THE SERIOUS SIDE
The human memory is a
wonderful machine and the English one better than most. How else
would those who survived two world wars tell such amusing tales of their
experiences. Put a veteran on TV and it`s all “A piece of cake
old` boy” stuff and only after hard probing from an eager young
journalist who didn`t study for his exams in an air raid shelter to the
accompaniment of ominous thuds outside as my generation did– and
hopefully will never experience of the sort – that some of the horrors
will be hinted at.
racing is not dis-similar.
memories of forty or fifty years ago are of the good things, the
successes, the travel, the company and the parties. We tend not to
remember the constant worries about how we were going to pay the bills.
We forget the almost continual tummy upsets many of us suffered as our
nervous systems reacted before a race and the last minute dashes to the
loo – and still wanting to pee when we got back into the car on the
most of all we forget the dangers and the casualty rate.
were indeed dangerous times in our sport for during the fifties and
sixties hardly a weekend passed when someone, somewhere was not killed or
seriously injured. Often it was someone we had met, sometimes it was
merely a name in another branch of racing but all too often it was someone
with whom we had shared experiences over many years.
of my worst moments was sitting on the start line for a race at Snetterton
when one of the marshals put his head into the car and told me that he had
just heard on the radio that a driver, whom he named, had been killed in a
race in France in tragic circumstances. Little did he know that
driver and I had been close friends for many years and were actually
living in the same house at the time. For a minute or two I wondered
deeply about the purpose of it all but then the flag fell and the
adrenaline took over.
was a dangerous time in our sport where even crash helmets were not
compulsory before 1951. There were no Armco
barriers, trees grew close to the track, road surfaces often varied within
the space of half a mile from rough concrete, to smooth tarmac with a few
cobble stoned areas thrown in for good measure and it was not unknown to
have tramlines crossing the track. Cars had no safety zones, there
was no rollover protection apart from fragile saloon roofs and few drivers
wore seat belts believing their best chance of survival lay in being
thrown clear in an accident. Probably it was but it was very painful
even if injuries were not serious – I know from experience.
is hard to the modern mind to accept that we would race in such
circumstances but that was the way of the world at the time. Most
drivers had memories of the war and regarded the risks of racing as
child’s play compared with hopping off a landing craft or crewing a
Stirling over the Ruhr.
course we were all barmy – but then it was always the other chap who was
going to get hurt – not me.