Kansas City Chief
- Michael J. Cox
- 8W October 2000 issue
- Maserati 250F - Classic Red, the Maserati 250F series, by Don Capps
- Scuderia Centro Sud - Italy's Maserati privateer, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas
- Carroll Shelby - Hissing Cobra, by Mattijs Diepraam/Felix Muelas/Alessandro Silva
Scuderia Centro Sud Maserati 250F
1957 Pescara Grand Prix (August 18, 1957)
The bespectacled American driver Masten Gregory is seen here driving a Maserati 250F for Mimmo Dei's privateer Maserati team at the 1957 Pescara Grand Prix. The car's original color was red but was repainted especially for him in the traditional American colors of blue and white shortly after the Monaco race that season.
The Pescara circuit was a 16.032-mile road course that featured two four-mile straights. It holds the distinction of being the longest circuit ever to hold a World Championship Grand Prix. The Pescara circuit was used frequently for Grand Prix racing in the thirties but was seldom used for F1 World Championship Grand Prix races. This 1957 Grand Prix race was elevated to World Championship status due to cancellations of other races that season. It also later proved to be the last time the circuit would hold a World Championship F1 Grand Prix.
For the race, Gregory qualified his mount 7th and started on the third row for the race. The rookie performed admirably, finishing on the lead lap in fourth position behind race winner Stirling Moss, second place finisher Juan Manuel Fangio and Harry Schell. This was only Gregory's third World Championship Grand Prix start and the second in which he would score championship points. The first was his brilliant 3rd place finish at Monaco in his first F1 World Championship start which incidentally was the first podium finish ever scored by an American in F1. He later went on to score another fourth place finish in the season ending Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He finished sixth in the World Championship that season while participating in only half of the races. Impressive, since he accomplished all of this running up against the factory teams of Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper and BRM.
Gregory earned his shot at Formula One for the 1957 season after an impressive performance in a sportscar race at Buenos Aires in front of all the big shots of international racing. Gregory shared the win in the Argentine 1000km with Eugenio Castelloti and Luigi Musso, which came one week after the season opening F1 race in Buenos Aires. His impressive performance resulted in an opportunity for him to fill in for Peter Collins' Lancia-Ferrari D50 in the non-championship F1 Grand Prix at this same circuit the following week. He was then offered a contract to drive for Ferrari as a fourth driver but he turned it down since he would only get to race in a couple of Grand Prix races a year. Instead, he preferred to be racing over standing around on the sidelines and consequently accepted ride driving for Mimmo Dei's Scuderia Centro Sud team.
The 1958 season saw Gregory back driving Maserati 250Fs again for Scuderia Centro Sud. Unfortunately, injuries kept him from competing much of the season, but it probably did not matter as the four year old Maserati 250F was past its prime. However, he did manage a sixth place finish in the season ending Moroccan Grand Prix. The injuries he incurred during the 1958 season were the result of one of his trademarked high-speed bailouts during a sports car race at Silverstone.
Gregory's best F1 ride came in 1959 driving for Cooper. However, after scoring his best finish of his F1 career with a second place finish at the Portuguese Grand Prix and then sustaining a season ending injury in a sportscar race at Goodwood, Masten Gregory's contract with Cooper surprisingly was not renewed for the 1960 season. Masten, along with close friend Carroll Shelby believed that he had been a victim of team politics. Specifically believing that World Champion Jack Brabham had John Cooper fire him because he viewed him as a threat.
From 1960 onward, Gregory toiled in generally unreliable and less competitive equipment for various independent teams: Scuderia Centro Sud, Camoradi International, UDT Laystall, Tim Parnell, and Reg Parnell Racing. The best finishes Gregory was able to produce before his Formula One career ended in 1965, occurred during the 1962 season when he drove a Lotus 24 for the UDT Laystall team. He finished seventh in the British Grand Prix at Aintree, sixth in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen as well as a win in the non-championship Kannonloppet F1 race at Karlskoga, Sweden. At the French Grand Prix, he was running fourth behind Dan Gurney (the eventual winner) before having to retire due to ignition problems. Otherwise, it might have produced an interesting scenario of the two Americans battling it out for their first Formula One win.
