Le Mans-winning Ferrari to be featured at Art of the Car Concours
Forty-eight years ago on June 23, at precisely 4 p.m., Masten Gregory of Kansas City breathed a sigh of relief as his red No. 21 Ferrari 250 Le Mans Berlinetta crossed the finish line to win the most important sports car race in the world: The 24 Hours of Le Mans. He and his co-driver, Austrian Jochen Rindt, outlasted faster cars and covered 347 laps of the 8.365-mile circuit, averaging 120.944 miles an hour for 24 hours.
Gregory was the second American to win this prestigious event. Phil Hill, from California, won in 1958, 1961 and 1962. Gregory, who died at age 53 in 1985, will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America on Aug. 21 at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit. He is buried in Porto Ecole, Italy.
Fast driving was in Gregory’s blood as he grew up taking part in impromptu racing on the streets of Kansas City. Folks have said they could hear his ’49 Ford screeching through Mission Hills in the middle of the night.
Masten was born to Riddelle and Nancy Gregory on Feb. 29, 1932, the youngest of three children. Riddelle Jr. and Nancy Lee were his siblings. The Gregorys invented a flourishing mail-order life insurance business, Postal Life and Casualty, but Masten’s father died at age 38. Masten, according to Patrick Sinibaldi’s book, “Masten Gregory, The Maverick,” was “was a typical rebel” who went to Pembroke Country Day School and later, Shawnee Mission High School, but never graduated.
Street racing led him to sports cars, and his first race, in 1952, was at Caddo Mills, Texas, in a Cadillac-powered Allard J2X. In 1953, he bought a Ferrari 375 MM and went to Italy. Masten found seats in sports cars and formula cars of most every kind. Racing took him to Europe, the States, Mexico, Cuba and South America. In Kansas City author Michael J. Cox’s book, “Masten Gregory: Totally Fearless,” he quotes the legendary Carroll Shelby as saying that Gregory was “the fastest American to ever go over and race a Grand Prix car.”
In many ways, the 1965 Le Mans win was the pinnacle of his career, although it came at time when his racing days were in decline. The 3.3-liter, V-12 Ferrari 250 LM, overshadowed by the Ford GT40s and Ferrari prototypes, started 11th and was an unlikely candidate for an overall victory. As the race progressed, the faster Fords and Ferrari prototypes dropped out. Electrical trouble hit Gregory and Rindt about 10:30 p.m. and the car was in the pits for 20 minutes, according to Sinibaldi’s book. The duo restarted the race in 18th place, determined to drive flat out through the night. They routinely revved the engine past its limit to 9,000 rpm. By dawn they were two laps behind the leader, a Belgian Ferrari 275 LM driven by Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin and by mid-morning, only seconds behind. Shortly after noon the Belgian car blew a tire on the Mulsanne straight and it took two pit stops to repair the damage. Gregory and Rindt built a five-lap lead and cruised to victory at 4 p.m. That was the last time a Ferrari won overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Red No. 21, unrestored and now owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is just like it was when it finished the race in France. The windshield is peppered with rock chips and the seats are worn This prancing stallion will be on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 23 at the seventh annual Art of the Car Concours on the grounds of the Kansas City Art Institute, 4415 Warwick. The Concours, for 200 cars and motorcycles, is a benefit for the institute’s scholarship fund.
Special guests for this year’s event include Sir Stirling Moss and automotive journalist Denise McCluggage. Moss was one of the top Grand Prix drivers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. McCluggage, who grew up in Kansas and raced sports cars in the States and in Europe, was a pioneer female racer as well as a founder of Competition Press that became Autoweek. From 1:30 to 3 p.m. on June 22, she and Moss will join Riddelle Gregory, Masten’s brother, in a Meet the Legends panel discussion to discuss Masten Gregory and sports car racing in the 1960s. Tickets and information are available at www.artofthecarconcours.com or call