The interest in GP racing

THE REACTION from readers to the article last month asking when you lost interest in Grand Prix racing was quite staggering and extremely gratifying. I am often criticised, by people “on the inside” of Grand Prix racing, over my views on certain subjects or the way I express things or my handling of certain touchy subjects, and I always reply that I am not writing for the people “on the inside” but for those “outside”, and not necessarily the paying spectator, but for those who cannot get to the races. I do not write soapy, flowery words of praise about a driver or team in order that at the next meeting they will be all nice and friendly and thank me for the nice things I said about them. If I compliment a driver or team in my writings it is because I consider they deserve it and that I want the readers who were not at the meeting to know about it.

The same goes for my criticisms, however strong. My enthusiasm for racing started by reading about it and listening on very early radio (it was wireless in those days), and when I eventually got to my first event as a spectator I was off the ground with excitement. However, I soon realised I had not arrived at the ultimate, I was only on the threshold; I had to find a way out of the spectator area and into the paddock and pit area, just to be closer to those wonderful racing cars. When I achieved this objective I was very conscious of the enormous privilege that it was and when in later years I began to work at race reporting I never forgot the people I had left behind in the spectator area. My feeling was that I had to tell them about all the things I was fortunate in being able to see, and with experience grew the wisdom of leaving out those things that I knew they would not want to see or should not know about. I often say to race reporters who are with me today, especially those who have joined the Press straight from a Journalist College and not from the spectator area, that they get excited about the wrong things. They want to write excitedly about something that is going to interest 400 people, and all 400 are in the paddock with them. I suggest they should write about something else that will interest 40,000 people who are not in the paddock, and never will be. When I was on the “outside” I knew the sort of things that interested me, and what I wanted to read about, and I don’t think the enthusiast among the spectators has really changed that much.

To return to the point in question, the response from readers, I said that it was staggering because of its volume and while the time spent reading all the letters is time I would have liked to have spent in the workshop fettling my vintage cars, it is not time wasted. With one or two exceptions all the letters were from exactly the type of enthusiast for whom I write my race reports, and it was this realisation that was so gratifying. One pompous and self-important professional journalist once said that “MOTOR SPORT was written for schoolboys and idiot motor enthusiasts”, implying that we were making a limited market for ourselves, and that if we were intelligent, like him, we would write for Men and the Great Public, and make ourselves important. The Editor and I smiled tolerantly at this remark, but made no comment. We reckoned we knew who we were writing for, and why. If it was for schoolboys, we didn’t mind, for they grow up and more schoolboys appear, and anyway we started reading MOTOR SPORT when we were schoolboys and it never did us any harm. However, I digress once again, a bad habit my professional colleagues tell me. With the European season under way this month there is no hope of my replying to all the letters that came in about the interest or lack of it in Grand Prix racing. Occasionally I shall pick one out at random and reply, so if it is you, it is pure chance. This has to be my ruling on all general Correspondence resulting from things I write in MOTOR SPORT. If it wasn’t, I would have no time to write articles or get involved in activities that prompt the writings. All the letters are read and they are all filed away, so there is no knowing which one is picked out for a reply when I suddenly feel in a letter-writing mood.

Last year, when I was down-right rude to Jackie Stewart about some of the things he was saying and doing, I was snowed under with letters. I analysed their content and condensed them all into an article, but the management decided it should not appear, so it is in my filing cabinet along with all the readers’ letters. This time it was decided that the avalanche of letters received in reply to my article “When did you lose interest?” called for a collective reply and analysis. To me the most interesting aspect was that letters came from readers who have been interested in Grand Prix racing for longer than I have, right through to some who saw their first Grand Prix in 1967. They came from all over the country, and even from France and Belgium, Holland and Sweden, and they came from all walks of life. The cross-section of the readership is something that never ceases to fascinate me, and only recently I had occasion to meet seven readers in one day, all entirely divorced from D.S.J. the journalist. I met them in social contact; from vintage car interest; from motorcycle interest and from jazz interest, and they had only two things in common, they read MOTOR SPORT and they loved motor cars. I am continually asked who reads MOTOR SPORT and what the average reader is like. Our circulation department tells me that 140,000 people buy it every month, and I know that they come from everywhere and they all love motor cars in any shape or form, which is why we write about motor cars.

