Bob Drake

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Last updated: 29-May-2014

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Before F1

A daredevil who has a unique place in F1 history

Of all the technological innovations that have changed the face of Formula One, none have been more fundamental than the rear-engined revolution in the late-1950s. In a short space of time it rendered obsolete an entire collection of front-engined beasts, ranging from pre-war relics like the Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 which won the first World Championship, to failed experiments such as the BRM P15 with its V16 engine, the Bugatti 251, and the Scarab, to classics such as the Mercedes W196 and the Vanwall.

The most famous front-engined car, however, was the Maserati 250F, which first graced the F1 stage in 1954 and made its final bow in the 1960 USA GP, the last race before the new engine rules for 1961 consigned front-engined machines to history. The man who drove the 250F at Riverside was Californian Bob Drake. His place in the F1 record books is interesting enough as it is, but the rest of Drake's life and his place in the golden age of Southern Californian sports car racing makes his story even more compelling.

Robert Eldon Drake was born in San Francisco, and even from an early age he was something of a carefree daredevil who tried his hand at everything. At the age of 12 he would drive a Model-T Ford through the Californian desert roads at speed to see how often he could roll it without hurting himself. When he was old enough to go for his driver's licence, he took his father's Studebaker but flipped it on his way to the test - which he didn't pass.


Naval diver and plane afficianado begins racing midgets and sports cars

Apart from cars, he was also into planes. After the Second World War, he managed to buy himself three planes - an 85 Swift, a BT-13 and an AT-6, all of which he kept at a friend's property. That ranch had no landing strip, and so he relied on going down a long, steep hill to generate enough speed for take-off! But Bob was not only in the air, he could also be found deep in the sea - he was a deep sea diver who undertook salvage operations for the US Navy.

It was while he was in the navy that he started competing in dirt track midget racing in California, at places like San Bernardino, Gardena and Culver City in a V8-60 rail midget. But by the early-1950s, he had had to give up both diving and midgets. Drake had to leave the navy due to acute bursitis. And as for the midgets, he would say: "I gave [them] up after receiving a cheque one evening for three dollars and some odd cents. That didn't even cover the cost of fuel!"

Drake withdrew to work in a sports car agency in Redondo Beach, California. Then in 1952 he attended a race at Golden Gate Park, where Cam Cooper convinced him to buy an MG and try sports car racing for himself. There are conflicting reports as to whether the car was a TC or a TD Midget, but it became a regular in the sports car scene throughout 1953 and 1954. Michael Jacobsen tells us that the MG was presented in a distinctive two-tone livery and Drake immediately astonished everyone with his speed.


Takes numerous victories in an MG and a Ferrari 375 MM

Indeed, over two seasons he collected 20 trophies, and even though rivals protested against his MG five times the car was found to be legal on each occasion. For example, he won the novice race at Chino in 1953 (billed as "a day in the hay"), and he took Class F production victories at places like the Minter Field dirt oval at Bakersfield in 1954. (The sports car racing scene was divided into classes, from A up to F, for both production and modified machines.)

As 1954 progressed, Drake would become associated with two other names who would reappear throughout his career for various reasons. One was female racer (and skin diver) Mary Davis, with whom he was entered in two events in 1954, but neither went beyond the entry list. The other was property tycoon Tony Parravano, who entered Drake in his Ferrari 375 MM at Palm Springs in October. More about Davis and Parravano in a moment ...

Parravano's Ferrari was designed for racing, with a 4.5-litre engine. It was the first time Drake had competed in anything that powerful, but he took to it like a duck to water, winning the Palm Springs event. He rounded off 1954 racing another larger machine, a Jaguar special at March air force base in Texas, but he retired after only two laps. Still, Bob had quickly developed a reputation as a gun for hire who could take drives offered by different car owners, as well as racing his own cars, and be instantly on the pace.


Lots of different cars, lots of class wins

In 1955 Drake moved on from his MG and started campaigning a Triumph TR2 instead, taking a class victory in the Singer Owners' Club hillclimb at Agoura and a series of other production class podiums in sports car events - although he also ended up going over the hay bales that lined the track in a nasty incident at Glendale. Throughout the year, Bob also dabbled in more exotic machinery, for example taking a 4th place outright and 1st in Class E modified in a Ferrari 500 Mondial at Willow Springs.

