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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Redman at the Larz Anderson Museum

by Gordon Kirby
It was my great pleasure last Friday evening to introduce Brian Redman as guest speaker at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum's monthly lecture event. Located in Brookline, MA, the museum is on the grounds of the former estate of Larz and Isabel Anderson. Larz Anderson was a Swiss diplomat and his wife Isabel was one of America's wealthiest women who was a prolific author and served as a nurse during WWI, earning the Croix de Guerre.

Starting with the purchase of their first car in 1899, a Winton, the Andersons began to accumulate a large selection of early automobiles. After their deaths the estate and its contents were donated to the town of Brookline to be maintained as a community park. The Auto Museum, containing all of the Anderson's many cars, was opened to the public in 1952.

Joe Freeman is the owner of Racemaker Press and will publish my history of Carl Haas and Newman/Haas Racing later this year. Joe is on the board of directors of the Larz Anderson Museum and knowing that Redman is an old friend of mine he asked if I could introduce Brian. I've known Redman for almost forty years, covering his great years in Fomula 5000 through the mid-seventies when he swept to three consecutive championships with Haas/Hall Racing.

Brian was a great driver and is an equally fine man as well as a great story-teller and raconteur. In addition to his trio of Formula 5000 titles Redman won 14 world championship sports car races between 1968-'73 driving for John Wyer's Gulf Ford team and the factory Ferrari and Porsche teams with great co-drivers like Jacky Ickx and Jo Siffert. Included among Brian's impressive retinue of long-distance wins are three Daytona 24 hour victories, two Nurburgring 1000K wins, two Spa 1000Ks, the Targa Florio and another 1000K race at Monza.

Brian also started a dozen F1 races for eight different teams between 1967-'74 but he didn't enjoy the shark tank atmosphere of F1. Instead he showed his speed and class by winning three straight American Formula 5000 championships in 1974, '75 & '76. Driving for Jim Hall and Carl Haas's team Brian beat Mario Andretti and Al Unser Sr. to his series of Formula 5000 titles. A few years later, in 1981, he won IMSA's inaugural GTP championship driving a Lola-Chevy T600 coupe.

Redman drove his last professional race in 1989 but he continues to compete four or five times each year in vintage or historic races. He's also grand marshal of Road America's mid-summer Kohler Challenge vintage weekend. During his career Brian bounced back from three bad accidents and he told many poignant, funny and intriguing stories last Friday night.

In 1968 he badly broke his right arm when the suspension of his Cooper F1 car broke at the ultra-fast Spa circuit in Belgium. Three years later he was burned when another suspension failure resulted in a big crash aboard a Porsche 908/3 on the Targa Florio. And in 1977 he broke his neck and fractured his skull when his Haas/Hall Can-Am Lola flipped at St. Jovite in Quebec.

© Richard Lincoln
Back in '68 Redman's career was beginning to take off. He won the Brands Hatch Six Hours in April co-driving a John Wyer Ford GT40 with Jacky Ickx, then won the Spa 1,000Ks in May with Ickx and one of Wyer's GT40s. He also finished third in the Spanish GP in only his second world championship F1 race driving for the Cooper team. Back at Spa for the Belgian GP in June he was invited to drive for Lotus, then one of F1's top teams.

"Before the race Colin Chapman the famous owner and designer of Lotus came to me and said, 'Brian how many more races are on your contract wth Cooper?' I said, 'Three.' Chapman said, 'At the end of your contract I'd like you to drive for Lotus.' Of course, Lotus really was the top team although it was somewhat feared by the drivers because the cars often broke. If they didn't break they were often the winning car. I had a new house, a new daughter and I had two great drives and the promise of the best Formula One drive in the business."

But his Cooper's suspension broke in the race and Redman badly broke his arm in the ensuing accident.

"On the eighth or ninth lap I arrived at Les Combes and braked and nothing happened!" Brian recalled. "It appeared that I was going to have a substantial accident so I tried to spin it because it's better to go in backwards than forwards. You can't see what's happening as well, which is also a good thing. But I couldn't spin it and the car hit the barrier and everything went quiet as I was in the middle of this huge accident.

