FORMULA ONE DRIVER
“He was one of my boyhood heroes for three reasons:
He wore thick glasses.
He was from Missouri.
He raced sports cars.”
—Mike O’Brien, sportswriter
When most people think of Formula One racing, they probably think about rich European drivers with expensive cars, Italian accents, and sleek appearances. But one of the most famous drivers on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s was Missouri-born Masten Gregory, with his short body, thick-rimmed glasses, and midwestern drawl. He was a true pioneer in motorsports and was one of the most successful American drivers in Formula One history.
THE EARLY YEARS
Masten Gregory was born on February 29, 1932, in Kansas City. He was born into a wealthy family with a father who was an executive in the insurance industry. His father died when Masten was only three years old, but his inheritance provided the means for the young man to support his passion for fast cars. During his early years, Masten spent his evenings racing the streets of Kansas City in a 1933 Ford Coupe. His interest in racing eventually led to a job in the pit crew for brother-in-law Dale Duncan’s race team.
RISE TO FAME
His inheritance allowed him to buy a Mercury-powered Allard, which he drove in his first race in 1952. He didn’t finish that race because of engine problems, but he was forever hooked on professional racing. He continued buying cars to race in events across the country. Before long he was winning with regularity on the minor circuits in both the United States and Europe. His success led to an invitation to race in the Argentine 1,000 km in 1953, which was the first of many international sportscar races.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Masten’s first Formula One race was on May 19, 1957. In his very first race as a professional driver, he became the first American to score a podium finish in the Formula One World Championship. The “Kansas City Flash,” as he was known, was becoming famous on the racing circuit and was soon one of the most successful racers in Formula One.
During his record-setting career, he participated in forty-two Grand Prix races where he won a spot on the podium three times. His success at Le Mans is one of the elements that defined his career as he and a co-driver won the prestigious Le Mans twenty-four-hour race in 1965. He ultimately competed in the Le Mans sixteen times, which was more than any other American in history.
He continued to compete until 1965 when he finished his career with the Italian Grand Prix. After his retirement from racing, Gregory settled in Amsterdam where he worked in the diamond trade. He died in Italy on November 8, 1985, of a heart attack at the early age of fifty-three.
*He had very bad eyesight, and was one of very few drivers who wore glasses during races.
*Masten was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.