[Editor’s Note: According to author Robert Walker, the excerpt we ran a couple months ago from his recent Dalton Watson book, Cobra Pilote: The Ed Hugus Story, generated a phenomenal response, so we’re going to do it again this week with another excerpt from the book, this time a section from Chapter 9, which discusses Ed’s personal racing history — specifically 1957, when Ed ran Sebring, Le Mans, Nassau, and Watkins Glen, among other races. For more from the book, check it out at CobraPilote.com.]
1957 was undoubtedly Hugus’ busiest year in road racing. As usual, the first event of the season was the Sebring race held on March 23. Sebring was the only North American race that awarded drivers with F.I.A. points (Federation International de l’Automobile). Although the race was held on a Saturday, by the early 1950s it had been the original inspiration for the General Motors slogan of “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” The concept was based on spectators’ impressions of GM’s cars that competed over the weekend in endurance racing. Also, Saturday did not rhyme with Monday. Entrepreneur and aeronautical engineer Alec Ulmann had proposed the concept for racing at Sebring. He had visualized the nearly abandoned airfield as a scaled-down endurance race that would give small-displacement cars the same chance in competition as their larger-bore competitors. Using a complicated “index of performance” chart as an equalizer, Sebring became a shortened American version of Le Mans.
For this Sebring event, Hugus was teamed up with Chester Flynn to drive a Mercedes 300 SL, the first documented endurance event with Flynn driving as Hugus’ team mate. Flynn was an automotive executive and troubleshooter for the General Motors Corporation and was also in charge of overseas plant setup and construction. Flynn’s hobby was road racing and he had a history of buying and racing numerous exotic and high performance sports cars. It is not known who owned the Mercedes. Both Flynn and Hugus owned and raced almost identical cars. Both names appeared on the original entry form as entrants and drivers and were assigned the number 17. Through the years Hugus and Flynn remained good friends and Hugus referred to Flynn as his “Uncle Chet,” although he was not related to the Hugus family in any way.
Out of 86 entries only 66 cars were able to start. The Hugus/Flynn Mercedes had completed 138 laps by the end of the twelfth hour but they only achieved a disappointing 33rd place finish.
Hugus had recently opened Continental Cars as a Volkswagen-Porsche dealership and the importer, Max Hoffman, had insisted that European Cars also take on the Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen marques as part of the deal. On May 19, Hugus drove one of these cars, a red Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce Spider to a first-place win at the Cumberland National Sports Car Races in the first race of the day, the 40-minute Chamber of Commerce Trophy race for “G” and “H” production cars. It is uncertain if Hugus placed first overall or was just first in his class.
The program listed William M. Speer as the entrant for car number 213, and should not be confused with William C. Spear who was a team driver for Briggs Cunningham. William M. Speer was described by Hugus as a father-like figure and a good friend. He was a master machinist/mechanic at European Cars who race-prepped the Alfa himself. According to Hugus, Speer disassembled the car’s motor and enlarged the clearances for lubrication, which was the reason the car “outperformed stock Giuliettas.” In recognition of Speer’s work and friendship, his name appeared as the entrant for most of the 1957 racing season, with Hugus listed as the driver.
In the third race at Cumberland, for the Beall Trophy, Hugus drove a Porsche 356 Carrera that was listed under the name of Bernard E. Davis. (It is unknown at this time who Davis was.) Unfortunately, they “Did Not Finish.” Finally, in the fifth race, Hugus drove Flynn’s Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa, #0652 to a fifth place finish with entry number 212. Inaccurately, official S.C.C.A. documents listed Flynn as both the entrant and driver for the Ferrari. This was the same car that Carroll Shelby had driven for the previous owner, Temple Buell, in several races. Cumberland was probably the first semi-documented race with Hugus driving a Ferrari, and he stated, “during Flynn’s ownership of the 500 Testa Rossa he occasionally asked me to drive the car for him and most of those races were unrecorded.”
Hugus again raced the Speer Alfa Romeo with number 13, at the Dunkirk Municipal Airport Races on Sunday, June 2, finishing in first place in Class FP+GP+HP. He was also entered in the one-hour event with the same car and is recorded as finishing 26th. Speer’s name was listed on the entry form.
By that time, Hugus was well into using his lucky number 13 as his preferred race car number. If the number had already been allocated to another driver for a given race, he usually added an additional digit that would still incorporate the number 13. Official program records indicate that Hugus was also listed to drive Flynn’s Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa with number 77 later that afternoon but for some unknown reason the car was reported as a “Did Not Arrive.”
