He could have been anything. His father was Martin Revson, a founding partner of Revlon Cosmetics. He was rich, well educated, athletic and looked like a movie star. According to their sister Jennifer, Peter and her brother Douglas excelled at all things but chose to drive race cars.
While attending the University of Hawaii in 1960, Peter entered his first race. To the chagrin of his mother, it seemed he was a natural at this endeavor as well. He finished second in his first attempt, won his second outing and was reprimanded for aggressive driving in the third. Aghast, his parents promptly withdrew their financial support. Peter took the balance of his funds earmarked for college and moved to England. There, he nurtured his relationship with Teddy Mayer (whom he had met while attending Cornell). Mayer was more interested in the business side of professional racing and did not drive. Through their association, Revson made good contacts and ultimately gained access to more sophisticated machines.
After knocking around Europe for a few years, “Revvie” (as friends had begun to call him) returned to the United States to race big bore sports cars. The new Canadian American (Can-Am) series had just been introduced with advertised purses that exceeded those of Formula One. Both Peter and Douglas were front and center from the inaugural race on. Peter performed well enough to capture the attention of Ford executives and soon endurance racing and pony car seats were being offered. Meanwhile Mayer (who was by now managing Team McLaren), was on hand to monitor Revson’s progress.
When Douglas perished in a racing accident in 1968, Peter was understandably shaken. The brothers had made a pact however, and both had agreed to carry on even if one had paid the ultimate price.
In ’69 Peter got his first opportunity to race at Indianapolis. His mount was an underpowered Brabham but he squeaked into the Show and motored from dead last to fifth. After finishing in the money at Sebring as well, actor Steve McQueen hired him to co-drive his Porsche 908 in the 1970 edition of their twelve hour contest. The story has become legend as the factory teams one by one fell by the wayside and the duo of Revson and McQueen found themselves leading the event. Literally in the eleventh hour, Team Ferrari pulled Mario Andretti off the bench and put him in their sole remaining entry. In total darkness, Andretti began turning laps at qualifying pace. He eventually caught and passed the little Porsche and crossed the finish line twenty four seconds ahead. Reportedly McQueen took most of the credit for their near upset but the more informed recognized that Revson had done most of the heavy lifting.
Finally in 1971, Mayer felt that Revson had reached his full potential and offered him a contract with Team McLaren. Peter responded by putting his state of the art M16 on the pole at Indianapolis and finished second in only his third start in the 500. In Can-Am racing he was now driving for the dominate team. Revson won half of the races outright and finished on the podium in another three. His points accumulated were enough to earn him his first championship.
In spite of his successes, Mayer didn’t offer him a fulltime ride in Formula One until the following season. In this arena Revson was winless although he finished in the runner-up spot once and in the “show position” three times. The result was a fifth in the 1972 point standings. In Can-Am racing McLaren had lost its edge and the title had gone to Porsche. In Indycar a McLaren had won its first 500 but that was in the capable hands of Privateer Roger Penske.
In 1973 Peter’s dream of winning Formula One races was realized when he won both the British and Canadian Grand Prix. When Mayer had the opportunity to hire ’72 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi (who came with Marlboro sponsorship) however, he did so and Revson was left without a ride. For the 1974 Formula One campaign Revson signed with Don Nichol’s new Shadow Team. The ensemble failed to make the first two races on the schedule and jumped at the opportunity to practice prior to the third round in Kyalami South Africa. On 3/22/74 Revson crashed his DN3 racecar when a titanium ball joint failed at a high rate of speed. He was reportedly killed instantly.
“He gave 100 percent of himself every time he went out on the track,” Jennifer Revson told George Levy in his book on the Can-Am. “He hated losing. He hated coming in second. Had he lived, I believe he would have realized his goal of becoming World Champion.”