There is no doubt that Masten Gregory was a championship-calibre driver who never got the opportunity to display his talent in frontline equipment. Carroll Shelby said that Masten was the fastest American that ever went over to drive a Grand Prix car. Looking back at his career, the decision that probably cost him an opportunity to challenge for a World Driver Championship, was his decision to turn down an offer as a fourth driver at Ferrari in 1957. If he had signed on with Ferrari at that time, he more than likely would have been promoted to a number one driver like Phil Hill was in 1959. Hill started off as a fourth driver for Ferrari in 1958, performed well and worked his way up the ladder at Ferrari due to the deaths of drivers Peter Collins and Luigi Musso during the 1958 season as well as the retirement (and subsequent death) of Mike Hawthorn after the season's conclusion.
Fortunately, Masten Gregory had better luck with his sports car career, winning the highly coveted Nürburgring 1000km in 1961 and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1965 as well as quite a few other minor non-championship sports car races. The Nürburgring win in 1961 was in a Birdcage Maserati T61 and represents the last major win for a Maserati. The 1965 Le Mans win came in a Ferrari 275LM and incidentally was the last time a Ferrari has ever won Le Mans outright. Gregory also had an impressive run at Indianapolis in 1965, running in the Indy 500. He started on the last row (31st), passed 14 cars before the first turn of the opening lap and was running fifth before engine problems ended his great run.
Gregory decided to distance himself from competitive racing in 1972 after the death of long time friend Jo Bonnier. He never officially retired because he felt that was phony since many drivers would announce their retirement and then come back. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 53 at his winter home in Porto Ercole, Italy.
Although other Americans raced in Formula One before him, Masten Gregory was a pioneer since he was the first American-born driver to compete in F1 on a regular basis. He also carries the following distinctions: 1) First American to score a podium finish in a F1 World Championship Grand Prix (1957 Monaco GP), 2) Second American to ever lead a lap in a F1 World Championship Grand Prix (at the 1959 Dutch GP), 3) First American to record the fastest lap overall in a sports car race at Le Mans (at the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours).
Reader's Why by John Cross
"He was the fastest American that ever went over to drive a Grand Prix car," says Carroll Shelby of Masten Gregory, "Hell, he scored more points than anybody did in their first year." That much is beyond argument, and he was driving for the independent Centro Sud team in Maseratis that were at least one year behind the latest factory 250Fs. Gregory qualified his mount on the front row twice, the first time, in his first full Grand Prix. He finished every race he entered, scored points in three of the eight Grands Prix, and in his first-ever World Championship round, got a podium finish - America's first. All this against the full might of works teams from Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall, and BRM. "And he couldn't see shit," adds Shelby. "His glasses were as thick as Coke bottles."
Masten Gregory, the youngest of three children born to parents in the insurance business in Kansas City in 1932, did indeed have weak eyes. He was also short, slight of build, and as a child, spoke with a startlingly low voice and a lisp. The latter disappeared but was no doubt responsible for Gregory's deliberate and emphatic speech, softened only slightly by his midwestern twang. Gregory's father died when he was three, and when the family's insurance holdings were liquidated by his mother later, a considerable inheritance was made available to the children on their 21st birthdays. Married at 17, and thus, in Missouri, an adult at 18, Masten Gregory didn't wait. He quickly shelled out enough of his newfound funds to buy a sportscar, and then another. Soon, he bought a Mercury-powered Allard to race like his brother-in-law, Dale Duncan.
Gregory's first race was a wash, literally. In November 1952, Gregory slid around wildly on a wet track at Caddo Mills, Texas, until the Mercury blew a head gasket. With a new Clay Smith-built Chrysler installed, Gregory next raced at Sebring in 1953, where he lasted a little more than one of the 12 hours. But at Sebring, Gregory did something he would soon be known for almost as much as for his prodigious speed. He bought someone else's race car, a C-Type Jaguar, on the spot.
Gregory's first win came in his third race, with brother-in-law Duncan finishing second in the Jaguar C-Type. Masten raced the car himself from then on with more wins and great finishes following. He won the Guardsman Trophy race at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, as well as a race at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska - the latter in front of 50,000 spectators (which supposedly was the highest attendance for an SCCA event at that time). After being black-flagged in a race at Chanute Air Force Base, Masten displayed his characteristic sense of humor by showing up at his next race with black-flags painted on his car, which were used as a background for his car number 58.
By the end of 1953, Masten was considered the top Jaguar driver in the United States. His wins, along with a string of second-place finishes that season, helped Masten get an invitation to participate in his first international sportscar race - an event in Buenos Aires during January 1954. He performed admirably with the Jaguar in the Argentine 1000km in Buenos Aires until water pump problems ruined his day, dropping him to 14th at the finish. He promptly bought the winning 4.5 Ferrari, and it was this car, rebuilt after a huge crash at Pebble Beach, that Gregory first raced in Europe in 1954.