"The car rolled over the barrier and my arm got trapped between the car and the barrier. Then I got into a corner workers' post and hit a car and threw it on top of another. Three of my wheels had also come off and one of them had hit a corner worker. My car then caught fire so I was sitting there in the fire trying to drag my arm out of the flames. I couldn't breathe very well because of the smoke and fire extinquisher repellant.

"Then suddenly there was a corner marshal right in front of my face. He started undoing my seatbelts and of course he had a cigarette in his mouth! But it was a big drama and several hours later I was in the University of Liege Teaching Hospital and the doctor was about to start operating. My arm hadn't been just broken. Both the bones had come out and because of the crushing between the car and the barrier the bones had been pushed past each other so they had to be dragged back. When he got me on the operating table the doctor looked down and said, 'Monsieur Redman. It may not be possible to save this arm.' I said, 'Thank you Professor!' He said, 'Why are you smiling?' I said, 'Because I'm here!"

He was alive but out of action for the rest of the year. As a result Redman never drove for Lotus but he signed a contract to drive for Porsche's sports car team in 1969. Co-driving with Jo Siffert in a variety of Porsche 908s and 917s Redman won five world sportscar championship races in '69 and three more in '70 to help Porsche beat Ferrari to a pair of consecutive world championships.

"Jo Siffert was a fantastic guy and a brilliant, fast driver," Redman remarked. "His worst failing was he was always flat-out. At Le Mans in 1970 we were leading at one in the morning and it was terrible with rain pouring down. We were leading by five laps, which is forty miles, and he got involved in a race with Jacky Ickx in a factory Ferrari. Eventually Ickx went off the track and a corner worker was killed and Siffert missed a gear right in front of the Porsche pits and the engine blew. So that was his only real shortcoming. He was a charming guy and everybody liked him. He was a great man and a terrific driver."

The original Porsche 917s were very difficult cars to drive and Redman and Siffert preferred to race the smaller, less powerful 908.

"Fairly early on all of Porsche's drivers had heard that the 917 wasn't too good to drive," Brian recalled. "Well, in March 1969 I got a call from Porsche. 'Herr Redman,' They said. 'You will come to Weissach to test the new 917.' I thought why are the asking me when I'm hundreds of miles away in England when they've got six German heroes waiting to die for the Fatherland. So I called Jo Sifffert in Switzerland and I asked Jo if he had tested the new 917. There was a long silence and then he said, 'No Brian. We wait and let the others find out what breaks first!'

"In June at Le Mans we had the choice of the 917 that was relatively untested, or a new long-tailed 908 spyder, an open cockpit car, and Siffert and I agreed that we'd race the 908. We both drove the 917 in practice and it was terrible! Down the four-mile long Mulsanne Straight at 230 mph it wandered from one side of the road to the other!"

But Redman and Siffert raced a 917 in the Spa 1000Ks in 1970 and won the race averaging 149.409 mph, the fastest road race on record at the time.

"At Spa I never slept the night before the race," Brian recalled. "I had perspiration running down my neck thinking that the next day I was going to be dead. But when you've finished and you've won the race it's a fantastic feeling of euphoria. When we won the race on Sunday it was the fastest road race ever run at an average, including pitstops, of 149 mph."

That evening Redman and Siffert enjoyed a late-night celebration with the Porsche mechanics.

"We went to the prize-giving that night and it was a typical boring prize-giving with the officials thanking each other in Flemish and Dutch and a sort of French," Brian relates. "It finally finished about ten-thirty at night. My wife Marion was there and our son James was five years old and Siffert said, 'Brian, let's go and have a drink with the mechanics.' I said, 'Yes, yes.' So I said to Marion. 'Take James back to the hotel. We're going for a drink with the mechanics.' A look of grave suspicion came over her face and she said, 'What time will you be back?' I said, 'Oh, around midnight.' I didn't actually know the mechanics were staying thirty miles away.

"So we drove across country to their hotel and there was plenty of drinking and singing German drinking songs. It was about four o'clock in the morning when we finally headed back to our hotel. When we arrived Siffert did a few spin turns in the courtyard showering the hotel windows with gravel and we crawled up the stairs because we couldn't walk.

