12 November 2010

A finely focused window on the past

These days, Raymond Burk is a mild-mannered professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee. But 46 years ago, he was a young college student who loved cars. In 1964, while he was supposed to be studying German literature in Europe, Burk decided to hitchhike the continent and take in two of the biggest races; the 1,000 km race at Nürburgring and the famous 24 Hours at LeMans. The photographs he took at those events are a finely-focused window into the past.

“When I got to Germany, I was looking around for something exciting to do,” Burk recalled. “I didn’t go to any F1 races, because those were so short and expensive. But the 1,000 km race at Nürburgring lasted six-to-eight hours, and LeMans was 24 – you could go there and really just enjoy yourself.”

Burk was lucky to be abroad in 1964. That was the year Ford first raced the GT40, which was developed from Eric Broadley’s ephemeral Lola. The GT 40 came into being after Henry Ford II was snubbed haughtily by Enzo Ferrari for offering to buy Enzo’s company. The gloves were off, and Hank the Deuce wanted a “Ferrari-beater.” While the new GT40 didn’t finish either race in 1964, the plans were laid and it was to net four Le Mans victories in row from 1966 to 1969.

“The arrival of the GT40, excited me because it was an American car,” Burk said. “In all the racing in Europe, I never saw any American cars.”

Plus there were some huge names on the track. “John Surtees was a motorcycle world champion and he was driving one of the Ferraris at Nurburgring. Phil Hill was big stuff then – he raced the GT40. Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby were at LeMans,” Burk recalled. “I just hung around, watched them and soaked it all up.”

Fortunately for us, that wasn’t all he did. Burk had his camera with him, and snatched some wonderful shots of history in the making. As all news photographers know, the first rule is “F8 and BE THERE.”

To learn more about the photos, visit our Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/hagertyknowsclassics.

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