Alastair finds he has two weeks off after Denny Hulme crashes his car. He makes his way across the States to join the McLaren team at the Canadian-American Challenge Cup.
Alastair finds he has two weeks off after Denny Hulme crashes his car. He makes his way across the States to join the McLaren team at the Canadian-American Challenge Cup.

I let out a long, loud fart and an American voice came out the darkness and said: ‘That’ll be a ten’.

1968 Season Final Grand Prix: CanAm

McLaren continue to dominate the Canadian-American Challenge Cup during the 60s.

We used to go and do the Canadian, American and Mexican Grand Prix with three guys and two cars. In 1968, we got to the American Grand Prix, still as a three man team. Denny had crashed his car in Watkins Glen through no fault of his own and the car was shipped back to England along with the two mechanics. I was on my own. Instead of going to Mexico and having a holiday as I was told, I went to the West Coast and got involved in two CanAm races as an uninvited guest. I was very much welcomed; but uninvited. It was all my idea and I decided not to tell them I was coming in advance. I thought: “Oh, I’ve got two weeks off…I’ll go to the West Coast.”

In those days, airline tickets were mileage tickets and you could transfer them without the problems you get now. I had a ticket for London to New York, New York to Mexico City, Mexico City back to London. I went to various airline desks in New York and tried to turn it in to a Los Angeles ticket. I found a girl who said she’d let me fly to San Francisco and then I’d have to make my own way to Los Angeles. I flew to San Francisco on the weekend of the Laguna Seca CanAm race. I landed at San Francisco with no money and no credit card but I still had a long way to go. So I went to the car hire desk and said: “Hello, my name is Alastair Caldwell, I’m from the McLaren Grand Prix team and I want to join the CanAm team which is down in Laguna Seca.” They said: “Are you sure? Have you got a credit card?” I said no. “Have you got cash?” I said “No, but Mr McLaren would have been here a few days ago and hired three or four cars and taken them there.” They agreed. “Well I work for him, and I need a car”. And they gave me one. After some discussion I was given a big, American hire car.

Off I went and I drove through the night to Laguna Seca. I got there in the early hours of the morning and asked around for the McLaren team and found out where they were staying. I got to the hotel at three in the morning and rang the bell and told them I’d come to join the team so could I get a bed. He told me the whole place was full but there was a roll-away in room 10 I could use. I got myself ready for bed and lay down in the dark and, at last, relaxed and let out a long, loud fart. Out of the darkness an American voice said: “That’ll be a 10.”

I got up in the morning and the guys asked: “Where’d you come from?” I told them the other mechanics had gone back to England to rebuild the car and I wanted to come have a look at the CanAm race. I’d made a massive push the year before to help build these cars and wanted to see them race. The guys had a spare back-up car on the trailer that they never used so now that I was there they could put me to work. I got it off the trailer, started it up, changed the gear ratios and got it working and it became a race car, as Chris Amon’s, a New Zealander who was driving for Ferrari, car had failed terminally. So now I was race mechanic again with my own CanAm car. Sadly the car broke by the end, otherwise it would have been a McLaren 1, 2, 3.

Bruce McLaren asked me how I got to Laguna Seca. I told him I flew and drove. “How did you do that?” I told him what I’d done. Well he was amazed at how I’d bullsh*tted my way across America. It should have been impossible but I was there, on no money. Bruce was undoubtedly impressed by this.

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