Dan and Denny steady the ship
Tuesday June 2, 1970.
Everyone working for McLaren at the time remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that Bruce McLaren had been killed while testing the new M8D Can-Am car at Goodwood.
The death of the founder and chief motivator could have tipped the team into oblivion. Manager Teddy Mayer gave everyone the next day off and expected to be alone with his thoughts in the Colnbrook workshop. He was wrong. One by one they arrived, determined to continue Bruce’s life’s work – because it had become their life’s work.
Willpower has its limits. We withdrew from Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix and focused on the Can-Am season opener at Mosport in Canada on June 14. The cars were nearly ready, but who would drive them?
Bruce’s friend, the talented and successful American driver-engineer Dan Gurney, was willing to stand in, but he could only do so briefly because of a clashing sponsor. And Denny Hulme, the 1967 Formula 1 world champion, was still nursing severe burns after a fuel leak set his McLaren ablaze during practice for the Indy 500. He had escaped the cockpit but, since methanol fuel burns with an invisible flame, the marshals failed to notice that he was on fire and attended to his car first.
But to Denny – nicknamed ‘The Bear’ as much for his gruff and no-nonsense demeanour as his stocky frame – there was no question. He would drive.
The M8D was the class of the field and Dan won the race at Mosport. Denny, his hands still bandaged, crossed the line in third place.
“When it was over Denny sat in the car in the pitlane for a very long time,” recalled the late Tyler Alexander. “He didn’t really have the strength to get out and couldn’t get one of his hands off the steering wheel because of the unhealed damage from the fire.
“Those two guys on that day brought Bruce McLaren Motor Racing back to life, along with the fortitude and hard work of the people at Colnbrook.
“Denny really had guts to do what he did, considering how bad his hands were. Later on he told us that he just had to do it for his friend, Bruce.”