JOHN ALEY

A Lifetime in Motorsport

 

 

CHAPTERS


Introduction

My Way

Abarth

Infrastructure

The French

Nurburgring

Racing Small Saloons

Re-start

The Serious Side

The Changing Years

The Chimp

Makes You Think

Memories That Stick

Rollover Bars

Mini Racing

 

Gallery

 

Updates

Downloads

Contact


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. 

Motor racing is not dis-similar. 

Our 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 line. 

But most of all we forget the dangers and the casualty rate. 

These 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. 

One 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. 

It 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. 

It 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. 

Of course we were all barmy – but then it was always the other chap who was going to get hurt – not me.