He scored a ninth place finish (second in class) in the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod that year while co-driving with Bob Said. In 1955, he went to race at Le Mans, but co-driver Mike Sparken broke a piston in the 3- litre Ferrari early on in the race. Masten never got a chance to get behind the steering wheel. However, he was back to compete again at Dundrod to race in the Tourist Trophy race later that year, where he and Carroll Shelby teamed up together, finishing ninth overall and winning their class in a Porsche 550 Spyder. In 1956, he spent most of the year driving in (and winning often) various SCCA races.
His big break came a week before the pre-season 1957 Buenos Aires Grand Prix sportscar race, when Gregory, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castelloti and Cesare shared the winning car in the Argentine 1000km, in front of all the big shots of international racing. This impressive performance earned him a shot at Formula One driving for Mimmo Dei's Scuderia Centro Sud, a privateer team using the Maserati 250F. Masten's first Formula One World Championship Grand Prix start came at the most famous street circuit in the world: Monte Carlo. It was at this race that Masten became the first American to score a debut podium finish in Formula One history with his brilliant third place finish in the Monaco Grand Prix. Truly impressive, since scoring a podium finish in a driver's first Grand Prix start has only been accomplished thirteen times (excluding shared drives) in the 50-year history of Formula One.
Masten followed up this performance with an eighth place finish in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring and then came the Pescara Grand Prix, as seen here.
It was the first time the championship had moved to the Adriatic coastal town of Pescara - home of a colourful, road circuit where Enzo Ferrari himself was the first winner back in 1924! Because of the tremendous heat, the race started at 9.30 in the morning - and Moss and Musso soon made the early start well worthwhile for the fanatical Italians who packed the hillsides and villages. The Vanwall and the Ferrari duelled furiously in the opening laps - charging over the bridges and through the mountains at such a rate that the rest of the field gradually fell away into the distance. Moss took the lead on lap three and, with a record-breaking ninth lap, really opened up a gap. On lap ten, his troubles were over. Musso's oil tank split and his engine crunched to a halt. And to help Moss further, Fangio - in third place - skidded on the oil, buckled a wheel and lost some three minutes limping back to the pits and changing the damaged wheel. Moss was so far ahead that he even had time to come in to top up his oil on lap 13. The Vanwall had triumphed for the second time in four weeks. Masten was fourth - a fine result on this difficult circuit.
- Moss, Vanwall, 2hr 59min 22.7sec 95.5mph
- Fangio, Maserati, 3hr 02min 36.6sec
- Schell, Maserati, 3hr 06min 9.5sec
- Gregory, Maserati, 3hr 07min 27.5sec
- Lewis-Evans, Vanwall, -1 lap
- Scarlatti, Maserati, -1 lap
Fastest lap: Moss, 9min 44.6sec, 97.6mph
He then had another fourth place finish in the season-ending Italian Grand Prix at Monza. He finished sixth in the World Championship that season while participating in only half of the races. Amazingly, Masten accomplished all of this running up against the factory teams of Ferrari, Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper, and BRM in his rookie campaign.
Unfortunately, injuries kept him from competing much of the 1958 season, but it probably did not matter as the Maserati 250F was past its prime. However, Masten did manage two World Championship Grand Prix finishes for Temple Buell, fourth (with Shelby - so he didn't score any points) at Monza and sixth in the season ending Moroccan Grand Prix. The injuries he incurred during the 1958 season were the result of one of his trademarked high-speed bailouts during a sportscar race at Silverstone. Whenever Masten was faced with a major crash, he would stand up in the cockpit of his car and jump out just before impact. Shortly after the accident, Riddelle talked to him on the telephone while he was in the hospital. Masten stated that he lost control of his car when he got into the grass going into a corner as an evasive maneuver when a "little Porsche" moved over unexpectedly in front of him. When asked why he jumped out of the car Masten replied, "You should have seen what I was going to hit! A huge earth embankment!"
In 1959, Masten received his best Formula One ride, as a number three driver for Cooper behind Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren. He scored the second podium of his career by finishing third in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, but was forced out from exhaustion at Reims when running second. Then at AVUS he produced a great drive in heat 1:
"Tony Brooks from pole position and Moss next to him were quickest away, but Masten Gregory took Moss at the South Turn, and the pair were neck and neck behind Brooks on completion of lap 1. As at Nürburg in 1958, however, Stirling's Grosser Preis was a brief one, for the transfer gears between his Climax engine and Colotti gearbox broke on lap 2, and Gurney took over his place.
