Late developer

He was 27 when he saw his first race, but Robert Daley then spent a decade photographing grands prix. Here are some of those images and his words

Robert Daley came to motor racing more by accident than out of any childhood passion for cars. As an aspiring ‘stringer’, a writer hoping to sell stories on spec, he attended the 1956 Winter Olympics where he fell under the spell of Alfonso de Portago. Having travelled to Sebring to interview the glamorous Spanish Marquis at the 12-hour sportscar race, he was spellbound not only by this new sport but also by the insouciance with which the drivers accepted the risks. He began to follow the grand prix parade around Europe, describing Spa, Monza, Lisbon and Oporto for his distant New York Times audience.

Becoming fascinated by the way these young men put their lives on the line for something which was in the end only a sport, he slowly began to learn the distinction between the brave and the merely fearless. He interviewed Enzo Ferrari, was snubbed by Mike Hawthorn and had a ride with Phil Hill. Then, when the NYTs sports editor told him they paid $15 for every picture published, Daley bought a camera and taught himself how to shoot. A new world opened up for him. In 1963 he assembled 165 of his images into a book aiming to convey the speed, danger and commitment of this rarified life.

“In those years racing was a murderous sport,” he wrote in that first edition. “Of 16 drivers in the first grand prix I saw, eight would die at the wheel, four before the year was out.” That is why he called his book The Cruel Sport.

Four decades on, the book is being republished with new introduction and epilogue, though the text Daley wrote in those far-away, romantic, dangerous days, informed by his first-hand acquaintance with drivers, builders and mechanics, remains unchanged.

The new edition of The Cruel Sport— Grand Prix Racing 1959-1967 is published this month by Motorbooks. ISBN: 0760321000. Price: £34.99.

Robert Daley’s photographic archive is now part of The Klemantaski Collection. Tel/Fax: 001 203 968 2970. E-mail: [email protected]. Website: