The 32-year-old race car driver Bruce McLaren dies in a crash while testing an experimental car of his own design at a track in Goodwood, England on this day in 1970.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, McLaren contracted a childhood hip disease that would keep him in hospitals for several years. By the age of 14, he had recovered fully. His father, a part-time mechanic with an interest in racing, helped young Bruce build his first car, and he entered his first competitive event, a hill climb, when he was 15. Bruce McLaren also studied engineering at the University of Auckland. Aided by his mentor, the Grand Prix driver Jack Brabham, he became the first-ever winner of the New Zealand International Grand Prix Association’s “Driver to Europe” scholarship. McLaren announced his arrival on the European racing scene in 1958, finishing fifth in the German Grand Prix at the famous Nurburgring and winning the Formula Two division of the combined Formula One and Two race.
In 1959, McLaren joined his mentor on the Cooper racing team. That December, at the age of 22, he became the youngest-ever winner of a Formula One race, capturing the U.S. Grand Prix at Sebring. The following year–a banner one for Cooper–McLaren came in second only to Brabham in the standings for the Formula One World Championship. McLaren succeeded Brabham as Cooper’s top driver in 1962, and began expanding into the field of race car design and manufacturing in 1964. He left Cooper to form his own Grand Prix racing team and in 1968 he and his close friend and fellow driver Denny Hulme won three events in McLaren-Fords.
By that time, McLaren had begun to focus on the Canadian-American Challenge Cup series, sponsored jointly by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the Canadian Automobile Sports Committee (CASC). As the series grew, the McLaren team came to dominate it, and in 1969 the team won 11 of 11 races. At the time of his death in June 1970, McLaren had been at the top of the international racing world for more than a decade. According to an article about his fatal accident in The New York Times, McLaren was among the wealthiest driver-designers in the sport and was contemplating retirement from driving to devote more time to the business side of his racing interests. The racing team that bears his name survived him, becoming one of the most successful in Formula One history.