Denny Hulme in 1966
Like his fellow-countrymen, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, Hulme at 30 is no body's idea of a hell-raising racing driver. His idea of relaxation is to put his feet up family style and watch television after a day at the racing shop.
Hulme started racing the hard way, and his long climb to the Brabham Formula 1 team has been a result of his maddeningly casual "she'll be right" approach to motor racing which has become a sharply defined business in the past few years. The casual amateur "dabbler" can no longer win big races-you have to be a dedicated professional to pick up the laurels these days.
Clive Hulme, Denny's father, was awarded the Victoria Cross in W'orld War II, and he runs a garage at Te Puke in Hawkes Bay where Denny went to work on leaving school. Tinkering with cars 'prompted an interest in racing, and his first competition was in an MG TF, but after a couple of races he was entering an MGA. This also succumbed to the Hulme lust for faster machinery and his fifth race was at the wheel of a 2-liter single-seater Cooper. Two years earlier in 1958 Bruce McLaren had shown form in a 1750-cc Cooper and had been chosen as the first "Driver to Europe" sponsored by the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association. In 1959 they didn't consider they had a driver worthy of the award, but for the 1960 season they found themselves with two-Denny Hulme arid George Lawton. Both boys were in 2 liter Coopers and both were driving impressively. Obviously a decision to send one and not the other was going to require a greater amount of diplomacy than anyone was prepared to put forward, so a compromise was made and both drivers were awarded the racing scholarship. Denny's friend and mechanic Feo Stanton also went along as a very efficient team manager who could also look after the racing cars.
During the 1960 season Denny won the Formula 2 section of the International Trophy at Silverstone in a Cooper, then bought a Cooper-BMC Formula Jr car to tour the continental races, but in those days the Italian cars were ruling the class and Denny had to be content with adding to his experience if not his exchequer. Late in the season on the Danish Roskilde Ring, George was killed when his Cooper flipped and Denny went sorrowfully back to England to take his late teammate's place in a Formula 1 2.5-liter Cooper at Snetterton to finish fifth.
He borrowed a 2.5-liter. Cooper from Reg Parnell for the 1961 series in New Zealand and showed the folks at home what a season' in Europe had done for him by winning the National Gold Star during the series. However, an offer of a works supported Cooper F-Jr drive made by Ken Tyrrell had gone begging over the winter while Denny was in the sun "Down Under" and when he returned the position had been filled. Not outwardly perturbed, Denny bought himself a Cooper Jr and fitted a Martin-modified Ford which, though cheaper than the Cosworth versions, was not competitive with them or the BMC engines in the Tyrrell Coopers. Angus Hyslop had won the "Driver to Europe" award for 1961, and he and Denny toured the continental races together, their best result being at Messina in Sicily when they commanded the race to take first and second.
I traveled with Hulme on this gypsy-like tour of Europe using a clapped-out Mark 1 Zodiac as a tow car and I can vouch for the easy-going "she'll be right" Hulme nature which seems to carry him blissfully through the intense hurly burly of motor racing. Denny's slow, broad, New Zealand accent and extreme casualness towards almost any situation led people to believe him an "easy take" but they soon learned that Denny was usually a couple of moves ahead of whatever they had planned to do!
At the end of the 1961 season Denny took a job as a mechanic, in Brabham's bread-and-butter garage and in time off over the winter brought his Cooper Jr up to the specifications of the factory machinery. But although his drives were as determined and unspectacularly quick as ever and he was regularly leading home the private entrants, he couldn't match the pace of the latest factory cars in his cobbled-up '61 car.
Tyrrell offered him occasional drives in his Coopers and Denny could always return the car unbattered with thanks and a second or third place. His tie with the Brabham organization was going further than the undersides of customer's cars and at Crystal Palace he was offered the sole Brabham F-Jr car. He took pole position in practice which cocked eyebrows in a few camps, and after a hectic race finished fourth.
Brabham believes in getting value for money and in Denny he saw an accomplished mechanic /builder /driver who could be left to his own devices with a competitive car and do well.