© Richard Lincoln
"Well, Marion wouldn't let me in the room and Siffert and I were having a lengthy, loud discussion about this on the landing. The other guests started to come out of their rooms to see what was going on and the hotel owner came out and said, 'Please Mr. Siffert. Please be quiet. The other guests are trying to sleep.' And I said, 'My wife won't open the door.' So he went to the door and said, 'Please Mrs. Redman. Please, please let Mr. Redman into the room.'

"So Marion opened the door and let me in and I was feeling really ill at this point. I went and sat on the toilet and Marion appeared in front of me with a large glass of water in her hand and threw it over me. She drenched me with water and I thought this was sufficiently funny that I needed to tell Siffert about it. So I went out to tell him and Marion locked the door behind me so I was stark naked and dripping wet. After that Porsche were banned from the hotel.

"In those days it was very much a feeling of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. That's the way it was. You would never become very close friends with another driver because of the risk that they could be killed. Everytime I left home in those days and said good-bye to my wife and two small children it was terrible to say good-bye knowing very well this could be the last time, as it was for so many of them."

Siffert was killed later that year in October of 1971 when he crashed a Formula 1 car at Brands Hatch.

"My great co-driver Jo Siffert died in an accident in a Formula 1 car at Brands Hatch. Something broke on the car and he hit the bank and it overturned and caught fire. He only had a broken ankle but he was asphyxiated by the lack of oxygen. It was terrible.

"Today when they talk about the bravery of the driver, I mean, what bravery? Nobody hardly ever gets even a cut ankle. You see these unbelievable accidents and people just walk out of them and are driving half an hour later. In many ways it's good, but it's not the same."

Redman is an ardent supporter of vintage and historic racing but he believes these forms of racing are too restrictive in the United States.

"Vintage racing is more heavily regulated here in America than in Europe in the sense that they really look askance at rough driving tactics or going off the road," Brian observed. "In Europe they don't care. If you spin and go off the road, it's alright. You can rejoin and keep racing. The racing at the Goodwood Revival for example is like no holds barred. It's like a million dollars is at stake.

"But here in America there are penalties at most of the vintage events. If you hit another car you will probably be excluded from the weekend and if you do it again within the next twelve months you get excluded for thirteen months. But it also takes a little away from it because you always have to be that little bit careful not to get penalized.

"The trouble with vintage racing in America is that there are too many races and too many sanctioning bodies and they are all at war with each other and dislike each other. There are too many events and not enough cars to go 'round.

"Of course, you could say that about ALMS and Grand-Am. There shouldn't be two sports/racing series in America. Everybody knows this and we've talked about it for twenty years but egos and money are involved. Really the state of professional road racing in America is no better than it was twenty-five or thirty years ago."

Brian added a joking vignette about his fitness program.

"I did the Jim Clark school of exercise, which was lifting your leg to get into bed at night," he laughed. "I asked Jim Clark that question in 1967. I said, 'Jim, what do you do for fitness training?' He said, 'Ah, laddie. I lift my leg to get into bed at night.'

"About five or six years ago I drove a car in the Daytona 24 hours. I didn't really want to do it but a friend of mine had never done it and was desperate to do the race. I somewhat reluctantly agreed to do it because it was a slow car, a Porsche GT3, but it was a big team. There were five drivers per car and three cars and they had this young Adonis who was a fitness and diet expert.

"He came up, introduced himself and asked me what my exercise routine was for the race. I said, 'It's the same as it's always been.' And he said, 'What's that?' I said, 'Lifting my leg to get into bed.' He then asked, 'What is your diet?' I said, 'The same as it's always been--Mars bars, Coca-Cola and a banana.' And he never spoke to me again!"

At 74, Redman is a man from a different age who's well aware how lucky he is to have survived such a dangerous era in racing. He also knows how lucky he was to meet and marry Marion who's stood by him through all these years.

"People often ask what my greatest achievement was in racing," Brian remarked. "They think you're going to say winning at Spa or the Nurburgring, but I say my greatest achievement in racing is staying married to the same woman all these years."

Thanks to all at the Larz Anderson Museum for inviting Brian to enlighten us with his keen memory and fine sense of humor. If you ever get the chance be sure to catch Brian's act. You won't regret it.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved

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