F1 Rejects World Exclusive Interview with

FRANK J. DOCHNAL

Cooper T51Mechanic for VukovichWith his wife, who doubled as his mechanicAustin sportscar

Interview by Stephen Slater

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Frank J. Dochnal In 1963, Frank J. Dochnal turned 43. He had raced midgets, Austin sportscars, and a Cooper T51 in club championships for many years. Appearing as if out of nowhere, he made a fleeting appearance on the Formula One scene, in practice for the Mexican Grand Prix of 1963. He spun the car into the barriers before qualifying and didn't make it to the grid.

Dochnal's efforts were unfortunately quickly forgotten, and his story was soon reduced to whatever the Grand Prix record books could note: a crash and a failure to qualify. No birth details, racing history, what he went on to do in life... until now! Tracked down by F1 Rejects' UK Correspondant Stephen Slater, Dochnal, now 83, granted us the opportunity to ask some questions about his life and career.

Frank remained very much part of motorsport after he retired from driving - becoming an Indianapolis mechanic, and later USAC technical official, for over twenty years, culminating in his membership of the Indy Old Timers Club. We thank Frank for his co-operation and assistance in providing pictures from his driving days. For full details of Dochnal's F1 race, and information on his career, please see our Frank J. Dochnal biography.



• Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in St Louis, Missouri, and I grew up in St Louis, Missouri. I came from a poor side of the family, not real, real poor, but our father, Joseph, did work and made some money to keep the house going. The average family. I went to school first at a grade school called Horace Mann, and then high school at Roosevelt High School.
• What age did you start becoming interesting in motorsport?

Well, as soon as I got a drivers licence! I started getting interested in motorsports and motorcycling when I came back from the Navy after World War II. I was then a machinist and an automobile mechanic. But racing was my main interest, my whole life revolved around automobile racing. I started in midgets in the St Louis area.
• How did your racing career develop from there, then?

Well, I raced midgets from 1945 to 1955, and then I moved to California. Then I picked up sportscar racing in 1955. I raced an Austin Healy 6, and then I bought an Austin Healy Le Mans, and I raced that, and then I bought a Cooper-Climax Formula 1 car and raced that, and my last race was in Mexico City in which I crashed.
Dochnal racing midgets at Farmer City, Illinois.
• Regarding the Cooper car. There is some confusion in the records as to whether you drove a T53P car or a T51 car in Mexico. Which was it?

The T51 car. I got it from a party over in England. I don't remember what his name was or anything else about it. I just got infatuated with the car, and it looked like a real race car, and I had the chance and I thought I'm gonna buy that car, and so I bought it. I am automobile crazy - I have owned 64 automobiles in my life, including all my racecars and motorcycles!
• How did the opportunity to race in 1963 in Mexico come about?

Well, I read about the race, and I wanted to enter, so I wrote to the people down in Mexico City, and they enticed me to come on down and race down there. I was really excited about the race; to be invited really made me very enthused about driving down there.
• The 1963 race was the first ever Mexican GP, what was it like to be there? What was the atmosphere like?

Oh, the people went crazy. The people in Mexico love a race! And I was well taken care of by the Association that promoted the race, with my hotel and all services I required. I was well taken care of. I thought the track was a beautiful track, down there. I really liked it. Before the rain we had several practice runs and I really enjoyed it, I was doing quite well on the dry track.
Frank in his midget waving the chequered flag
• How did you get on with the other F1 drivers?

I got along real well with the other drivers for the simple reason my wife and I had the only hot coffee pot in the paddock, that we'd brought down along with us, and a coffee grinder to make coffee, and nobody else had a coffee pot down there, so we were pretty well liked!
• So what happened in that practice session, the day before qualifying?

It was raining and we were having practice sessions, and I lost it coming out of a hairpin, and going into a series of S-turns. It just broke away from me, and I slid in there and just creamed the back end! The right rear suspension was totally wiped out.
• Was it at that point that you made the decision to retire from racing altogether?

Well, I was getting pretty old at that time. I think I was getting ready for retirement even before I even had the wreck, I was thinking about retirement because at 42 years old, you're getting pretty old for some of that stuff.

Once we figured we couldn't get the car repaired, I just came back to the motel and I looked at my wife and she says "Don't you think it's time to hang it up? There are a lot younger kids running over your ass! What do you think?" and I looked at her and I said "I retire." And I hung up my helmet, literally.
The Cooper T51, piloted by Dochnal in club racing around 1962.
• Do you still follow Formula 1 and CART, and what do you think of modern day racing?

Oh yeah, I still follow Formula 1, I still follow IRL, which is the Indianapolis open-wheel racing. And when CART first started out, I helped them out a little bit with some technical work that I had experience in.

Modern day racing is just getting better and better with all the computer work and everything. It was a lot different, you know, we didn't have computers - you had to use your brain, thinking "This'll make me go faster" or "This'll make it better" or something. But now they've got all the computer work - you don't even need to think, you just punch it into the computer and it gives you the answer! It's an altogether different game of racing now than at the time I was racing, when you just had to think.
• What do you consider the best and worst moments of your career?

Well, the worst moment was a bad accident I had with my midget in which I ended up in the hospital. It was a severe accident, it totalled my midget.

My best race was the week I got my F1 car from England. It was a race on a Saturday in Riverside, California. I received my car on a Thursday, and I was put in the back of the field because of the late entry. It was a 50-mile race, and I came from the back to the front, and I won that 50-mile race in my first outing!
• How do you look back on the Mexican GP?

Well, that was the best moment that I enjoyed driving, because I was in the world's top racing league at that time. I was with the rest of the big boys, very excited to be there!
Click here to read Frank's Full Biography on our site!


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