He also teamed up with Jack McAfee in Parravano's Ferrari 375 MM in the Sebring 12 hours, but the car was forced to retire after only five laps with a fuel fire. In October, he shared Ed Barker's Porsche 356 at the Torrey Pines 6 hours, finishing 8th outright but 1st in Class E production. And in December, he found himself behind the wheel of another high-powered Ferrari, this time a 340 America, at Palm Springs, only to suffer spark plug wire and universal joint failures in two separate races.

By 1956, Drake was really making a name for himself in the Southern California sports car scene. Sports car meetings had been organised into West Coast Championship, and even though Bob only competed in sporadic rounds, his results were spectacular. He entered a Class E modified Ferrari 166 MM in six rounds, and took 8 class wins from 10 starts in both preliminary qualifying races and main event finals, with a best outright result of 7th often against much more high-powered machinery.

Drake gets sideways in Joe Lubin's Cooper T39 at Paramount Ranch in 1957. It was his most prolific year of racing.
Drake gets sideways in Joe Lubin's Cooper T39 at Paramount Ranch in 1957. It was his most prolific year of racing.


Chooses to drive Joe Lubin's Aston Martin over Frank Arciero's Ferrari

He also took two outright wins at Pomona in a Class D production Mercedes-Benz 300SL, and he won Class E production in a Porsche 356 in the preliminary race at San Diego. After the spate of successes, by August Drake was a driver in demand, and was offered the choice of a 4.9-litre Ferrari 375 by Frank Arciero, or an Aston Martin DB3S by Joe Lubin, a well-connected Los Angeles Caterpillar parts dealer who was friends with John Cooper, Aston Martin's David Brown, and the owners of Maserati.

The legendary Dan Gurney, who was a contemporary of Drake's, explains how Bob made his decision: "The 4.9-litre Ferrari was notoriously kind of vicious, so when the time came for Bob Drake to drive that or an Aston Martin, he chose to drive the Aston. ... One of the reasons I think Bob decided to drive the Aston Martin was because you could have some opposite lock, gas it, and still have the car work with you. Well, the 4.9 wouldn't. It would spin the tyres and you'd be in trouble."

Drake was now able to fight for outright honours on a regular basis. Although he retired in the first race he drove in the DB3S at Sacramento with overheating, at Pomona he came 3rd in the preliminary race but won the main event. According to Ron Cummings, who provided us with valuable anecdotes for this profile: "Drake was the only guy, that I know of, to win a main event driving an Aston Martin DB3S. These cars were pitifully slow compared to our other over 1500cc sports racers of the day."


Dramatic win at Palm Springs ... whilst stuck in 3rd gear!

Better was to come a few weeks later at Palm Springs in November, when Drake won Class D modified in the Aston, but was also entered by Lubin in a Cooper T39 in the race for Class F to H modified. After winning the five-lap sprint race to determine the grid by 4s in front of Pete Lovely and Richie Ginther, in the race he struck trouble when he had to pit to fix a loose spark plug wire. It dropped him to 7th, some 70 seconds behind Lovely, with only around 20 laps to go.

Not to worry. As the West Coast Sports Car Journal recounted: "Then started the driving exhibition that kept everyone holding their breath. Drake worked his way back toward the front. Drake seemed to be going ten to fifteen miles per hour faster than anyone else through the corners." He easily caught Lovely for the win and even lapped some of his competitors for good measure. But the charge had taken its toll; by the end of the race, the Cooper had no brakes left, its engine would not restart, and it was stuck in 3rd gear.

But such had been Drake's speed, Lubin never had the gearbox repaired even though the car raced on until as late as 1959, notching up other successes as discussed below. Ron Cummings recalls that Lubin's son showed him the car in the early 1990s, when it was still stuck in 3rd gear! Two weeks after that Palm Springs triumph, Drake raced the car at Paramount Ranch, retiring with a connecting rod failure, but his achievements throughout 1956 had made him one of the leading SoCal sports car exponents.


