DRIVERS: MASTEN GREGORY

Name: Masten Gregory
Nationality: United States of America
Date of birth: February 28, 1932 - Kansas City, Missouri
Date of death: November 8, 1985 - Porto Ecole, nr Rome, Italy

Masten Gregory was born in Kansas City, on the Missouri side of the river, the son of the man who founded the Postal Life and Casualty Insurance Co. His father died when he was still a toddler and his mother sold the business, but trust funds of $75,000 ($1m at today's rates) were set aside for each of the three Gregory children. Masten however was not cut out for a quiet life. His brother-in-law ran a racing team and he became one of the crew after dropping out high school. From the age of 15 he was racing the family car, a 1933 Ford Coupe, in illegal races on the streets of Kansas City.

He was not due to get his inheritance until he was 21, but once he was 18 he married, got the money early and immediately began spending it on racing machinery, buying an Allard sports car to use in SCCA races. He did one race at the end of 1952 but he did not begin to make an impression until the end of 1953 by which time he had acquired a Jaguar and had begun to win races. The success led to an invitation to race in Buenos Aires at the start of 1954. He bought the car that won the race and headed off to Europe. After two seasons without any major results he returned to SCCA racing, his inheritance spent.

His big break did not come until 1957 when he teamed up with Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Cesare Perdisa to win the Argentine 1000km and this led to an invitation from Mimmo Dei's Scuderia Centro Sud, a privateer team using the Maserati 250F, to race in F1. He made his debut at Monaco that year. It was a great debut, too, as he finished third and became the first American to stand on an F1 podium. He was offered a contract with Ferrari but turned it down because it would have meant only a few F1 races each year and settled down in Italy, driving for Scuderia Centro Sud. He missed a number of races in 1958 after injuring himself when he jumped out of a sports car during a race at Silverstone. Gregory did this several times in his career and believed that bailing out of a car before the impact was the bestway to avoid injury.

In 1959 he was hired to be third driver for Cooper and he finished third in Holland and second in Portugal before being sidelined with injuries from another high-speed bail-out at Goodwood. Given his pace it was surprising that he was dropped by Cooper at the end of the year, something which he believed was due to Jack Brabham not wanting him in the team. After that he struggled with a number of privateer teams including Centro Sud, Camoradi International, UDT Laystall and Reg Parnell Racing.

While his F1 career never fulfilled its early promise he was much more successful in sports cars and won the Nurburging 1000 in 1961 in a Birdcage Maserati with Lucky Casner and in 1962 won the Canadian Grand Prix sports car race at Mosport Park in a Lotus-Climax. In 1964 he was hired by Ford to race the new Ford GT40 but his biggest success would not come until 1965 when he partnered Jochen Rindt to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours in a North American Racing Team Ferrari. That same year he took part in the Indianapolis 500 in a car run by his stepfather George Bryant. He was running fifth when he retired.

Gregory continued to race until after his friend Jo Bonnier was killed in 1972 at which point, having reached 40, he drifted away from the sport. He later became a diamond trader but the man who survived so many big accidents in his career was to die early from a heart attack at the age of only 53 while on holiday in Italy in 1985.

Print