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As the Flag Drops at Le Mans, Remembering the 3 Americans Who Won in 1978
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By Dean Kirkland
Published 1 month ago on
June 14, 2024
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OK, let’s set the way-back machine to 1978. The disco ball was still spinning, Star Wars was blowing our minds, and in the quiet town of Sarthe, France, something truly spectacular was revving up. I’m talking about the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the granddaddy of endurance races — the latest edition of which gets underway Saturday.

Dean Kirkland Portrait

Dean Kirkland

Central Octane

The 1978 Le Mans, a race so epic, it’s like the Woodstock of motorsports, only with more horsepower and fewer hippies. This isn’t just a story about fast cars and daring drivers; it’s a tale of three American musketeers who stormed the gates of the racing establishment and left the Europeans scratching their heads, wondering what just happened.

Enter Jim Busby, Chris Cord, and Rick Knoop, three California dudes who probably had more experience catching waves than catching the checkered flag. But don’t let their laid-back demeanor fool you; these guys were as serious about racing as a 5-year-old is about getting to Disneyland. Busby, the mastermind behind this operation, was like the love child of Steve McQueen and Chuck Norris; he had the looks, the charm, and the determination to make things happen.

First up, we have Jim Busby. Now, Busby is no stranger to the racing scene. This guy’s part Mad Max, part MacGyver. He’s the kind of guy who could probably build a race car out of duct tape and chewing gum. Jim’s the man behind several 935 Porsche race cars, and he knows his way around a track like nobody’s business.

Next, we’ve got Chris Cord. This guy’s as quick as a woman telling you “I told you so” and has the reflexes of a caffeinated squirrel. He’s the perfect balance of speed and skill, bringing a sharp edge to the team. Finally, there’s Rick Knoop, the young hotshot with a talent that makes seasoned pros sit up and take notice. Together, they’re like the Three Musketeers of motorsport, only with more grease and gasoline.

When Erwin Kremer, the German racing guru, invited Busby to race at Le Mans, Busby’s response was classic. He said, “Sure, I’ll come, but let’s do it the American way. I’ll bring some badass drivers and a sponsor, and we’ll show these Europeans how we roll.” It was like the racing version of the moon landing; a bunch of Americans going where no American had gone before.

Busby didn’t waste any time assembling his dream team. First up was Knoop, a young hotshot who drove like he had rocket fuel in his veins. Then there was Cord, a guy so quick, he could probably outrun his own shadow. Together, they formed the holy trinity of speed, skill, and American swagger.

The Americans Who Won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978
The victorious Americans share their elation after conquering the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978. (Special to GV Wire)

Le Mans: It’s Like Juggling Chainsaws While Running a Marathon

Now, for those of you who think Le Mans is just a fancy French way of saying “24-hour drive,” think again. This race is like running a marathon while juggling chainsaws and chugging Red Bull. It’s a test of endurance, both for the cars and the drivers. You’ve got to have nerves of steel, reflexes like a cat on catnip, and a bladder the size of a hot air balloon.

As the race kicked off, our American heroes were ready to show the world what they were made of. Busby found himself playing a high-speed game of cat and mouse with John Fitzpatrick, a seasoned British racer whose car was spitting flames like a dragon with heartburn. In a twist of fate that could only happen in racing, Fitzpatrick’s car decided to take a permanent pit stop, leaving Busby to zoom ahead like a bat out of hell.

But the real drama came when the sun went down, and the track turned into a scene straight out of a horror movie. Imagine hurtling through the darkness at speeds that would make your grandma faint, with nothing but your headlights and your guardian angel to guide you. That’s when Chris Cord found himself in a situation that would make even James Bond break a sweat.

Avoiding the Big Wreck

So, Cord’s cruising along, minding his own business, when suddenly, the car in front of him decides to do its best impression of a fireworks display. Debris everywhere, flames shooting up like the Fourth of July, and Cord’s sitting there thinking, “Well, this is it. I’m going to be the first man to die on the moon.” But somehow, through sheer luck or divine intervention, Cord managed to navigate through the carnage like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Throughout the race, the American dream team faced more challenges than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Mechanical failures, near misses, and the constant fear of becoming a human barbecue kept them on their toes. But these guys were as stubborn as a mule at a nudist colony; they just kept going, no matter what the Le Mans gods threw at them.

When they crossed the finish line, victorious and probably in need of some serious chiropractic work, it was a moment of pure, unadulterated glory. Erwin Kremer, a man who usually displays the emotional range of a cinder block, had tears in his eyes. It was like watching the Terminator cry at a rom-com. For Busby, Cord, and Knoop, it wasn’t just a win; it was a testament to the power of determination, teamwork, and good old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. “This all sounds great, but what’s the point? Why should I care about a bunch of guys chasing each other around a French track?” Well, my friends, the point is that this race wasn’t just about fast cars and shiny trophies. It was about the indomitable human spirit, the idea that with enough grit, guts, and a little bit of crazy, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Winning the Racing World’s Respect

These three Americans didn’t just win a race; they won the respect and admiration of the entire racing world. They showed that you didn’t need to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth or have a fancy European pedigree to succeed. All you needed was a dream, a fast car, and the willingness to push yourself beyond your limits.

So, as you watch this documentary, I want you to think about your own dreams, your own passions. Maybe you’re not cut out for the high-octane world of motorsports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase your own version of the checkered flag. Whether it’s starting your own business, writing the next great American novel, or just being the best damn parent you can be, the lessons of the 1978 Le Mans are universal.

Jim Busby, Chris Cord, and Rick Knoop didn’t just drive fast cars; they drove home the idea that anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the work. They showed us that the American spirit isn’t just alive and well; it’s got a lead foot and a need for speed. So, let’s raise a glass (or a gas can) to these three mavericks, these pioneers of the pavement, these kings of the track. They may have been born in the USA, but they conquered the world, one lap at a time.

Inspiring the Next Generation

And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, their story will inspire the next generation of dreamers and daredevils. Maybe some kid watching this documentary will say, “Hey, if those guys can do it, so can I.” And before you know it, we’ll have a whole new crop of American heroes tearing up the track and showing the world what we’re made of.

This is a story about the human spirit, about the power of perseverance, and about the unbreakable bond that comes from chasing a common goal. It’s the story of Jim Busby, Chris Cord, and Rick Knoop, three American badasses who took on the world and won. And if that doesn’t get your motor running, well, then I don’t know what will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go find my own Le Mans. I hear there’s a go-kart track down the street, and I’ve got a score to settle with a 10-year-old who cut me off last week. Hey, we all have our dreams, right? Thanks for joining me on this wild ride, folks. Until next time, keep the shiny side up and greasy side down. And remember, in the words of Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”

About the Author

GV Wire Producer Dean Kirkland is the founder and director of Gas and Gears, an independent film production company that has produced numerous television series and feature films, including the award-winning documentary “Racing Through The Forest” (2014).

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