Opens the Grand Prix restaurant for all the SoCal bench-racers

This coincided with an explosion of the motorsport scene in California. Sports car and road racing was taking off, and fighting with hot rods and dragsters and midgets to become the premier form of motor racing on the west coast. Customisers and fabricators were having a field day, and bars and restaurants were filled with drivers, mechanics and speed merchants all indulging in "bench racing" - shooting the breeze over how cars and drivers stacked up against each other and how to extract even greater performance.

Sensing a business opportunity, and with his growing reputation on the track, in early 1957 Drake opened the Grand Prix restaurant on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. Featuring giant murals of racing scenes and racing-themed decor, and hosting weekly film nights showing motorsport reels, it quickly became a favourite haunt for the racing fraternity. On most nights the great and good would gather for their dose of "bench racing" and to talk all things motorsport.

Bob was not alone in this venture. Mary Davis, who worked in real estate, but who was a formidable sports car pilot in her own right, and who had also been a class winner in the 1957 Mobilgas Economy Run, soon acquired a stake in the Grand Prix and became its main source of finance. Some unconfirmed sources suggested that Drake and Davis were romantically involved, Bob having been separated from a previous relationship which had given him a then-15 year old son.


Prolific year of racing delivers several epic drives in Lubin's Cooper

But as well as having started up the Grand Prix, 1957 would be Drake's most prolific and eventful year behind the wheel. He competed in 13 race meetings in Lubin's Cooper T39, most of which formed part of the Pacific Coast Championship (the new name for the West Coast Championship), taking four outright wins (admittedly three of those in preliminary or qualifying races) and two other class wins, and numerous other podium places, both outright and in Class F modified.

Some of his races have gone down in folklore. At Pomona in January he took several 2nd places and a class win in teeming rain. Drake was always averse to racing in the rain - "About the only thing that upsets me driving is when I can't find out where I am!" - and after this Pomona meeting he said: "When the front wheels hit those rivers of water, there was just no control; you just pointed it and prayed and tried to correct coming off the lakes."

At Paramount Ranch in March, he also overcame wet conditions to beat Ken Miles, a legendary sports car driver of the period in his own right, to the outright victory both in the preliminary race and the main event. The feature race saw a race-long duel between the two in which they lapped the rest of the field twice and swapped leads about five times before Drake prevailed. At Riverside in September, he held onto the precocious 15 year old Ricardo Rodriguez who would later race for Ferrari in F1.

The racing-themed interior decor of Drake's Grand Prix restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.
The racing-themed interior decor of Drake's Grand Prix restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.


Wins the Cotati 6hrs in Lubin's Aston; also races a variety of other cars

But there were also eight retirements in the Cooper, particularly in the longer feature races, particularly due to overheating and engine problems - possibly due to the car permanently staying in 3rd gear. In Class D modified, he also drove Lubin's Aston Martin DB3S in several events, taking class wins at Paramount Ranch, and also at Santa Barbara following a lengthy duel with the sister Lubin DB3S driven by Ginther, which ended when the latter spun into a ditch.

Drake also shared the DB3S with Bob Oker to win the Cotati 6hr, in a race where they had such a big lead that in the closing stages, when the Aston's brakes began to fade, Bob could slow down and let the 2nd-placed car unlap itself three times, and still win by a lap. He also demonstrated his skills in single-seaters, driving a Lubin-entered Cooper F2 car at Paramount Ranch, winning a preliminary race and running 3rd in the feature when the car was withdrawn to be readied for Davis to race it in the ladies' event.

But Bob did not solely race in Lubin's cars; often he would compete in several classes at the same meeting. He raced a Class E production Triumph TR3 at Paramount Ranch and Riverside, and he drove a Class C production Chevrolet Corvette at Santa Barbara and Riverside, taking a class win and an outright win. At four meetings he raced Arciero's Class C modified Ferrari 375 Plus, the first of those at Pomona in July. In the main race, he was running 4th behind Ginther and Eric Hauser who were battling for 2nd.