A week later on June 8, Hugus was entered to race the Speer Alfa at the Cleveland Sports Car Club event at the Put-in-Bay Races in Ohio. Again he did not show up and official South Bass Island results list him as “Did Not Arrive.” That was the last Put-in-Bay race record with Hugus’ name, and from that time forward, he tended to select more challenging events.
Lime Rock, Connecticut, must have qualified in that respect since on June 8, Hugus instead took the Alfa Spider to the Lime Rock S.C.C.A. National Grand Prix, where he scored a fourth-place finish in the first race of the day in “G” production. Practice was on Friday and the race was a one-day event that could only be held on Saturday since racing on Sundays was not allowed. Lime Rock was a new 1.5-mile road course and the town’s Episcopal church had joined a group of local citizens to fight the development of the track. The locals lost the battle but the church group had gone to court and secured a legal injunction against racing on Sunday.
Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable races in Hugus’ amateur career was his second appearance at Le Mans on June 22–23, 1957. He had an amusing story that he often told about the background of his participation with his Porsche 550 Spyder.
Almost a year earlier, when Hugus first opened Continental Cars as a Volkswagen-Porsche dealership in downtown Pittsburgh and began racing his first Porsche 550 Spyder, he asked his Porsche representative to contact the Porsche factory to offer his services to race a 550 Spyder for them as part of the official Porsche team in the 1957 Le Mans race. According to Hugus, “several weeks went by and the rep returned and asked to speak to me privately in my office. He said, ‘Ed, don’t take this wrong but your offer was declined.’” The rep was very careful not to offend and went on to say that, “the Porsche factory only allows the top drivers in the world to be part of their factory racing team.” As a consolation, the factory agreed to sell Hugus a standard 550 Spyder that he could race as his own entry at Le Mans for 1957, but “my car would not have the latest improvements or technology. Those things were only available to the factory’s race team cars.”
Hugus said, “I was disappointed but I didn’t hold a grudge.” He graciously accepted the factory’s offer and ordered his standard 550 Spyder, to be ready for Le Mans for the following June. Arriving at Le Mans, he was surprised to discover that the Porsche team had arranged to share their pit space with him and they generously offered technical assistance and pit crew mechanics. Hugus stated “as a further consolation, the Porsche factory had even arranged housing for me with some of the other Porsche team members.” Those rooms were in the little town of Teloche, which Hugus described as being “near the track, right on the Mulsanne Straight.”
Hugus’ Le Mans Porsche 550 Spyder was chassis #0132. Prior to the race, Hugus instructed his pit coordinator and team manager, John Baus, to have the finishing details carried out with his car’s distinctive paint theme. For international racing, Hugus preferred the recognized United States auto racing colors of white with two contrasting blue racing stripes, a combination that Briggs Cunningham had started using by the 1930s and Hugus wanted to continue with the tradition. He also had Baus contract with a local sign painter to inscribe the name “Lucybelle” on the sides of the Porsche’s front fenders, just ahead of the doors. The letters were in simple block form and about two inches in height. The name “Lucybelle” was in tribute to Lucille Davis, who was one of Hugus’ business partners and the wife of his partner, Parker Davis.
By 4:00 pm on June 23, Hugus’ Porsche had beaten the two Porsche factory team cars and won the Sports 1500 Group. He placed eighth overall, outlasting most of the 54 cars that had started the race. According to Hugus “the Porsche factory team cars weren’t even running at the finish.” The last Porsche factory car to be eliminated was the 550 RS driven by Frenchman Claude Storez and American Ed Crawford. That car had developed a mechanical problem by the closing moments of the race and was forced to withdraw on the last lap. The Porsche factory claimed that the car had run out of fuel, but according to Crawford, that statement was just a public relations story concocted to protect Porsche’s reliability reputation, and Hugus said that the real cause of the “not running at finish” was a major engine crankshaft failure.
Hugus had another interesting story about his race at Le Mans in 1957 that concerned his choice of a co-driver. The Porsche team manager, Huschke von Hanstein, had suggested to Hugus that a “devoted European Porsche driver” was looking for a chance to drive at Le Mans that year. He was purported to be well skilled racing a 550 Spyder. With very little additional information, Hugus took the team’s recommendation and accepted Carel de Beaufort as his co-driver. He also selected American Bruce Kessler as an alternate driver.
