Le Mans ’66: The Third Men – An Article by Stewart Longhurst

The 1966 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is well known for many things – the end of Ferrari’s dominance at the race, the controversial win by the car that had been running second, and the historic 1-2-3 win for Ford.

Many articles and books – and indeed Hollywood movies – have been written about how Ford took on Ferrari and how, as the chequered flag was waved, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were classed as winners over Ken Miles and Denny Hulme thanks to a staged photo opportunity finish. These four drivers have well-known stories extending beyond the race – albeit sadly not for long in some cases.

But who remembers the names of the drivers of the third place car, the gold GT40 with the fuschia pink nose flashes? Who were they, where were they from and what happened to them after?

Americans Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson were driving one of fifteen Ford GT40s entered into the race that year – of which only those top three actually finished. They weren’t part of the victorious Shelby American outfit, but the back-up Holman-Moody team, more successfully associated with running Fords in NASCAR.

Bucknum started the race, holding on to third place well beyond the first hour. By halfway, the Bucknum/Hutcherson car was in fourth, behind the three Shelby Fords (the other being piloted by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant). At this point in the race, Ford GT40s held the first 6 places, as well as 8th. By the time Dick Hutcherson brought up the rear of the finishing GT40 trio, his car was 12 laps down on the hard-racing Miles and McLaren cars.

Honda’s F1 pioneer
Ronnie Bucknum was born in April 1936 in Alhambra, now an eastern suburb of Los Angeles. He started racing sports cars in 1956 and became known as one of the most talented drivers to come from the Southern California racing scene, winning Sports Car Club of America in 1959, 1960, 1962 and 1964, taking the laurels 44 times in 48 races.

In early 1964, he was approached by Honda and flew to Tokyo to try out their first ever Formula One car. The Japanese team thought that Bucknum’s relative obscurity on the international stage would allow them to test and race the car in relative secrecy and without undue expectations.

The car and Bucknum made their F1 debut at the 1964 German Grand Prix, held at the Nürburgring in early August. An accident caused by steering failure on the 11th lap brought his race to a premature end but his car was still classified in 13th place. He raced the Honda again in Monza and Watkins Glen that year, retiring in both races. Over the winter Bucknum broke his leg during testing and Honda signed the more experienced Richie Ginther to lead their F1 campaign.

Bucknum stayed with Honda for 1965, retiring from races in Monaco, Spa and again at Clermont-Ferrand, just a week before his Le Mans debut in a Swiss-run GT40. After another DNF in Monza and a 13th at Watkins Glen, he scored his first and only F1 points for a 5th place finish in the final race of the year in Mexico City.

After failing to qualify for the 1966 Indianapolis 500, Bucknum received an invitation to join Ford’s Le Mans campaign alongside Dick Hutcherson. He returned to Honda for the last two F1 races of the year in America and Mexico but that was the end of Ronnie’s brief Formula One stint.

Between 1967 and 1971, Bucknum competed in the USAC Champ Car – now known as Indycar – achieving podiums in Mont-Tremblant in Quebec twice, Mosport Park in Ontario and a win at the inaugural Michigan 250. In six Indy 500 attempts during that period, Bucknum managed to qualify three times, with 15th place his best result.

Ronnie also returned to Le Mans in 1967 – with Shelby American this time – but retired after 18 hours with engine failure. His final trip to Le Sarthe was in 1970, where he drove his NART Ferrari 512S to 3rd in class, 4th overall. Ronnie Bucknum died in 1992, aged 56, from complications related to diabetes.

Stock car hustler to businessman
Dick Hutcherson was born in November 1931 in Keokuk, Iowa – one of the so-called Keokuk Gang of stock car racers including twelve-time IMCA Champion Ernie Derr, Don White and Ramo Stott.

Hutcherson – also known as Hutch – started racing in 1956 and moved up to IMCA in 1959, taking the championship in 1963 and 1964 to put a gap in what would have been a 13-year winning streak for “Old Man” Ernie Derr.

Tempted away from the Midwest by the bigger prize money in the Grand National Series, Hutch began his career in NASCAR at the Greenville 200 in South Carolina, putting his privateer Ford on pole for his first race.

From 1965, Hutch drove for the Holman-Moody team, winning 9 races and coming second in the Championship. He continued with the team in ‘66 – albeit with a gap before and after the Le Mans race – and again in ‘67, finishing his final season in third place and retiring from driving.

He didn’t stray too far from racing, however, focusing on his chassis-building business and becoming crew chief for David Pearson, who won the championship in ‘68 and ‘69. This success earned Hutch the position of general manager at Holman-Moody until he left in late 1971 to set up Hutcherson-Pagan in partnership with driver Eddie Pagan – building and repairing race cars for the likes of A.J. Foyt.

Dick was tempted back into a racing car for the 1976 24 Hours of Le Mans to drive a Ford Torino, but the experience lasted only 11 hours before the car was pitted with an oil leak.

Having finally retired as co-founder, owner and President of Hutcherson-Pagan – a company that still supplies parts to race teams across America – Dick Hutcherson died in November 2005, aged 73.

Of the six drivers involved in Ford’s 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans in 1966, Hutcherson outlived all but one – Chris Amon, who died in 2016, also aged 73.