Thrilling battle against Ginther at Pomona

When Hauser had a puncture, Ginther backed off by five seconds a lap. Drake was given a message to push, and he started catching Ginther hand over fist. The West Coast Sports Car Journal takes up the story: "Ginther realised something was wrong, even though he still couldn't figure out the frantic signals from his pit. By the time he had his foot all the way into it again his rear-view mirror revealed the snout of one very large and very fierce red Ferrari charging after him with pugnacious Bob Drake at the wheel."

"No cowboy chase in the movies ever had anything over this one. Drake pulled up on Ginther on every straight, but the smaller car slipped through the turns a fraction faster. Ginther soon realised that the big red machine was gaining on him every lap. They don't come any better than Drake or Ginther and both were determined not to lose it on the corners and forfeit their chances. Both were cornering on the very edge of their theoretical adhesion."

With three laps to go, Drake passed Ginther on the front straight only for his rival to outbrake him going into the first corner. The next time around, Bob repeated his move but braked later, and this epic fight for 2nd was finally resolved in his favour. Ginther would get his revenge at Riverside in September though, when Drake held the lead in the main race after Carroll Shelby had crashed and Chuck Daigh had suffered a puncture. But with two laps to go, Drake ran wide and Ginther inherited the win.


Entries for the elusive, reclusive Tony Parravano were often no-shows - for good reason!

And finally, Drake had also made an appearance in April 1957 at Palm Springs in Tony Parravano's Ferrari 750 Monza. Parravano was a construction baron who had built a large number of suburban homes in Los Angeles. Described by one person as "rude, crude, and socially unacceptable", he was also a reclusive figure who owned a collection of Ferraris and Maseratis, and who bankrolled Maserati's development of the awesome 450S sports car.

In December 1956 Parravano had received the first production sample of the 450S, and in January 1957 Drake and Ginther had been amongst those invited to test it at Willow Springs. Drake, Ginther and Gurney were also part of a group of drivers who participated in another test of Parravano's collection of cars at Willow Springs later in the year. But despite such tests, and numerous entries in sports car meetings that never materialised, Drake only raced a Ferrari 750 Monza once in 1957.

There was a good reason why. Parravano did not pay his taxes and the Internal Revenue Service was after him. The US Attorney General had a roomful - not just a file - of evidence against him. Tony progressively stashed his cars near (or over) the Mexican border, and only let them appear in public when he dared. By late-1957, Parravano had fled, his whereabouts a mystery to this day, and the IRS had managed to seize several of his cars - including the 450S - and auction them off to settle his tax debts.


Winds back his racing activities, but continues driving for Lubin

As if Drake's 1957 had not already been colourful enough as it was, he even took time out in July to compete in a 14-foot outboard boat race, in which he won his class. But after such a busy year, it was perhaps no surprise that Bob wound back his racing activities in 1958. There was some suggestion that Lubin's Aston Martin connections would earn Drake a drive with the works squad at the Sebring 12hrs, but that did not eventuate, and ultimately he only raced in six rounds of the Pacific Coast Championship.

The first of these was in Phoenix, where Lubin entered Drake in the Formula 2 Cooper. From the back of the grid, Bob put on what the West Coast Sports Car Journal described as "the finest demonstration of Formula II prowess yet seen in the west", as he moved up to 3rd by lap 15, and eventually up to 2nd before the Cooper's steering broke. A month later at Palm Springs, Drake was entrusted with a new Willment Climax that Lubin had acquired, only for the car to retire in the qualifying heat.

Lubin reverted to the trusted Aston Martin at Santa Barbara in June, but that also retired in the Saturday preliminary race. One of Drake's rivals that day, John Dixon, recalls: "towards the end of the straight into the turn I think I own, I see Bob Drake in the Aston coming at me nose high, full on, looking like jaws. I think he's going to swallow me whole. But I have to get busy negotiating the turn and try to slow for the hairpin. When I get through wondering what side Bob is going by me on, I can't find him."

Drake drives Max Balchowsky's famous Old Yeller II
Drake drives Max Balchowsky's famous Old Yeller II "junkyard dog" at Riverside in 1960, where he came home 2nd.


