VIA The Californian
Remembering a ride with racing fan Garner
Fans of actor James Garner may remember him most for his television characters Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford, or the movies “The Great Escape,” and “The Americanization of Emily and Murphy’s Romance.”
But to true motorheads, Garner, who died Saturday at age 86, made an adrenalin-packed impression in the 1965 widescreen Formula 1 epic “Grand Prix,” one of the greatest racing flicks ever.
“Grand Prix" gained a cult status among racing fans thanks to groundbreaking camera work as well as cameos by several real drivers, including Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio, Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren and Jackie Stewart.
As happened to Paul Newman during his filming of “Winning,” about racers at the Indianapolis 500, Garner’s love for racing was boosted by his role in “Grand Prix.” Garner did his own stunts and racing scenes, and he later helped found the American International Racers team, which during the late 1960s raced at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring.
“Rush” director Ron Howard said on Twitter Sunday the F1 world believed Garner “had the talent to be a pro driver.”
Garner demonstrated some of that talent as he drove the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1975, 1977 and 1985.
“Garner was a skilled driver and will be remembered as one of the first true celebrities to be given the honor of leading the field of 33 to the green flag,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Doug Boles said Sunday.
Three days before the 1993 Indianapolis 500, Garner was one of three racers giving motorsports journalists one-lap rides around IMS in the Camaro pace car, but there was no way to predict who would be motoring them around the 2.5-mile oval. In the rush to get seated, I didn’t see who was behind the wheel.
“Who are you?” I said, strapping in.
“Jim Garner,” he said, extending his right hand. “Good to meet you.”
Garner then showed his skills, driving onto new rumble strips, installed after the crash-filled 1992 Indianapolis 500, at more than 100 mph.
“Notice how those bumps get your attention,” he said in that familiar drawl.
Couldn’t miss it, and thanks for the ride, Jim.