From Hugus’ standpoint, it was strictly a goodwill gesture to Porsche. Although he would have preferred an American co-driver, and especially someone that he knew like Ed Crawford, Hugus felt comfortable knowing that de Beaufort was well-versed in driving a 550 Spyder. He was surprised to find out later that his co-driver was a young Dutch nobleman whose full name was Count Jonkheer Carel Pieter Anthonie Jan Hubertus Godin de Beaufort. At the very least, Hugus and de Beaufort did share one thing in common, their first race cars were both MGs. De Beaufort had just turned 23 years old and was an aspiring professional driver who was beginning to compete in F1 and F2 events in Europe. What Hugus did not know then was that his co-driver was not very popular by his fellow competitors because of a reputation for carelessness on the track and was described by some as being a “rolling chicane” while racing.
Throughout practice and during the race itself, de Beaufort followed Hugus’ racing instructions and according to Hugus, “he performed well.” The only complaint that Hugus had was “de Beaufort’s conduct and his youthful lack of character” following the race. After the victory celebrations were over, Hugus went to the Le Mans track office to collect his prize money for his Sports 1500 Class win and he was shocked to learn that de Beaufort had already been there and “had already collected my prize money and abruptly left Le Mans to begin his journey home” to Maarsbergen Castle in the Netherlands. As Hugus put it, “apparently de Beaufort needed the money more than I did.”
[Editor’s Note: More photos from Hugus’s Le Mans adventure are posted below.]
Returning home after his triumphant class win at Le Mans, Hugus participated at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) Inaugural Grand Prix in Danville, Virginia on August 3, scoring two separate first place wins driving the Speer Alfa Romeo Giulietta. He was victorious in the 7-lap first race and in the 14-lap sixth race. The local newspaper ran coverage of the event on the following Monday still attributing William M. Speer as the owner of Hugus’ winning Alfa. As an interesting footnote, Carroll Shelby won the fifth and tenth races driving a Maserati 450S.
The Montgomery S.C.C.A. National Race on August 18 was next and Hugus again raced the Alfa Spider. The car had been running strongly but after a problem with the brakes occurred, Hugus was listed in the results as only finishing in third place. Next, at the Road America race at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on September 7, Hugus and the Alfa placed second in “G” Production racing as car number 26.
Two weeks later over the September 21 weekend, Hugus had been scheduled to race Flynn’s Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa with number 97 at Watkins Glen. Flynn took the first driving shift but soon a mechanical problem abruptly ended his drive, and the Ferrari was recorded as a “Did Not Finish.” Hugus was also entered to race a Porsche 550 Spyder, number 113, but the car was listed as “Did Not Arrive.” During this period, it was not unusual for Hugus to over-schedule his cars and perhaps the logistics of shipping cars to different events became somewhat complicated. Hugus’ third race at Watkins Glen was the Chieftain’s Cup Race and he drove his Alfa with number 13 in the “G” Production Class to a first place win.
Finishing out the busy month of September, Hugus had entered two cars in two separate races at the Bridgehampton S.C.C.A. National Races held at Sag Harbor, New York on September 29. Referred to as “The Bridge” by Hugus, the track was 2.85 miles long and was built on a 550-acre setting overlooking Noyac Bay. He loved the track for its 13-turn layout and Stirling Moss has described it as “the most challenging course in America.” The Porsche 550 Spyder was again listed as a “Did Not Arrive”, and the Alfa was classified as a “Did Not Finish.” According to Hugus on lap 13, “one of the Alfa’s wheel centers fractured. The broken rim and tire took off and ended up in the rough.” The Alfa came to a controlled stop with the large brake drum rolling on the ground in place of the missing wheel.
Returning to VIR on October 27, Hugus was entered with his lucky number 13 with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. He started in the GP Class in the number 2 position in the first race but the Alfa developed an unknown mechanical issue and Hugus was classified as a “Did Not Finish.”
Perhaps one of the more unusual races for Hugus that year was held on November 3. Following his class win at Le Mans in June, Hugus had decided to race his Porsche 550 Spyder (#0132) in the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship Round 7 at Caracas, Venezuela. The Porsche factory had encouraged Hugus to participate and the Porsche team again offered him their technical assistance.
Carel de Beaufort had forfeited the privilege of driving with Hugus again when he stole the Le Mans prize money, and Hugus chose American driver Edward Webb Crawford as his co-driver. Crawford had specialized in racing Porsche-powered cars since 1953. In addition to his participation at Le Mans in June as part of the Porsche factory team, Crawford had just placed third at Road America on September 8, also driving a Porsche 550 Spyder.