Drake's not rusty despite sporadic appearances; snatches victory at Pomona

"Next lap," Dixon continues, "no sign of Bob. After the race I see Bob in the pits, laid back as usual, and I ask him "Where did you disappear to?". He says, "Oh that? The throttle was stuck and I was so far into the bushes before I could get it stopped, I drove around and came in through the spectator entrance!"." The DB3S was repaired in time for the consolation final on the following day, where Bob made up for the previous day's disappointment by taking a class win.

Still at Santa Barbara in August Drake notched up another preliminary race victory in the Cooper T39, followed by a 4th outright and 2nd in Class F modified in the main event. Later in the year Bob also raced at Riverside where the Cooper was again 2nd in the main event in Class F modified, albeit only 10th outright, and he competed in an Austin-Healey at Palm Springs in November. But that was all as far as 1958 was concerned, and the trend of only appearing sporadically continued into 1959.

Drake only appeared in seven rounds of what was rebadged as the West Coast Championship once again, all but one of them in the Cooper T39 as the Aston Martin was now too outdated and uncompetitive. Things got off to a terrific start at Pomona, where he took a Class F modified win in the preliminary race, but scored an outright victory in the main event after leaders John McLaughlin and Joe Playan got tangled up with a backmarker on the last lap, allowing him through for the win.


The Cooper's outdated, so it's time to step into the "Birdcage"

Later in the season there were two outright 3rd finishes and two class wins at Del Mar, but the Cooper too was starting to show its age. It suffered an engine fire in the preliminary race at Hourglass Field, and it did not even start at Santa Barbara after a ring gear broke. But by then Lubin had something else in the pipeline; he had commissioned Maserati's Technical Director, Giulio Alfieri, to build a sports racer in a deal that brought Maserati back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The result was the famous Tipo 61, better known as the "Birdcage" racers due to their 200 chrome-molybdenum steel tubes which were welded together to form the chassis. When Lubin's Tipo 61 was ready, Drake was flown over to Modena to test it, and the car was shipped back in time for the Riverside meeting in December, where it would compete in Class D modified. With its perfect weight distribution and light body, the "Birdcage" was an instant success, taking a 3rd and a 2nd outright, with two class wins.

But 1959 had also seen Drake embark on yet another alternative career path - in the movies. This was the year of the Stanley Kramer-directed post-apocalyptic film On the Beach, in which Australians - and a group of American submariners - are temporarily the only survivors of nuclear war in 1964, waiting for the radiation fallout to reach and ultimately kill them. Starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, whilst the characters await their fate they stage a car race, as you do.


Fred Astaire's stunt double in On the Beach

It was supposedly the 1964 Australian GP at Phillip Island, with Astaire's character winning in a Ferrari 750 Monza, largely because most of the other cars crashed out in flames. In fact, the race scenes were filmed at Riverside and Paramount Ranch, and featured many of the top sports car drivers of the day, including Drake who was driving for Astaire. It was not Bob's only dalliance with Hollywood that year either, as he and Davis also allowed the Grand Prix restaurant to be used in the film Roadrunners.

Restaurant owner, movie stunt man, racing driver: it was no wonder that Drake could not devote all his time to his racing in 1960. But when he did compete in the Pacific Coast Points Standings events (yet another name for the series), he remained a force to be reckoned with. In the first half of the year, apart from an outing in the Cooper F2 car at Willow Springs, he exclusively raced Lubin's "Birdcage" Maserati, which proved to be one of the fastest cars in the field.

Drake won the main event at Palm Springs in late-January, and repeated the dose at Willow Springs three weeks later when he beat 2nd-placed Ken Miles by 66 seconds. He then retired at Pomona and Riverside, although in the latter event - the Los Angeles Examiner International Grand Prix - he had taken pole by over 1.7s ahead of the likes of Gurney, Shelby and Sir Jack Brabham, and he had led handsomely until an engine failure when the cylinder liner seal broke.


Lubin sells super-quick Maserati; Drake finds refuge in a "junkyard dog"

Drake and the "Birdcage" made up for it in early May, though, taking victory by over a minute at Vaca Valley and wins in both the preliminary race and the main event at Phoenix, all in the space of seven days. He also won the Santa Barbara main event and would also have won at Laguna Seca until mechanical problems dropped him behind Miles. But then Lubin made the decision to sell the Maserati to Stan Sugarman mid-season, and suddenly Drake was out of a drive. But help was at hand.

Max Balchowsky invited Drake to drive his Old Yeller II "junkyard dog" special - put together from used parts, but often embarrassing the exotic European cars. And so it proved in Bob's first drive in the car at Santa Maria, where he won both the preliminary race, and then the main event. Three months later Drake raced Old Yeller II again at the Times Grand Prix at Riverside, finishing 2nd, taking home $150 in prizemoney, and promptly re-attaching the mufflers and driving the car back to Balchowsky's workshop!

It had been an excellent performance in a top-class field, with Road & Track commenting that "Drake [was] masterfully flying Old Ugly as though it was a well-bred sports car". A week later an even better grid assembled at Laguna Seca, and whilst Bob retired in both heats, he had proven himself in both the Pacific Coast series and the USAC Road Racing Championship (for which three of his races counted, and in which he placed 8th overall), and against the global stars who were gathering for the USA F1 Grand Prix in November.

Formula One
Maserati 250F

Maserati develop the more nimble "Piccolo" which Fangio drives in his last GP

At this point in the story it is worthwhile rewinding back to the end of 1957. The great Juan Manuel Fangio had just won his fifth world title in a factory Maserati 250F, but Maserati had decided to close its works racing department. However, Maserati engineers had continued to develop the 250F, even though it was a car which had first appeared when the 2.5-litre engine formula began in 1954. They developed the "Piccolo" model which had a smaller wheelbase and was lighter, shorter and more streamlined.

The first of these, chassis 2532, appeared in April 1958. It was tested by Masten Gregory in practice for the Belgian GP at Spa, and Sir Stirling Moss drove the car in a private test session at the Nurburgring, before Fangio ran it in his last ever F1 race at the French GP in July. The machine was then sold to an American, Temple Buell, who fielded the car for Gregory and Carroll Shelby in the Portuguese, Italian and Moroccan GPs later that year. Confusingly, Buell's team also renumbered the car as chassis 2533.

It appears as though Buell then entered the "Piccolo" for either Harry Schell or Shelby in races in New Zealand in 1959, before it was shipped back to the Maserati factory for servicing. Maserati upgraded the car with Girling disc brakes like the ones on the "Birdcage" sports cars, and afterwards it remained in Italy. At the same time, over in America Lubin had seen a 250F compete successfully in Formula Libre races that accompanied sports car events, and became interested in purchasing one.


Lubin purchases the car, but he can't use it and it isn't running right

And so it was that in the second half of 1959, whilst visiting the Maserati factory to discuss the building of his "Birdcage" Tipo 61 (which would go on to be so successful in Drake's hands), Lubin noticed the Buell 250F "Piccolo" and bought it in conjunction with an associate of his from Pennsylvania, Bruno Ferrari. It was loaned to Scuderia Centro-Sud for Giorgio Scarlatti to race in the 1960 Argentine GP, before being delivered to Lubin, who had the car repainted in his usual livery of white with blue stripes.

But that was just about all Lubin could do with the car. Promoters had decided against running any more Formula Libre races featuring Grand Prix machinery and midgets and other single-seaters. As Lubin later recalled: "I really did not have a lot of interest in the car then. There wasn't a class of sport I could use it in." Shelby and Roy Salvadori drove from demonstration laps at Riverside during the Times Grand Prix meeting, but that was about all the running the car had between February and November 1960.

Even then, Salvadori voiced his concerns about how the car was running. He reported to Lubin, "Joe, there is something radically wrong with the engine. It is doing nothing." Nevertheless, with the United States Grand Prix at Riverside coming up, the last Grand Prix of the 2.5-litre era before the 1.5-litre engine rules kicked in for 1961 which would consign front-engined cars to history, Lubin entered the car and asked Drake to drive it. It meant that the 250F would race in the first and last races of the 2.5-litre era.

Drake circulates in the Maserati 250F
Drake circulates in the Maserati 250F "Piccolo" in the 1960 USA GP at Riverside - a front-engined dinosaur against the rear-engined machines.


