John Cordts: Man of talent and passion

Cordts finished 3rd at the USRRC race at Bridgehampton on May 19, 1968,. Robert G. White photo.

Cordts finished 3rd at the USRRC race at Bridgehampton on May 19, 1968,. Robert G. White photo.

This interview by Allan de la Plante originally appeared in the Toronto Star Wheels and has been reprinted with permission.

VICTORIA, B.C.—“Do you happen to know where I could find the home of John and Linda Cordts?”

I had pulled off the rural road well lost. The woman walking her dog was full of smiles and friendly.

“Do you mean John Cordts, the carver?”

“No. I am looking for John Cordts, the racing driver,” I said smiling, knowing full well that John was now a well-known wood carver.

“This can’t be the same man, but I can show you where the carver lives and perhaps they will know where the racing driver lives.”

I took the directions. When I got to the white house that sat on a hill overlooking the island countryside, a tall, slim, white-haired man stretched out his hand and softly said, “It’s been a long, long time.”

I had known John Cordts when I was a teenager. Little did I know then that I would one day sit and chat with him about his life in racing, when the thunderous roar of a Canadian-American Challenge Cup series car would thrill thousands of fans across North America.

Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Allan de la Plante: It’s been a while since we last met John.

John Cordts: It was the mid-’60s. You came up to my house in North Bay to look at my Elva racing car. I think you also took my Jag out for a bit of a thrash.
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John Cordts

Inducted 2003

John Cordts came to Canada from Sweden in the early 1950s, when he was 18, and settled in North Bay, Ont., a place he still considers to be his home town. Thoroughly familiar with machinery from the time he was very young, he started racing, as many Canadians do – on the ice, in winter. From there he moved to a brand-new MGA and soon made his presence known in amateur road racing. He was spotted by Dave Billes of Performance Engineering, who offered him a seat in the company Corvette. He won the Canadian Championship for big bore sports cars in 1965 against some pretty stiff competition. This convinced Billes that Cordts had the Right Stuff (in spades: in 1968, he set a track record of 101.8 mph at Harewood Acres that stood until the track closed in 1970) and the two of them went racing in 1966 in the famous Can-Am series with a McLaren. Now money, although not exactly scarce, was not in plentiful supply and Cordts’ skill at keeping ailing Can-Am cars on the track and in the money became legendary. A Road & Track magazine correspondent once wrote: “If I had a Can-Am car, I would want John Cordts to drive it.” In 1969, Cordts was offered a once-in-a-lifetime ride, a seat in a Brabham-Climax Formula One car for that year’s Grand Prix of Canada at Mosport. Only five Canadian drivers made the field for the Canadian GP in the Sixties and John Cordts was one of them – Eppie Weitzes, George Eaton, Al Pease and Bill Brack being the others. After a spin in the original Trans-Am series for BF Goodrich in the early 1970s, John Cordts left motorsport and retired to Vancouver Island.

Image courtesy of John Denniston