The Teams Arrived in Cuba.
Havana, Cuba. February 26, 1958. Following the Argentinian Grand Prix, the drivers had little to do until the next Grand Prix in May – Monaco. So, as was the custom of the day, many F1 drivers also raced in various sports car races. This led much of the Grand Prix crowd to the Grand Premio of Cuba.
On Saturday evening before the race, Fangio was in the lobby of a joint known as the Hamilton Hotel doing what he does best – being a legend. Well, he was shooting the breeze with some mechanics. All of the sudden a young man, later identified as Manuel Uziel ,pressed the cold steel of a .45 caliber into Fangio’s side. Fangio felt the gun. Uziel jabbed the gun in to his side. It took a few moments for those around to realize what was about to go down.
Uziel was a member of the revolutionary July 26 Movement. The Cuban Dictator, Fulgencio Bastista, had sought to turn Havana into a western tourist destination; a Cuban Las Vegas, as it were. Bringing an international sports car race to the streets of Havana was part of the plan to turn Havana into a haven of cheap glitz and tourist dollars. Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries were diametrically opposed to these efforts. Let’s be frank, as sports go, Formula 1 is about as capitalist as you get. The reasoning for capturing Fangio is not elusive. Kidnapping the Maestro would certainly bring attention to the cause.
And so, Uziel hauled Fangio out of the Hamilton lobby and into a waiting car. What do you with a hostage? You take them to a hiding spot, you are probably thinking (and if not, I question your kidnap and capture skills). But Uziel could not help himself, he took Fangio to his home and introduced him to his family. Fangio posed for pictures; he signed autographs.
Eventually, Uziel took his famous captive to the agreed-upon hideout location. But, a wounded revolutionary was already there. So, rather than find an equivalent dingy spot, at some point Uziel decided on an upgrade. They ended up in a lavish house in a wealthy neighborhood. An attractive woman made Fangio sandwiches. Although, there is reason to believe that she did a lot more than make Fangio a sammich.
Eventually, noon sunday rolled around –race time. So, what did Fangio, Uziel and the rest of his captors do? They kicked back, popped some brews and watched the race. And this is why I contend that you do not capture Fangio. At best, you are allowed to hang out with the Maestro. I would even argue that Juan-Manuel Fangio could out-Norris Chuck. He’s just that epic.
Perhaps they ate pressed cuban sandwiches before smoking one of Cuba’s finest. Regardless, here is what they saw on their old-timey, yet upscale, television:Gran Premio de Cuba 1958.
At the start, 150,000 spectators lined the corners of the street race. The race was to go on, as it always does. Moss and another Ferrari driver, by the name of Masten Gregory, fought for the lead. Within laps, grip was noticeably lessening. Some suspected Sabotage, but it was oil from a Porsche. Within laps, the inevitable happened:
The crash killed six and injured many more. The race was red flagged and, from a last minute pass before the start-finish line, Moss was the victor. (see, Kidnapped in Cuba, for full race report).
Twenty-Six Hours After It Began: Fangio Released.
Well rested, Señor Fangio emerged at the Argentine Embassy 26 hours after he was taken captive. Fangio, happily answered questions from everyone. Fangio remarked, “The revolutionists treated me well. They tried to explain to me the reasons for my kidnapping and the aims of their organization and their attitude was even friendly. I was well fed by a woman who brought me meals.” Well fed, I’ll say. Not only did Fangio charm his kidnappers, but after being kidnapped, he hung around the warm Havana beaches for a few days to relax and unwind. And it is stories like these, that make Fangio the legend that he remains today.
Kidnappers Kind, Fangio Asserts: Auto Racer Declares Cuban Rebels Were Friendly–Boxers Are Guarded. New York Times, February 26, 1958. P. 3.
This would probably be more appropriately labeled as an addendum; but, I’m the author and I prefer the word epilogue. Anyway, adding to the bizarreness of the foregoing story, while researching this post, I came across an interesting concept album. The artist is Peter Peter Hughes and the album is called, simply, “Fangio.” I’ll keep my explanation simple, because the more you get into the album, the stranger it gets. To describe it would detract from its brilliant insight and Mark Ronson-esque grooves.
The only video made for the album includes a re-envisioning of Fangio keeping it real in a Seinfeld-era Saab:
Another song, entitled “Compared to Their Predecessors, Today’s Politically Motivated Kidnappers Are Total Dicks” addresses Fangio’s kidnapping. I could not find the lyrics reproduced anywhere on the internet, period. So, I will post the relevant portion of the lyrics here:
Late winter, snow still on the ground.
Eleven weeks now; these guys ain’t fuckin’ around.
It’s not like Havana in 1958
It’s sounds weird to say but those guys were okay.
A case could be made that they saved my life that day.
I remember talkin’; Cuban sandwiches and beers.
Which title meant the most to me, my gracious hosts asked of me.
Like Stockholm syndrome, except in reverse.
I charmed the pants right off of them.
Smiling, they sent me home again.
The song is on iTunes and Spotify. If you have a penchant for the weird and unusual, I recommend checking out this unique concept album.