One of only two front-engined cars at Riverside

Despite this nice piece of symmetry, the Maserati was never likely to have a triumphant send-off. For one thing, the engine still hadn't been tuned properly. Lubin remembers: "Strangely enough the car was not running well at all. It heated badly, it was timed wrong. It was not right." For another, the Maserati would be only one of two front-engined cars in the 23-strong entry list, and with the other being Chuck Daigh's new but uncompetitive Scarab, the 250F was, comparatively speaking, a dinosaur.

On the other hand, there were two works Cooper T53s for Brabham and Bruce McLaren, with the Australian having already clinched the 1960 championship. There were ten other Cooper T51s, mainly run by the Yeoman Credit Racing Team and Scuderia Centro Sud, including cars for Ferrari's regular drivers Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips after Maranello decided not to make the trip across to America to focus on their preparations for 1961.

There were also three works Lotus 18s for Innes Ireland, John Surtees and Jim Clark, plus similar cars for Moss and Jim Hall. Finally, there were three works BRM P48s for Jo Bonnier, Graham Hill and Gurney, and a sole JBW for Brian Naylor. In this kind of company, with no previous experience of the 250F - and in fact virtually no previous experience of front-engined Grand Prix machinery - Drake was always going to struggle badly even if he had familiarity with the Riverside circuit on his side.


Drake brings the 250F home in its final championship GP, but a long way behind

That certainly proved to be the case in qualifying. Moss took pole in his Rob Walker-entered Lotus with a time of 1m 54.4s, 0.6s ahead of Brabham with Gurney, Bonnier and Clark after that. Drake and the Maserati were 22nd out of the 23 competitors, a full 11 seconds slower than the pole time, with only Ian Burgess' Cooper slower than him. In the front-engined stakes, even Daigh's Scarab was almost three seconds quicker than the "Piccolo", and four places further up the grid.

The white and blue Maserati was even more uncompetitive in the race, with Drake's fastest lap almost four seconds worse than his qualifying effort, and 3.2s slower than any other driver's fastest lap. Bob soldiered around and came home 7 laps behind the victorious Moss, 13th out of 16 classified finishers. The three behind him were Henry Taylor, Maurice Trintignant and Clark, although they had all suffered various problems throughout the race.

Apart from the nicety of having had a Maserati 250F compete in the race to bookend the 2.5-litre formula, and the fact that it gave Drake a place in the record books, it had in truth been an unsatisfactory swansong for arguably the most famous front-engined F1 machine. The car was too outdated and underprepared, and Drake too unfamiliar with it. Lubin put it back under a tarp for six months before eventually loaning it out for Don Hulette to race after USAC Formula Libre races starting accepting Grand Prix cars again.

After F1

Tragic accident at Pomona in the Old Yeller IV kills a spectator

Going into 1961, Drake continued to only race part-time. Max Balchowsky had built a new special - Old Yeller III - which Bob raced for the first time at Pomona in January 1961, retiring with rear axle problems. However, two months later at the same track he won by 30 seconds, and at Santa Barbara in late May he dominated by winning both the preliminary race and also the main event. In July he was back again, once more at Pomona, and this time Balchowsky had Old Yeller IV ready for him to drive.

The IV was just as good as its predecessors. Drake won the preliminary race and was 2nd to Hulette in the main event, when disaster struck on lap 12. Reporter Joe Scalzo described what happened: "Drake had reached the fast sweeper when he realised that the front wheels of the race car were locking and he could not make the corner. He downshifted and braked Old Yeller to about 80 mph, and waving his hands frantically at the spectators, he crashed through a fence, ending up in the spectator area."

Eleven fans were injured; one tragically passed away the following day in hospital. Drake managed to escape with only a sore neck, having slid some 300 feet and only coming to a stop after hitting a parked car. As he explained afterwards: "When I knew I couldn't make it, I waved my hands at the people nearest the fence, motioning them to move, but no one did." Balchowsky believed that the car may have suffered a steering failure, but whatever had been the cause, Old Yeller IV's short racing career was over.