On the third lap Allison retired with clutch failure, and Gregory set the Berliners roaring by passing both Ferraris to lead the race, the little green Cooper absolutely flat out. But without a Ferrari to slipstream he couldn't keep it up and Brooks, lapping at around 148 mph, repassed, while Brabham and Gurney fought cut and thrust for third place. Then on lap 5, in the tremendous rush down to the South Turn, where cars were braking from about 175 mph to, perhaps, 55 mph, Gurney's Ferrari nose struck one of Gregory's rear wheels, partially closing the intake.
The Californian did not slacken pace, nor did the inspired Gregory, who badgered the Ferraris ceaselessly. He would tuck in between them along the straights then pull out to pass, or sometimes swoop below them to lead off the banked North Curve, the little Cooper, in power at least 30 bhp down on its rivals, taking tremendous punishment.
The Lotuses of Ireland and Graham Hill had both gone before half-distance, while Brabham's Cooper, like Moss's, chewed up its transfer gears on lap 15. Then Gurney broke the lap record in 2 min 4.8 sec and led for a change with Brooks on his tail, and the persistent Gregory still in their slipstream. Brooks did his seventeenth lap in 2 min 4.5 sec to lead again, unwillingly towing Gregory past Gurney too, and on lap 22 Gregory took both Ferraris to thunderous applause from the crowd. It couldn't last; two laps later the Cooper's sorely tried engine gave out with a big bang, the two Ferraris emerging from the cloud of smoke to lead to the finish."
At Monsanto, in the Portuguese Grand Prix, Masten would score his best Formula One finish of his career by finishing second behind Stirling Moss. However, in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, Masten again performed another one of his trademarks by bailing out of his Tojeiro-Jaguar when his steering failed. He sustained rib and shoulder injuries which caused him to miss the final two Grands Prix. Masten still finished tied for eighth in the World Championship, with Jack Brabham winning the World Driver Championship. Brabham, McLaren and Masten's efforts that season helped bring Cooper their first Constructors championship as well.
But Masten's relations with Cooper soured and his seat was given to young Bruce McLaren. Shelby has his own opinion about why, "He was faster than Brabham, so Brabham had Cooper fire him." More often than not, when Gregory and McLaren went head to head (both drove Cooper Formula Two cars, as well), the American was quicker. However, McLaren was retained and Masten's contract was not renewed. Brabham went on to win another World Championship for Cooper in 1960 while Masten's Formula One career from then on was spent driving generally unreliable and less competitive equipment for various independent teams, including Scuderia Centro Sud, Camoradi International, UDT Laystall, Tim Parnell, and Reg Parnell Racing.
The best finishes Masten was able to produce before his Formula One career ended in 1965, occurred during the 1962 season when he drove a Lotus 24 for the UDT Laystall team. He finished seventh in the British Grand Prix at Aintree, sixth in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen as well as a win in the non-championship Kannonloppet F1 race at Karlskoga, Sweden. At the French Grand Prix, he was running fourth behind Dan Gurney (the eventual winner) before having to retire due to ignition problems. Otherwise, it might have produced an interesting scenario of the two Americans battling it out for their first Formula One win.
Masten's talent and commitment to Grand Prix racing earned him a better fate in Formula One. He was so dedicated to landing a competitive Formula One ride that he actually moved his wife and children to Italy during the 1950s, into a villa across from the Ferrari factory. However, the best Formula One opportunity that Enzo Ferrari would offer him was as a number four driver where he would only get to compete in two or three Grands Prix a year. At any rate, it is highly probable that Masten would have been the first American to win a Formula One Grand Prix and possibly even a World Championship if he could have landed a top ride with a factory team after his impressive rookie season. Those marks would eventually be accomplished by Phil Hill when he won the 1960 Italian Grand Prix and the World Championship in 1961 for Ferrari.
Fortunately, Masten's sportscar career took off again after his release from Cooper. At the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hours, despite having to retire due to electrical problems, Masten recorded the fastest lap of the race in his Birdcage Maserati T61 during the opening laps of the race. This was the first time an American had ever recorded the fastest lap overall in a race at Le Mans. In a Le Mans review article, it was stated that Masten was turning such fast laps in the opening part of the race that at one point a jet-powered helicopter flying overhead could not keep up with Masten down the Mulsanne straight.
