When McLaren’s “Bruce and Denny Show” opened in North America in 1967, it struck native Can-Am racers like a fist in the face. From the very first day at Wisconsin’s Road America in September “The Kiwis” began smashing established norms of organization, preparation and speed. By the time they rolled into Riverside, California, for round 5 of the 6-race series in October, everyone knew their names and wanted to see them in action.
That included a youngster who had been working as a mechanic for a racing school in exchange for driving its cars.
“I raced there in a Formula C car that belonged to the Jim Russell school,” says Frank Zimmermann. “I remember watching the McLaren mechanics, seeing how professional they were, and thinking, ‘Who are those guys? Someday, somehow …’”
Frank’s day would arrive less than a year later. One Friday near the end of August 1968, he found his way to the Los Angeles-area engine shop of Al Bartz. “I wanted to work in professional racing,” says Frank, “and I was told a couple of McLaren’s guys were still at Bartz’s in Van Nuys, finishing up their new Big Blocks.”
The tall, quiet and confident young man walked through a wide open workshop door—it would have been a typically furnace-hot August afternoon—and on the spot found himself undergoing an impromptu job interview with Gary Knutson, McLaren’s chief engine builder. The final question: “When can you start?”
Frank’s reply: “Well, I’m here now.”
He phoned his parents to say he wouldn’t be home. “We worked right on through the weekend and loaded five fresh engines into an old Ford pickup truck. On Monday morning the three of us set out for Elkhart Lake, Gary, Lee Muir and me jammed into the front seat—along with Gary’s enormous early mobile phone, the first I’d ever seen. We drove all night until the middle of the next day, when we stopped in McLean, Texas, to sleep for a few hours. The motel had air conditioning, the truck didn’t.
“I’d never been east of Reno, Nevada. The only race tracks I’d ever seen were all dusty and dry and brown. When we got to Road America I couldn’t believe how green it was, how big the trees were. And how good that Bratwurst barbecue smoke smelled!”
Someone handed the newcomer a uniform. But the name on it was “Beanie.” As Frank laughs, “That’s when I found out I was standing-in for Colin Beanland, who had an eye injury from a grinder fragmentation. I only got hired because I just happened to come along at the right time with the right kind of background and experience.”
The rookie brought McLaren’s road team up to full strength: 10. That included New Zealand drivers Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme, as well as Americans Teddy Mayer (manager) and Tyler Alexander (crew chief). Frank was assigned to Bruce’s new M8 model with its aluminum Chevy 427 (7.0) V8.
This opening race of 1968 was a rare rainy one, but the outcome was a familiar sight, a pair of bright yellow-orange cars running one-two to the finish, McLaren in “Zimmermann’s car” leading Hulme. The Bruce and Denny Show was off to its second winning season …
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