Only two more events in the second half of the year

Drake spent some three months away from the tracks before re-emerging at Riverside in October, having been invited to drive a customer Old Yeller III by Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who had been an important backer of Balchowsky's Old Yeller projects. In a star-studded field that included the likes of Brabham, Moss, McLaren, Gurney, Hall, Rodger Ward, Olivier Gendebien, George Follmer and Roger Penske, Drake only qualified 13th but hauled himself up to 5th in the race.

A week later, he agreed to race again at Laguna Seca, this time in an under-2 litre Cooper Monaco for car-owner George Grinzewitsch, where after two races he was 13th outright and 4th in class on aggregate. Despite having only competed in a limited number of the rounds of the Pacific Coast Points Standings throughout 1961, Drake was nevertheless classified 16th in the standings on 205 points, having won a princely $1,000 for his efforts throughout the year.

But perhaps what had happened at Pomona weighed on his mind, and both his restaurant and his burgeoning involvement in movie stunt driving and car preparation were proving more attractive. His increasing involvement in the film industry was due in no small part to his friendship with Balchowsky who was also heavily involved in that area, and they would work together on projects. As a result, Bob all but disappeared from the racetracks, apart from the occasional drive.

Drake behind the wheel of a 427 Cobra as a stunt driver in the Elvis Presley musical comedy <i>Spin Out</i>.
Drake behind the wheel of a 427 Cobra as a stunt driver in the Elvis Presley musical comedy Spin Out.


Only the occasional race from 1962-66; a lengthy career in Hollywood beckons

In 1962, he shared a Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta entered by Otto Zipper with Ken Miles in the Riverside 6hrs, completing 192 laps in all and winning by nine laps from the 2nd-placed car of Ronnie Bucknum and Jerry Sheets. Later in the year he competed at Pomona in an Old Yeller III. In February 1963 he raced - and won - at Riverside, again in an Old Yeller III, and his last recorded appearance was in 1966 when he drove Old Yeller IX to 15th place and 10th in class in a 60-lap race in Las Vegas.

By this stage, Drake was well and truly immersed in the movies. In 1966 he drove a 427 Cobra in the Elvis Presley film Spin Out, and in 1968 he was one of the myriad of drivers in the racing scenes in Disney's classic The Love Bug. Indeed, Balchowsky was also involved, as the ill-fated Old Yeller IV had been converted into a camera car for filming after Drake's accident at Pomona in 1961. But it was during filming of The Love Bug that Old Yeller IV suffered another crash and was written off for good.

In subsequent years, Drake's stunt credits included Return from Witch Mountain in 1978, The Hollywood Knights in 1980, Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again in 1980, Highpoint in 1982 and Short Circuit in 1986 - impressive longevity given that by that time he was 66. Since he belonged to one of the movie industry's unions, he would spend his latter days in an institution established for union members. Bob sadly passed away on 18 April 1990, at the age of 70.


An underrated driver and a colourful personality who created a slice of history

So, despite having been for the most part a semi-pro racing driver, just how good was he? A contemporary writer Michael T. Lynch has described him to us as "one of the most underestimated drivers of the period". Dr Ernest Nagamatsu, historic racer and current owner of Old Yeller II, says that "he could race well and was not taken seriously". Part of that may have partly been due to Bob's own attitude; Dr Nagamatsu says that Drake had a prancing donkey on his helmet as a joke directed towards Ferrari ...

As Ron Cummings says, "He was a character who didn't give a damn about racing, he was just having fun." Lubin used to be more blunt: "Bob was ... about as colourful a guy as you could ever meet. If Bob had ever put his head strictly into racing, he would have been a world class driver. But he was into stunts and broads. His reputation was so bad, for womanising and blowing money and getting drunk. He would show up at race day all hung over. Today you can't do that, but in those days you could."

Even though that is a rather harsh assessment, there is no doubt that Drake was one of the most interesting personalities ever to grace the F1 stage. He probably had no sense or intention of being involved in an historical moment in F1 history, as the person behind the wheel the last time a Maserati 250F appeared in a World Championship GP. For him it was probably just another page in a life lived very much to the full, one event out of the many which make his story so fascinating and worth telling.

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