The majority of letters were strong in Saying “We have not lost interest”, and they said it in a number of different ways. One reader who describes himself as “an ordinary enthusiast” says “my reply to your question is, never” but he goes on to admit that it has waned a bit over the past fifteen years. He is an undoubted Jim Clark fan and equates his interest at 100% for 1962-66, but down to 40% for 1970-73, but does not doubt that it will rise again. A reader from Middlesex who openly says he does not always agree with my opinions on Grand Prix racing says “For my part, I never have lost interest and certainly never will”. Like a great number of readers he expresses agreement that there is a tiresome cult who are bored by it all, adding “I have the misfortune to know one or two of its members”. This fellow is a BRM supporter who enjoyed the two bright spots in 1972 when Beltoise won and says “the true enthusiast might be a little depressed but never loses interest. Thank God for Regazzoni, a real charger.” A letter from Bristol suggests that the question I posed “should prove to be a stimulating talking point for those readers not attending Formula One races this year”. This reader ends by saying, “If anybody is fed up with Formula One then they must be fed up with International racing in general, and that includes a lot of racing. I believe that any spectator who says he is fed up is only a 50% enthusiast.”

A Belgian reader says, “when you have been a motor sports lover, you cannot lose all, but you might lose some interest. There are ups and downs”. He lists his “downs” but finishes “despite all this I cannot lose interest; I am eager to see the next Lotus and Ferrari and the eventual Cosworth beater”. A reader from Cheshire says, “You do have a knack for putting people on the spot!” and that he felt the article was about him for he has been “moaning” for ten years. He blames television for his lessening of interest and felt that the “sound and fury” had gone from Grand Prix racing. Three years ago he went to the Oulton Park Gold Cup and realised, that the angry squawk you hear on TV bears no resemblance to the symphonies of the real thing”. This reader admits to old age creeping on and thinks a lot of young people enjoy identifying themselves with Grand Prix drivers of their own age. His favourite driver is Graham Hill!

A reader from Sussex had his enthusiasm fired by reading one of my race reports of Jim Clark driving in the rain and he became an avid Clark fan, so it was not surprising that interest waned in 1968. He is puzzled by the changes made to circuits and conditions and some of the talk of Stewart and the GPDA. He says, “if a circuit is safe enough for a Porsche 917 but not for a Formula One car, isn’t it about time that Formula One cars were built as safely as the Porsche?” He ends by saying he has not lost interest, but racing has lost some of its excitement. From Derbyshire a reader made an interesting observation. “Our formative years tend to constitute the period in which we establish our basic criteria on what we expect out of life. If, as a youngster, one was brought up on 158 Alfa Romeos and 4 1/2-litre Ferraris, then a Cooper-Climax just won’t do.” He says that this is an extreme example but suggests that you test the validity of this premise by substituting your own period.

An elderly reader, and I can say this because his interest started before mine, says “the question of advertisement stickers, commercial interests, short races and the behaviour of some drivers is something on which each enthusiast makes up his own mind. Similarly one fan will prefer a full-blooded drift on a corner while another will prefer the tangible proof of tyre progress shown by cornering on rails.” This reader is still interested “simply because it is Grand Prix racing”. Two readers, from opposite sides of the country, openly admitted to losing interest when the Rudge-Whitworth wire-spoke wheel disappeared from Grand Prix racing, and one of them went on to say that “while designers were messing about with wheels there grew the obsession with aero-dynamics and weight-saving which produced the nucleus of today’s projectiles”. However, this chap still goes to practice for the British Grand Prix, when it is held at Silverstone, as he finds the sheer speed and lap times exhilarating, but does not go on race day as he feels that the whole scene seems to he organised and run by slick ad-men and not by racing enthusiast’s.

A surprising number of readers who are still keen followers of Grand Prix racing made the comment that the cars are not so pleasant to look at as they used to be, and regretted the introduction of the “naked” machinery behind the cockpit. Aesthetics seemed to have disappeared with the introduction of the rear-engined cult and the fibreglass nose. At one time a designer seemed to complete his work by an interesting “face” in the form of the radiator shell or grille and a shapely tail, and they often portrayed his character. Nowadays they look unfinished and do not project any character; which could be a reflection on the designers.

The whole topic of the interest in Grand Prix racing is one that could fill a whole issue of MOTOR SPORT, but as one reader said, “simply because it is Grand Prix racing”, that is why we all love it to a greater or lesser degree and the more we love it the more vehement we get about any aspect of which we disapprove. There is little sign of apathy, either way, which is most encouraging.—D. S. J.