In the early ‘60s Colin Chapman found much-needed growth for his Lotus team by expanding his operations to race in America. That meant engaging more staff, including some Aussies and Kiwis. One of the first to benefit from that expansion was Ray Parsons. Qualified as a mechanic, the Australian had not long left the army and jumped on a ship to the UK to visit his sister. After playing tourist for a while, he answered a job ad to work as a race mechanic for a garage that was owned by Peter Arundell, in ‘62 and ‘63.
When Arundell was hired to drive for Team Lotus, he brought Parsons with him. Parsons was put to work on development of several Lotus prototypes, and at the same time dabbled in some racing in a Lotus 23 he bought off Chapman. When the larger scale production run of Lotus Cortinas began Parsons was put in charge and it was therefore natural for him to run the factory Cortina racing program.
(Team Lotus transporter at the airport)
In 1964 Team Lotus took their Cortinas over to America to race and promote the English Ford line of cars. As there was no series for sedan racing at this stage, they entered the ten rounds of the USRRC sports car series, and some non-championship races for good measure. Their first outing was the Sebring Twelve Hours, where an extra driver was required, so Chapman used Parsons as Jim Clark’s co-driver. Realistically though, his role in the race was to give Jim Clark a break, so he ‘only’ drove about two of the twelve hours all-told.
(Ray Parsons and Jim Clark discuss their chances at Sebring)
Running Cortina programs in two continents meant Parsons and the mechanics were on a gruelling schedule often crossing the Atlantic by Boeing 707 twice a week. There was also little chance of winning against the sports cars in the USRRC, and so mostly they were flying the flag for Ford UK against the American Shelby Mustangs and Corvettes. In the middle of this program, when the Cortina crew were at Watkins Glen, another Aussie, Allan Moffat, managed to tag along.
“The mechanics came up to the fence to wash their hands. I didn’t have a pit pass, so I’m just hanging around at the back of the fence for the day. Ultimately one bloke came up about three times, so I was able to chat with him, and ask where the team was going for the next race and they said we don’t know the name of the place, all we know is its in Iowa somewhere.
(Jim Clark pounding around Sebring)
“So I found out where that was and drove out to Iowa. I walked up to the team manager, who happened to be Ray Parsons, that was just a name to me, I didn’t know who he was. But he was an Aussie boy that had joined Team Lotus and I said ‘Could I help you wash the cars?’ He just pointed to the buckets and said off you go and I never let on that I’d ever driven a car. For about four months I was the gofer for Team Lotus.
“I really was the water boy and whatever was needed to clean up on the day and keep the spare parts truck in tow. Ultimately I drove that truck - the guys didn’t know one state from another, and when I said I can drive the truck to the next race, well they were happy because they didn’t have to drive it, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
“At the end of the season, I said to the Ford rep (Peter Quenet), where are we storing the cars for the winter. He said well we are not storing them, we are selling them. It was a lightning moment in my career, where you had to talk fast before someone else did. I simply said, well how much are you selling them for? He said $4500.
(Peter Arundell at Riverside)
“I instantly said could I buy one? He just looked at me as the gofer, ‘Allan, What do you think you are going to do with an Ex-Jimmy Clark Lotus Cortina that’s in pristine condition?’ ‘Well Peter, I’ll tow the car down to New York city docks and send it to Australia and I would be hoping to win the Australian Touring Car Championship in due course, once its landed in Australia. He said ‘Well, that’s very bloody commendable.’ I said thank you very much.”
As well as fettling the Cortinas for the US program, sometimes the crew were asked to help out with another American program Lotus had to try and win the Indy 500 . Bob Dance and Bob Sparshott, were two of the English mechanics on the Cortina team in the US. It was because of this that, they too, became involved in the Indy program. “We were seconded in 1964 and 1965,” said Sparshott, who was just twenty-one that year. “It was a real eye-opener, a lot of fun.”
But being a mechanic at Indy was a bit of a culture shock for the Team Lotus guys. The locals, with their crew-cuts and square jaws, regarded them with suspicion because of their ‘unlucky green’ overalls. AJ Foyt and Parnelli Jones also didn’t like their long hair, and chased one of them through a garage with a big pair of shears, threatening to cut it off.
“The person they chased was Bob Sparshott.” recalled David Lazenby who was one of the original Team Lotus Indy mechanics from 1964 to 1966. “Bob could move at an incredible rate. I have never seen anything so fast in my life as Bob with AJ Foyt after him with a huge pair of scissors. Unbelievable!”
(Jim Clark gives Colin Chapman his impressions Goodyear tyres at Indy)
Dance recalled that in ’65 he had just driven up Pacific Coast Highway One to Laguna Seca. “The phone rang and it was the old man (Chapman) for Jim. ‘We’ve shunted one of the Indy cars and we really could do with Bob and Bob again so get them on a flight now.’
“We arrived at the airport at about 8:30pm. Andrew Ferguson picked us up and I thought we were going to be taken straight to our hotel. Instead we went to the circuit, and into the garage where the boys were all flat-out as if it were in the middle of the day. David Lazenby said, ‘Sort yourselves out a pair of overalls.’ We finished at about midnight and then went to have something to eat. We had to be up at 7am and it went on like that.” Dance recalled carrying out an “all-nighter” on his thirtieth birthday. The two Bobs stayed for qualifying before returning to their Cortina duties. I think we were quite pleased to leave then,” said Dance. “It was like being in the forces.”
(Dog-tired Lotus mechanics catch some rest at Indy)
Allan Moffat was also helping out at Indy that year, having further cemented his relationship with Team Lotus by helping Ray Parsons with Jimmy’s car during the ’65 Tasman series.
(Jim Clark and Ray Parsons during the Tasman series)
“I got a phone call from Peter Quenet and he sent a telegram and said if you are prepared to come back to Detroit and base yourself in Detroit, I have got two cars that haven’t been sold, and they’re yours for your use, as long as you participate in the Central Division of the SCCA , which I ultimately won.
“I was going to Detroit, I knew the Indy boys, so I dropped into Indianapolis on the way through. I was just at the circuit for three or four days and again just polishing cars and picking up tools. And my top job on the day was I had a broom handle and a Dixie cup on the end of it and I gave Jimmy his drink at the pitstop.
(Jim Clark poses with the Lotus mechanics after winning Indy)
“I can tell you in ‘65 when Jimmy won the race I was helping pour the drinks that night in the hotel, which was the Holiday Inn, across the road from the speedway. Everybody was well, nobody was going thirsty let’s say, the drinks were flowing and I was part of the delivery for drinks. That was a pleasant evening I can tell you that.”
(Clark’s girlfriend Sally Stokes poses with the winner’s garland outside the Holiday Inn)
'The British at Indianapolis' by Ian Wagstaff
for most of the material and photos here.