Consequently Denny was set up as a one-man-band within the organization to run the factory Jr for 1963 and he started off in fine style with a win at the Boxing Day Brands Hatch meeting. He made his name during the rest of the season winning seven of 14 races and taking four 2nds to Peter Arundell's works Lotus after some tooth and nail battles. He was also trying his hand at different kinds of machinery and when Tommy Atkins offered him a drive in his 3.8 Jaguar with Roy Salvadori in the Brands Hatch Six-Hour race, they won. The year before he had placed second in this race with a Mini Cooper.
Brabham was so impressed with his "find" that he arranged a second 2.5-liter Tasman Brabham for the 1963 series in New Zealand and Australia to compete with Bruce McLaren and Tim Mayer in a pair of special slimline Coopers.
New Zealand race organizers are notorious for treating their home stars with indifference bordering on contempt, and. Denny no doubt ruffled their aloof feathers when he carried off the laurels in the opening race of the season at Levin. The rest of the tour was a muddle of minor places with some drives better than the rest but all being overshadowed by the Brabham vs. McLaren battles which ended in a Tasman title for McLaren.
The Brabham association with Goodyear was getting under way at this early stage and Denny horrified the local Dunlop men by fitting a wide set of Goodyear sports car tires to his Brabham at Teretong Park and paralyzing the lap record. The Dunlop men altered between entreaties and threats but Denny was making up his own mind. He ran the American rubber and ran away from the field until he overdid it in a rare burst of Hulme over-enthusiasm and spun off.
Back in Europe for the 1964 season, Hulme was driving in the new Formula 2 class with the works Brabhams and having his first real and regular opportunities to mix it with the FI stars on equal grounds. He took second place to Brabham in the French Championship, and Jack was also giving him the occasional drives in his Formula 1 cars at the smaller non-championship meetings when Dan Gurney wasn't available.
In 1965 the Formula 1 seat that Denny was taking was Jack's own and stories immediately flooded out that Brabham was retiring to leave Gurney and Hulme carrying the flag. However, Brabham was not in the running for the championship and neither were his cars, for Coventry Climax was spending a lot of time making sure that Clark won the championship. Jack drove when the 4-valve engine was available to him, and at Monaco he was barrelling along in front as determinedly hung out as he had been in the title days five years earlier. But the engine broke. Jack was playing it shrewd as always and giving Hulme experience of cars, men and circuits that he would need when he came to step into a permanent Formula 1 slot that he was to get in 1966.
Hulme was also having his share at winning in Sid Taylor's immaculate little 2-liter BT8 Brabham sports car that was running rings round bigger machinery and made a 'mockery of the celebrated "big bangers" at Oulton Park by out-lasting them and winning the Tourist Trophy. In 1966 he was meeting and beating the "big bangers" on their own ground as Taylor had bought him a 6-liter Lola T70 and Denny was winning everything in sight-comfortably.
The 1966 season has been Denny's best and busiest year. The new Honda engine for the works Brabham F2 cars was a little roller-bearinged gem and Jack and Denny finished one and two practical1y everywhere they went. Denny was often faster than Jack and there were a few trouble spots of in-team friction during the season when Denny felt perhaps he could have beaten the boss but team tactics prevailed and they kept deaning up the F2 races. In Fl Denny was running the second Repco Brabham V-8 by the French GP and he took a lucky third place having almost run out of fuel on the last lap. At the British GP he was in flying form and took a second place to Brabham, and in the Dutch he notched up fastest lap before retiring with ignition troubles.
So after a season of winning or doing well in sports-racers, co-driving a Ford prototype to 2nd at Le Mans and being outstanding in Fl and F2 as well Denny Hulme is regarded as a Very Useful Gentleman to have around.
His blonde New Zealand wife, Greeta, thinks this too, for Denny has a tangle of copper piping in his apartment in Surbiton ready to install it as a central heating system "when he gets a spare moment." The only trouble is that fast men in motor racing never have spare moments!