At the Goodwood Festival of Speed I spent some time with American enthusiast and car collector Charlie Nearburg. He was fresh from a podium finish in the Monaco Historic meeting, behind the wheel of his 1970 Formula 1 Brabham-Cosworth BT33. It’s a great car, the one driven in period by the late Sir Jack Brabham to dominate that year’s Monaco Grand Prix…

(Left to Right) Charlie Nearburg - Sir Paul Vestey - Nick Mason
1970 Monaco Grand Prix

at least as far as the final corner, of the final lap, when Jack caught himself out under intense pressure from the hard-charging Jochen Rindt in his works Lotus 49C, tried to pass just one more back marker before braking into the Gasworks Hairpin, and slid straight on into the straw bales.

Jack Brabham's works Brabham-Cosworth BT33 after he had slid off on the last corner of the last lap while leading, rejoining to finish 2nd, 23 seconds behind Jochen Rindt's Lotus which had passed him as he crashed.

When I ghost-wrote Jack’s autobiography with him in 2004 - ‘The Jack Brabham Story’, Pavilion Books, 2004 - he explained his mistake like this: “I felt I was in complete control until I reached the chicane for the final time, and just beyond it encountered three desperately slow cars bumbling like walking wounded into the Tabac left-hander. I had virtually to stop again, and then I was onto the final curving stretch to the Gasworks Hairpin, after which it was a curving flat-out sprint to the chequered flag.

“By this time my heart was thumping as I floored the throttle, and screamed round towards the hairpin., realising I now had a real problem on my hands, because Jochen was coming. I knew he was coming. In effect I was clearing the track for him. Any back marker surprised to find me climb-ing all over them was warned that Jochen was coming through too. His exit speed from the Tabac had been higher than mine. As we streaked into the braking area for the Gasworks he was almost in touch. And right in my path, in the middle of the road, I then found Piers Courage in Frank Wil-liams’s red De Tomaso apparently with a dead engine.

Piers Courage in the De Tomaso-Ford

“Well that situation is always a lottery. As the overtaking driver you never know which line the obstacle will choose. Should you take the inside line, or the outside, and in my case then - whichever I chose - I had to cover any attack that Jochen might make.

“Trying to decide which line to take, I slightly overshot my braking point. I’d chosen the inside line - of course - but right there a trail of cement had been laid on spilled oil. My brakes locked-up, and I simply failed to take the corner.

“With my front wheels locked, tyres streaming smoke, I slithered straight as an arrow - crunch - into the straw-bale barrier. The impact was very slight, but my engine stalled, and I was stuck, unable to reverse out. Courage went by. Jochen went by - he could not believe his luck - and I was desperate to avoid receiving outside assistance, for I could still salvage second place with its Championship points. An excited flag marshal made to push me back. As I saw him coming I’d just hit the starter button, thankfully the engine fired immediately and I grabbed reverse. My engaging the clutch coincided exactly with the enthusiastic marshal lunging forward to push.

“Jack!”, he guffawed, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ ”…

“As my car shot backwards, the marshal’s out-stretched hands encountered no resistance. So in-stead of pushing me back he launched himself into a swallow dive, straight onto my car’s nose - full length, flat on his face - right against my windscreen…

“He was struggling to get up when I need to engage first and rejoin. I jerked forward but could hardly rush off with him as a bonnet mascot. So I jabbed the brakes, which fired him into a heap on the roadway - in my path. He was completely flustered and at a loss what to do - just floundering there on the tarmac. And while he was trying to recover, I just had to sit and wait.

Jochen Rindt on the podium with Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco, after winning the Monaco Grand Prix

“He’d inflicted more damage on my car’s nose than hitting the bales, but then I could charge off to trace the flag, still - but only just - in second place… Jochen couldn’t stop chortling about his lucky win. “Jack!”, he guffawed, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ ”…

‘Black Jack’ - so tagged because of his shave-twice-a-day ‘nut-brown Australian’ looks - had won that year’s opening South African GP, now he’d just lucked-out of victory at Monaco but finished second, and he would go on to lead the British GP until the last corner of the very last lap, when his car ran out of gas, and Jochen Rindt would flash by to win again for Lotus - again at Brabham’s expense. In Formula 2 racing Jack would lead the Tulln-Langenlebarn round of the European Championship in his friend John Coombs’ Brabham BT30 until the very last lap, when an injector pipe split and Jacky Ickx’s works BMW ripped past to win instead.

South Africa GP, Kyalami, 7th March 1970. Jack Brabham in the Brabham-Cosworth BT33 was the race winner

Now on both occasions Jack’s misfortune gifted victory to two of his former Brabham F1 works team proteges, Jochen Rindt and Jacky Ickx - both of whom he liked and whose talents he rated enormously. Because ‘Black Jack’ was already 44 years old then - a really fully mature man, not for him any schoolboy podium sulks after being beaten. He’d enjoyed enough good luck in his long and glittering three-times World Championship-winning career to appreciate that you win some, you lose some - don’t gnaw on the losses, look towards tomorrow and beat the same people next time.

1970 British GP - Jochen Rindt, wife Nina, and Lotus team principal Colin Chapman after Rindt's win.

So this was the great-history Brabham car that Charlie Nearburg now owns and drives so well, and while we were sitting in the Goodwood gardens and recalling dear old Jack, I also asked him about his 414.316mph Bonneville exploits in his record car, Spirit of Rett - named in memory of his late son - and so the subject came up of the historic Bonneville Salt Flats themselves, and their current sadly depleted condition.

For the third year in succession it looks as if a Bonneville records meet will be impossible this year, due to the deterioration of the old dry lakebed itself. One hears that mud washed down from the neighbouring hills by heavy rains has disrupted part of the traditional course while an alternative area that would normally be used has been affected by salt extraction operations. Charlie explained that in any case Bonneville’s salt crust thickness has also been decreasing, to a potentially catastrophic fragility.

To me - as a bystanding Brit raised on heroic stories of Land Speed Record derring-do on the Utah flats by the likes of Sir Malcolm Campbell, his son Donald Campbell, and of course John Cobb and George Eyston - this is a plainly a very sad state of affairs, so what it must be like for America’s Bonneville aficionados one can only guess, and sympathise.

So after picking out these 1970 Monaco GP photos of Sir Jack and of Jochen Rindt from the Revs Digital Library, I also keyed-in a search for ‘Bonneville LSR’. And if you hunt around there, and if you focus particularly on, say, a a great hero of mine - John Cobb, the first man through 350mph and the first through 400 (one way) - there is a truly amazing treasure-trove to be found there. John Dugdale, who had been a contemporary staff man at ‘The Autocar’ magazine in London, ac-companied Cobb and the Railton Special crew to Bonneville in 1939, and his pre-war colour record of those sun-scorched days are amongst the Revs Digital Library’s rarest and most valuable imag-es…as you can appreciate here. So this ramble has taken us from Goodwood's gardens to the sun-baked salt flats of Utah, via the Gasworks Hairpin on the old Monte Carlo street circuit…the ‘Gasworks’ Hairpin, indeed, perhaps the least exotic corner name in the entire wide, wide world of major-league motor sport - yet at one of its most hyper-exotic venues.

Railton Special

Railton Special Crew

Here is an older film from 1932 showing some high speed runs at the Salt Flats.

And here is a newer run from 2011.

We've heard the Bonneville Salt Flats are only import to race car drivers, thoughts?

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