Once Again Around the Track with Gordon MacKenzie

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A daredevil had better be lucky or he won’t last long. Cobble resident Gordon MacKenzie has been a very lucky man.

The first daring thing he did wasn’t wholly his choice, but at the tender age of 19 he found himself as an Army Air Force tail gunner flying in a B-32 in the Pacific. He and his crew were heading to Saipan and the possible invasion of Japan when word of the Japanese surrender called his crew back. That was lucky.

A skilled horseman, no hedge was too high and no stream was too wide to stop him from spurring his mount across it. But his real passion was road racing. He got his first chance behind the wheel at Thompson Speedway in eastern Connecticut and he was hooked.

There was one very dicey moment in 1955 in one of his early races at Watkins Glen in New York. His Jaguar flipped over backward and landed upside down. There were no roll bars in those days and it looked at first that that was the end of Mr. MacKenzie’s racing days and possibly of Mr. MacKenzie himself. Amazingly, he emerged unhurt, saved, he said, by the good fortune of falling forward before the car landed, his head hitting the relatively soft aluminum car door and a really good helmet. He was wearing a seatbelt, but, he said, had he been wearing a shoulder harness as drivers do today, he wouldn’t have survived. The rather harrowing accident didn’t slow him down.

He heard about Lime Rock Park when he bought a Jaguar from a mechanic in Sharon. Lime Rock, which held its first race in 1957, wasn’t the well-manicured showplace it is today, but for Gordon MacKenzie it was close to perfect. One of his races there is commemorated in a painting by John Bishop of Mr. Mackenzie driving a green Maserati, number 32, in the lead on the Downhill just before hitting the Straight.

Though drag racing wasn’t really his thing, he did complete a number of times and usually won, he said, primarily because his race car was so superior to what his competitors were driving. He caused something of a stir when he got out of his car to a shout of “He’s wearing a dress.” A proud Scotsman, by way of Nova Scotia, Mr. Mackenzie was, in fact wearing a kilt, which he often did when racing.

He drove for Morgan as well as Jaguar, and taught aspiring racers for 15 years. He bemoans the fact, however, that the cost of racing grew with the sport’s popularity. “Young competitors can’t afford the cars,” he said.

As is true in many endeavors, the people he met in the racing world are what he most remembers. He mentioned the pros like John Fitch, Gaston Andre and Briggs Cunningham and the famous faces from other fields like Jackie Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Paul Newman, the Smothers Brothers, and Tom Cruise as well has the lesser known but fondly remembered.

“The friends I’ve made in that sport,” he said, shaking his head. And the look in his eyes make it clear he’s thinking of every one of them.

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