The Surprising F1 Record that Skip Barber Still Holds

As the world watches the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix this weekend, Lime Rock Park remembers Skip Barber’s contributions to the highest class of international, single-seater racing. Image: Skip’s lap at Monaco.


Before he formed his eponymous racing school, Skip Barber was recognized as one of America’s top up-and-coming drivers. After showing his potential in several leading series and winning national championships, he had the opportunity to compete at international motorsports’ highest level, Formula 1 – even holding the dubious distinction of setting an all-time record at Monaco.


While he had the talent to be competitive, he never had the support for a full time ride. The guru of at-track racecar engineering in North America, Carrol Smith, said “he was the fastest guy who never made it big”.


A Harvard graduate, Barber established his credentials as one of America’s elite racers when he competed in the USRRC (the original CanAm series) in 1966 and 1967. Driving a McLaren Elva Mk. I, he finished third in the 1967 championship for SCCA’s first professional series. Barber placed third in the latter year’s event at Watkins Glen, finishing behind Mark Donohue and Sam Posey.


After this, Barber took a “step back” to Formula Ford, which at the time was the premiere training grounds for Formula One drivers.  He won nearly every race, winning the SCCA National Championship in both 1969 and 1970.


The “step back” worked. March, a major British manufacturer and entrant of Formula One cars, had plans to build and sell F5000 cars for the L&M Championship in North America. They asked Barber to be the “works” driver and planned to start racing in 1971. When that car was late (really late), they put a deal together for Barber to race the the Granatelli/Andretti Formula 1 March, which was legal in F5000.


This effort got off to a rough start. Picking up the car in Los Angeles, just days before the season opener at Riverside, left no time for testing and very little practice. Barber started badly, but worked his way up to second and was passing the leader, lapping the field, when the guy in last made a move to pass the driver in front of him. Riverside wasn’t wide enough for four cars at that point, and a massive collision resulted, Barber’s car being destroyed.


March made the decision that it would be much more expedient to build an additional current Formula One car and put off manufacturing the F5000 car. The calendar suggested running the car in Europe initially, before bringing it to the States. Monaco and Hockenheim, though getting an entry to Monaco was virtually impossible, particularly for an American. Monaco said yes though, and the race was on to finish a car. 3 days before the race. & the March factory was in England!


Friday and Saturday are the normal practice days for Monaco. The car arrived in time for Barber to do a few laps in the rain. But when he put in gear, it wouldn’t move. The famous Alf Francis had been hired to do the gearbox and must have put something in backwards. That left Saturday to qualify. The organizers back then more invited entrants than they started – 20 entrants, 16 starters. Mario Andretti also had issues on Friday.


It rained so hard on Saturday that no one went out. That hard. “I’ve heard about the course and the tunnel all my life. I figured I’d at least get one look” remembered Barber. “As a result of that lap, I think I hold the record for the slowest lap ever at Monaco!”


Mario Andretti also failed to qualify.


Back then, the promoter gave starting money rather than prize money. With Hockenheim a week later, Skip’s manager attempted to negotiate starting money. Now that knowing that Barber was hopeless (just look at his qualifying time!) the promoter said, “I won’t give you anything”. Skip’s manager made the deal that “we’ll run for nothing guaranteed, but if we finish in the top 6, we get double.” The promoter said yes with a smile.


“In the race, I did finish in the top six,” Barber said. “March ran a lot of cars in that race, and I beat all of them. The team officials looked on and saw this American F5000 driver who couldn’t qualify at Monaco beat them. And it was quite satisfying to collect from the promoter after the race.”


Barber had to fend off Rolf Stommelen for sixth. Stommelen actually passed Barber on the final lap, but his move was disallowed and the German star was penalized.


“There was a kink at the back to slow the cars down at Hockenheim, and he went straight and passed me,” Barber recalled. “Highly illegal, but he was German and we were in Germany, so I thought it might not work out. But they didn’t let him get away with it.


Barber’s Formula One story wasn’t complete with his visit to Europe in 1971. After running a few more Grand Prix, his final Formula One race was the 1972 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

“At Watkins Glen, there were five Marches,” he said. “I out-qualified Ronnie Peterson, Niki Lauda and two other guys. The only March driver I didn’t out-qualify was Carlos Pace. Then about the 10th lap of the race the brakes started to go away, and I had the honor of waving Sam Posey by on the pit straight. The was hugely disappointing; it could have been a good race.”


Lime Rock Park named 2024 as ‘The Year of Skip Barber,’ paying tribute to Barber’s contributions to motorsport and Lime Rock Park through special events, exhibition and commemorative merchandise throughout the season. The Year of Skip Barber commencement ceremony will be held during the Trans Am Memorial Day Classic (May 24-27), more information will be released closer to opening weekend.


For more information on the Trans Am Memorial Classic, visit: