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Richie Ginther Biography

Those readers familiar with the Grand Prix History website know that central to this site is the Hall of Fame. Illustrating that section is a famous photograph by Gary Bramstedt entitled Heroes. Amongst such giants of the sport as Clark, Brabham and Hill is a small freckle-faced driver with crew cut hair looking somehow out of place, but if truth be told beating in his chest was a heart as big as any other. His name was Paul Richard “Richie” Ginther; born in Los Angeles, California in 1930. After finishing school, in 1948 Richie Ginther followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work for Douglas Aircraft, initially in the tool and die shop. In his spare time he worked on old cars and hot-rods and became the friend of another Southern-Californian named Phil Hill. After a brief stint in the military during the Korean War Ginther joined Hill in driving a private Ferrari at the grueling Carrera Panamericana in 1953, a race where 9 drivers and spectators lost their lives. They were involved in an accident during the 2nd stage and failed to finish. In 1954 they returned and scored an impressive second place in an Allen Guiberson-entered Ferrari 375 MM.

Ginther was also an accomplished mechanic as well as driver and he would often trade one discipline for an opportunity doing the other. In 1955 he drove for VW/Porsche dealer John von Neumann and began to make a name for himself.

With other top Californian drivers such as Phil Hill, Shelby, Gregory and Gurney racing in Europe, Ginther was the class of the local field.

His success racing Ferraris brought him to the attention of the factory and after finishing second in the 1000 Kilometers of Argentina with von Trips he was given the job of development driver for Ferrari. This marriage between his mechanical and driving skill worked to the benefit of both parties. Ginther is credited by many with introducing the rear spoiler to racing by convincing Ferrari to add it to his sports cars. Periodically he was allowed to drive one of the Ferrari Grand Prix cars and it was in 1961 that he first entered the record books not as the winner but as the hard charging driver who chased the Monaco race winner, Stirling Moss to the latter’s most famous finish. Phil Hill would win the World Championship for Ferrari that year and credit his fellow Californian for the development work done on the works cars.

While Ginther was undoubtedly fast he often found himself overshadowed by teammates, first Phil Hill at Ferrari and later Graham Hill at BRM. His humble beginnings and stature caused him to be under estimated on more than one occasion. When Honda entered Grand Prix racing they signed Ginther as much for his racing ability as for what he could offer in the development of their car. In 1965 he rewarded Honda with their first World Championship victory at the Mexican Grand Prix.. The car he drove to victory had originally been meant for his teammate Bucknum but was switched on race morning. This victory would prove to be the high point of his career.

Ginther began to tire of the politics in Formula One and together with frustrations brought about by his own sense of perfection caused him to abruptly retire from Grand Prix racing in 1967. Later he would sell his business and move to Baja, Mexico. In 1989 he was reunited with many of his former rivals at Donington for the 40th anniversary of BRM. For a moment the twinkle in his eye returned but days later he was dead from a heart attack at the age of 59.