williams-Cosworth FW07. (Photo: Autosports Marketing Associates)

After that and with a lot of starts and stops, Formula One honcho Bernie Ecclestone tried to arrange further United States Grands Prix. Finally, in 2010, he awarded a ten-year contract to Austin, Texas with the first scheduled to take place November 2012 on a new 3.4-mile purpose-built course named the Circuit of the Americas. The race will be called the United States Grand Prix. In addition, another Formula One race–the Grand Prix of America–is scheduled to be held June 2013 on a 3.2-mile street circuit along the Weehawken (NJ) Port Imperial.

Special Note: I would like to thank my friend, Tim Considine for his help with this column and for his wonderful book, American Grand Prix Racing (MBI Publishing Co., 1997). In addition, thanks are due to another friend, Harold Osmer for his book, Real Road Racing, The Santa Monica Road Races (Harold L. Osmer Publishing, 1999). Both books are highly recommended for those who wish to delve more deeply into the subject.

[Source: Art Evans]

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  1. Art:
    Great summary of U.S. GP history and photos! Especially interesting are the crowd data on early 20th century race events, which you touched on a bit. In the days before television, radio, and now, the Internet, live events such as auto races commanded huge crowds and wide coverage in newspapers. Oh, to be able to time travel back to this era!

    Thanks for your story,

  2. One small but significant error. Formula One did not start in 1950. The World Championship for Drivers started in 1950; Formula one was the formula to which it was run. Formula One existed long before, as the top category in the international classifications of racing. Complicated I know, maybe even confusing, but not to be interchanged as they were not the same thing back then.

    Incidentally, the Centennial of the 1912 United States Grand Prize (as it was called then) and Vanderbilt Cup races, run on a street course in Wauwatosa, Wis., just outside Milwaukee, is this year. The events are to be commemorated at both the Millers at the Mile extravaganza July 6-7 and the Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours on August 25-26. John Haydon has researched these races extensively and has written a small but informative book on the Milwaukee races.

  3. I remember the excitement that accompanied the coming of F-1 to our shores for the USGP at Sebring in December 1959. The field was somewhat reduced by the long trip from Europe but both Cooper and Ferrari were there with factory cars. Ferrari even made a special concession to Phil Hill by painting his car in blue with a white nose. There were traditional red ones for Von Trips and Tony Brooks. Sterling Moss was there in his privately entered (I think it was in Ecurie Ecosse colors) Cooper with a combination of wire and alloy wheels and of course the factory cars for Brabham and McLaren. There were a number of unusual cars such as the central seater Porsche F-2 car and Roger Ward’s #1 midget car. Ward spent much of the time sliding on and off the road in spectacular fashion. It was less than an exciting race but for US fans it was a thrill to see the legendary F-1 cars on our shores. The photos I took there are among my favorites from the period.

    1. The Moss Cooper was in the colors of his entrant, Rob Walker. (BTW, it is Stirling, with an ‘i’)

      You were fortunate to have seen the race; judging from the gate, not many did! I like your observation about the Phil Hill Ferrari being blue with white trim. That is something that has been lost and forgotten over time, and I would wager that you are one of the few that know it.

  4. Good comments TJ Schultz and think you are correct.

    i also viewed the first post war F1 race at Sebring and agreed that the color was indeed a rich Blue with a white spear on the mouth of the car. Also remember reading that the engine was a “Dino” as it had one canshaft per bank instead of the two Ferrari used all season.

    Am curious about the Vanderbilt Cup race race on a course on the streets of Wauwatosa. I have lived here since 1950 and already a race fan and interested in the history of the sport, but have not heard of this until now. I heard that such a race was run near Elgin, IL. Would really like to know just were the course was.

  5. How come you skipped over the Grand Prix events taking place on the streets of Watkins Glen in 1948 and on until the accident that took the life of a young Watkins racing enthusiast and until it was taken up the hill to a dedicated track

    1. Because those Watkins Glen events were not true “Grand Prix” races. They were sports car races. This article is about the United States Grand Prix as not only Formula One events but also as World Championship races. As noteworthy, great, and significant as the early Watkins Glen races were, they do not qualify under the criteria being used for this article.

      Watkins Glen did run the World Championship USGP in the years 1961-1980 as noted.