In 1961, Masten won a 1000km race at the ever-treacherous Nürburgring circuit in a Birdcage Maserati co-driving with Lloyd "Lucky" Casner despite having no sponsor and having to borrow tires after the final practice. At Le Mans that same year Masten recorded his best finish to date in the 24 Hour race co-driving with Bob Holbert, finishing fifth place overall and first in class in a Porsche RS61 Spyder. The following year, Masten won the 1962 Canadian Grand Prix sportscar race at Mosport Park in a Lotus 19-Climax.
In 1964, Ford Motor Company began its pursuit of beating Ferrari and capturing the most prestigious sportscar race in the world, Le Mans. Masten was one of the first drivers tapped by Ford to race their new Ford GT40 at Le Mans that year. He was paired up with Richie Ginther in one of their GT40 entries, and things looked very encouraging as the team led for a while early on in the race. A slow pit stop caused Masten to come out in second place and the team held that position going into the evening until the car retired due to gearbox problems in the fifth hour.
Oddly enough, Masten would finally win the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following season in a North American Racing Team Ferrari 275 LM in front of an estimated crowd of 250,000 people. He teamed up with Jochen Rindt and the two blistered the 8.365-mile course with an average speed of 121 mph. It was the first time that an American entry had ever won the prestigious race. It was also an unexpected win since it had been eight years since a non-factory team had won Le Mans.
This was easily the biggest win of Masten's career. It also happened to be a big win for Goodyear since this was the first time a car fitted with Goodyear tires finished first overall in an international race. Interesting to note, to this date the 1965 win was the last time a Ferrari has ever won Le Mans.
1965 was also the year that Masten started in his first and only Indianapolis 500 race, in a BRP-Ford sponsored by his stepfather, George Bryant. Masten qualified on the last row (thirty-first) for the race, but that starting position did not impede him. He quickly passed fourteen cars on the opening lap and was running fifth before engine problems ended his great run.
Masten's international sportscar career then started to wind down with the following highlight finishes: a second place finish in a Ford GT40, co-driving with John Whitmore, in the 1966 1000 Km race at Monza; a class win and fourth place overall finish in a Porsche 908/2, co-driving with Richard Brostrom, at the 1969 Austrian Grand Prix at Zeltweg; and, a third place finish in a Alfa Romeo T33/3, co-driving with Toine Hezemans, in the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours. Finally, after the death of long time friend Jo Bonnier at Le Mans in 1972, Masten decided it was time to distance himself from competitive racing.
Gregory had survived seven major crashes himself, any one of which could have had the same result. He had grown to enjoy the European lifestyle and was in his apartment in Porto Ercole, Italy, when he died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1985.
He was unfairly labeled as a car crasher by a few critics and it was said to have hurt his career. However, the records clearly show that Masten rarely ever crashed out of an F1 event, even in non-championship Grand Prix, and virtually all of his crashes occurred in sportscars.
Masten had a very cavalier attitude on the racetrack and was never afraid to stand on the throttle, which boded well for someone racing independent machinery up against factory teams. He once said, "Frankly, if I couldn't go motor racing I would have to do something else involving hazard because it is the moment of risk that makes the rest of life bearable, valuable or delightful." In an interview he reflected back on his career by saying, "When I was about 32 or 33 years old, it came to me, that up until that point my life I had never believed I would live to be 30. I hadn't made any plans because it didn't seem worthwhile. Stirling Moss told me flatly that I was going to kill myself soon after I got to Europe. Everybody thought I'd kill myself, and looking back I'm surprised that I didn't. I was driving mainly on reflexes. I really didn't know anything about racing. I just had quite a bit of natural ability, I guess."
It is rather sad that the record book does not properly reflect the talents that Masten possessed as a driver. He had a very daring and aggressive racing style that quickly made him faster than many top European drivers of his time. With a simple twist of fate, Masten could have landed the competitive and reliable machinery that would have made him an American icon in racing. He was definitely ahead of his time as an American Grand Prix racer and it is truly a shame that he never received the credit or fame of those who followed him in the sport.
However, regardless of what the record books show, and given what Masten's fellow competitors had to say about him, he was no doubt an outstanding driving talent and a hero. Road racing ace Dan Gurney thought very highly of Masten both as a person and as a driver, saying that Masten had a special gift - a gift to drive fast - and that he was brave. Jim Clark, who considered Masten to be his hero, teamed up with the American in a sportscar race at Goodwood in 1959 and said he realized he himself had become a star driver after he was able to match Masten's lap times in the very same car. In addition, Carroll Shelby said that Masten could be as fast as anybody could on any given day.
We don't need to say too much about the Maserati 250F, except that it was the spiritual successor to the Bugatti 35 as the ideal privateer's car.