Richie Ginther, Sports Cars, Class of 2008
Racers and fans remember Richie Ginther's small physique, his winning smile and his multitude of freckles. His improbable racing journey took him from wrenching cars in Los Angeles to the glamorous European Grand Prix circuit.
Richie was a hot rodder when he met road racer Phil Hill in the early 1950s. Ginther helped Phil prepare his cars and raced twice himself in an MG with a Ford V-8 60 engine, finishing third at Pebble Beach in 1951. He then spent two years in Korea as a helicopter mechanic.
After his return, Phil was driving for John von Neumann and Richie continued to help with Phil's car preparation after his day job. Richie raced an Austin Healey in 1955, but then, his free labor was rewarded with employment and drives in von Neumann's Porsches and Ferraris.
By the late 1950s, Ginther was winning races in Ferraris like the inaugural at Riverside in 1957 and the 1959 Kiwanis Grand Prix at the same track. The factory took notice when Ginther won the GT class at Sebring in 1959 and he joined the Ferrari team as a Grand Prix driver in 1960, finishing his season with a 2nd in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
When Ferrari was testing their first rear-engine sports car in 1961 at Monza, the new car had handling problems. Ginther's aircraft experience led to a suggestion that a strip of metal be welded across the bodywork at the rear of the car. The fix worked, and the concept of the spoiler had its first application on a race car.
That same year, Richie set fastest lap at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix and finished second to Stirling Moss in what many regard as Moss's greatest race. In 1962, Richie moved to BRM, where he finished second in the World Championship. During the 60s he was involved in the development stages of both the Rover-BRM turbine effort at Le Mans and the earliest days of the Ford GT 40 program.
By 1965 Richie was at Honda where made history when he won the Mexican Grand Prix. It was the first GP victory for Ginther, Honda and Goodyear.
After another year at Honda, Richie joined Dan Gurney's Eagle team, finishing second to Dan at Brands Hatch. After a failed qualifying attempt at the Indianapolis 500, Richie lay in his bed at the Speedway Motel and decided racing wasn't fun any more.
He continued to be involved, running successful teams for Porsche and Toyota in U.S. production car racing and entered a 911 in Le Mans in 1971.
After his retirement he lived in Rosarito Beach Mexico, where he and his wife, Cleo often entertained old racing friends like John von Neumann, Yoshio Nakamura, Honda's racing boss from Richie's time and Paco Bulto, maker of Bultaco motorcycles. Richie was an avid off-road rider. Another frequent visitor was Richie's son, Brett, who is an M.D.
Richie died suddenly in France while visiting Cleo's family in 1989. They had just come from England, where they had attended a BRM team reunion. Contemporaries remember him as very quick and a master development engineer. He was one of the pioneers in U.S. sports car racing and was in the second wave of Americans to take on the Europeans on their own tracks.
by Michael T. Lynch