Our old friend Ernie Nagamatsu—the jet-setting dentist, racer and car enthusiast par excellence—called me a few days ago and told me about his trip to an event in Australia with Jack Brabham as the honoree. Would I give him a few remarks to say in honor of Jack? I was most happy to do so.
Jack and I go far back in history together, to an age when we both could hear well and walk fast and drive fast. He was the dark-haired Aussie, I was the blond California surfer, now we are two grey-haired old gentlemen who consider themselves lucky to still be on this planet considering what we have lived through during our racing days.
In 1959, when Jack won his first World Drivers Championship, I became the rookie member of the Ferrari F1 team. We were competitors on the F1 circuit the following three years, dueling it out nicely at places like the Nürburgring, Watkins Glen, Monza, South Africa and Riverside. Jack hired me in 1963, as a member for his newly established Brabham F1 team, and during the next three years, we really got to know each other. We discovered we shared similar traits. We were not only interested in driving racing cars but in building them, improving them, searching for every tiny bit of technical advantage we could find. I see both of us sitting in garages all over the world, bent over engines, talking to each other and to our team: Ron Tauraunac, Phil Kerr, Roy Billington, Tim Wall and Nick Goozee. I am awfully proud that I was able to deliver the first Grand Prix victory to the Brabham marque in Rouen, France, in 1964, exactly 50 years ago this July.
You, Jack, as my boss were most understanding, though not too happy, when I left the team in 1966 to follow your example and establish my own team and build my own cars and represent my country in Europe, as you had so ably done with yours. Was that a wise decision? Yes and no, as you remind me every once in a while with a postcard from some of the World Champion Drivers get-togethers: “Dear Dan, If you had not left me in 1966 you could be here and drinking champagne with us.” Champagne? Well Jack, I am still wondering what happened to the 100 bottles of Moet we won for the pole at Brands Hatch in 1965. Maybe you are drinking some tonight?
Jack and I both had young families when we arrived in Europe, we had no family money to support us, so had to establish ourselves on our own. For both of us, the road has not been easy, but the passion to race was so strong that we brushed all obstacles aside and pressed on regardless. We both raised sons who became successful racing drivers, one of yours, Geoffrey, drove for my AAR racing team on the Indy circuit, he was talented like his old man—we cherish the memory.
I have been told that only three men in the 100-year history of Grand Prix racing have built and won with their own F1 cars—You, Bruce McLaren and I. It is a nice club to belong to, however, you are in a class by yourself—Bruce and I won races, you won championships.