The  season started with a huge thrill - we were invited to participate in the filming of a major motion picture - "Winning" - starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward (Paul's wife) and Robert Wagner. NEAT people! - Newman and I hit it off right away and he elected to drive my race car for the road racing parts of the movie. And he arranged a bit part for me - which made me some money and was great fun.
Paul (was) a very real, very warm and friendly guy - very easy to be with. No star-like ego at all - which was very refreshing. And as it turned out he was a natural - he later became a fine driver and won many races.
Then we began our actual racing season - and had our ups and downs - but we were feeling good about our chances for a few wins as we tweaked the car and got faster bit-by-bit.
But Then . . .
It was qualifying for the 1968 “Can-Am,” the Canadian American Challenge Cup. This round was at Mosport Park, near Toronto. My all time favorite racetrack.
Up hill and down, fast sweeping off camber bends. A racer’s Paradise.
We’re being timed, for the best one lap of balls to the wall racing against the clock- trying to set a single hot lap that the others guys can’t match.
The race car is working better than it ever has and I am stoked.
This was the happiest moment of my life.
Superstar Peter Revson was there that day driving a factory McLaren, as was Bruce McLaren himself.
And a lot of other great drivers.
Legendary Formula One and Indy 500 Stars are here racing today! I am a legend among legends - a star among stars.
Which all turned out to be . . .
The Great Dream Of An Ego!
We knew we had no chance for the pole. I was a good racer, but if I were to make a truthful assessment, I was not all that great against Formula One stars like Bruce McLaren, F1 Champ John Surtees, Bob Bondurant, Graham Hill - also an F1 Champ - and great Sports Car Aces like Jim Hall, and all that lot.
Not only that, but our small team with its lone race car, committed though we were, and fast and nimble though our car was, certainly was NO match for the highly sponsored factory McLarens, Lolas and Chaparrals. We were realistic about that.
So I was not altogether displeased to be running around sixth at this stage - and hoping to move up to maybe fourth of fifth.
So I was standing on it.
Right out on the very edge – 110%!
I was turning into a downhill left-hander at about 140 MPH. The car was stable as I bent the thing into the turn, all four wheels loose in a controlled drift. As the apex comes up in this corner, the hilltop crests and starts to sharply slope down toward the hairpin turn at the bottom, “Moss’ Corner.” It’s a little bit off camber, and the car gets very, very light at this point.
Drifting, flat out, I was in heaven. There were no limits. I was ‘Home’ (so I thought, because I “knew” this “experience of Oneness" was ‘home’.)
I was flying, supremely free.
Man, was I ever Awake and Alive.
There was no mind, no thought, just … a total experience of BEING. Being … Fully Awake and Fully Alive.
It was Bliss. Total Joy. Total Freedom. Flying all alone at the speed of light. There was nobody in the car. It was all oneness … Being … free and unbounded. I was no longer Charlie. I was EVERYTHING. The Car. The Road. The Sunny Cloudless Sky.
I died that day at Mosport.
I was flying through that very fast section of road, dancing through that sweeping off-camber downhill left hand bend. The road was not level, it tilted to the right; moreover it crested a hill and swooped down like a roller coaster with no tracks, making the issue of grip very dicey.
There is a loud cracking sound.
Then there is nothing.
Not Blackness. Not even that!
I and world are gone.
Everything - is gone.
Deep sleep death.
Much later I am told that a hub carrier, an alloy casting that holds the wheel to the suspension, had broken, and the right rear wheel had immediately come off, which sent the car out of control and careening toward God Only Knew What.
The “what” was Charlie’s temporary death.
Later I heard that everyone who saw the crash was aghast, as they saw a ‘lifeless’ form slumped in the cockpit and they ‘knew’ that ‘Charlie is Dead!’ There was much shaking of heads, and “Wow, how terrible,” uttered, as the medics gathered up the lifeless organism and bundled it sadly into the meat wagon.
For about an hour, as time measured the instant, the Charlie entity was totally gone. Then Charlie came back, but who Charlie was for himself and others as a racer had died forever, when the car hit an earth bank at Moss’ Corner backwards, still going probably 120 MPH.
Much later, at a very long meditation retreat, there arose - during a session of sitting - a vision.
It was though a memory-movie was playing, and I saw the wheel fly off, the car careen out of control, the car hit the embankment - fortunately read end first so the engine, behind the driver in these race cars, takes the brunt of the impact.
I watch the body die instantly!
Then I am above watching as the dead body gets unbelted by the paramedics, laid out on a gurney, and trundled into an ambulance, and all the while something, a space-like seer - bodiless timeless eternally alive - looks down from a couple hundred feet above and watches. Then there is a deep sadness, and grief. Then - total blackout.
Next thing I know, I am in an emergency medical facility at the race track.
From Hero to Zero
As a friend, Frank Gardner, once said, “That nasty business of going from 120 MPH to ZERO is just a bit hard on the old nervous system.”
Tell me about it. This body had backaches and headaches - and a lot of suffering thoughts about all that - for over 37 years.