The Hugus/Crawford team placed first in class and seventh overall in the 90-lap Caracas race. There is some confusion about which car Hugus and Crawford actually drove in the race. Some reports had indicated that Crawford may have brought his own 550 RS to Caracas, but the chassis number attributed to the Hugus/Crawford win was definitely #0132, Hugus’ 1957 Le Mans car.
Other than at Le Mans and Nassau, this is the only time that Hugus is documented as having raced outside the United States. (Within the next several years Hugus would also test drive the first De Tomaso Formula Junior race car, probably in Italy or France, in a yet to be documented race.) In talking about the possibility of other races on foreign soil, Hugus has stated, “with the exception of Le Mans, Caracas was pretty much my only foreign race adventure.” He has mentioned that over the years several writers had credited him with other races in which he did not participate. Sometime in the 1960s, one reporter had asked Hugus about the particulars of a race that was supposedly held somewhere in South America. Incorrectly, the reporter had claimed that Hugus had been a participant, Hugus’ response was “I don’t recall that race” and went on to comment on other factual and well documented races. Hugus found it difficult to offend anyone, especially members of the press, with abrupt and categorical denials.
Following Caracas, Hugus drove at the S.C.C.A.-sanctioned Riverside Speedway event in California on November 17. Contrary to some reports, Riverside was the first of only two West Coast races in which Hugus was a participant. It is also one of the most difficult events to document of all of Hugus’ racing. In late 2004 during an interview, Hugus stated that the only times he had ever raced on the West Coast was at Riverside in November 1957 and again in November 1966. Several years later when attempts were made to document both those events, it was discovered that the surviving information is vague, conflicting, and somewhat misleading.
Sometime during the late summer or early fall of 1957, Hugus had casually mentioned to Max Hoffman that he would be in California on business during the middle of November and would like to participate at the pending Riverside race. Instantly, Hoffman saw an opportunity to boost Alfa sales on the West Coast, by having Hugus finish well in that race with an Alfa Giulietta Spider. Hugus’ problem was that he would not have the Speer Alfa or a pit crew available. As the Alfa importer, Hoffman had a lot of leverage with people who needed Alfa parts and service, and after a few phone calls he secured a Giulietta for Hugus to drive along with suitable trackside support. The car belonged to a West-Coast-racer by the name of Mike Roetner. According to Hugus, he arrived at Riverside and was discouraged to discovered that the Alfa was a “pig” but I made the best of the situation.”
The official Riverside program does not have Hugus listed as either an entrant or a driver. S.C.C.A.-published results following the event also do not show Hugus or the Alfa as having competed in the race. Roetner’s name is also not listed in any of the official documents. The highest entry number in the printed Riverside race program was for car number 195, and the Roetner Alfa was assigned the entry number 197 which would confirm a late entry-scenario for Hugus.
The only credible documentation for Hugus’ participation at Riverside that day was a report in the Southern California weekly publication MotoRacing magazine, which appeared in the days that followed that race. It reported that the Roetner Alfa Romeo Giulietta was entered in two separate races. In the first race, Roetner was listed as finishing fourth overall and second in “G” Class. In the second race, Hugus was correctly listed as driving the Alfa with number 197 in “G” Class but he was recorded as a “Did Not Finish.”
It is possible that Hugus was the driver in both races. Hugus had been quoted as saying that, “the Roetner Giulietta was a pig and we came in second — in my own car, I would have won it.” The context of Hugus’ quote is difficult to understand. The word “we” could have been in reference to Roetner and Hugus or possibly the combination of Hugus and the Alfa. At the very least, Hugus was at Riverside on November 17 and did participate in that competition, driving Roetner’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.
Immediately following Riverside, Hugus was entered at the Bahamas Speed Weeks at Nassau, scheduled to drive Flynn’s Ferrari 500 Testa Rossa (#0652) in three separate races. On December 1, he finished a distant 21st in the Nassau Tourist Trophy Race, and on December 6, he came in 19th in the Governor’s Trophy Race. In the third race held on December 12, the Nassau Trophy Race, Hugus placed 15th. He called “the Bahamas Speed Weeks event more of a long party than a serious race.” Speed Weeks’ records indicate that Hugus was also scheduled to race his Porsche 550 Spyder but his car was listed in follow-up documentation as a “Did Not Arrive.”
[Robert Walker’s Cobra Pilote: The Ed Hugus Story is available at CobraPilote.com.]