Damien Smith's Off the line

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Start ’em young

Motor Sport, April 1976. The cover photo is Per Eklund’s green Saab churning up the snow on the Swedish Rally. Inside, Jaguar’s return to racing in a European Touring Car programme is lauded, while James Hunt’s Race of Champions win and Niki Lauda’s triumph in the South African Grand Prix are reported. Jenks profiles the role of the FIA in world motorsport, while WB looks back at the failure of Sunbeam’s ‘Silver Bullet’ LSR challenger.

You can bet the red-headed urchin grasping the magazine in this picture isn’t reading any of it. Yes, that’s me, your new editor, aged one and a half. Like the checked-flares-and-white-sandals combination? A true child of the 1970s. Since then I’ve grown a little larger, the hair is a bit shorter (at the moment), but my fashion sense is just as finely tuned.

If you look closely you’ll see I’m checking out the middle colour pages. From the Shell logos just visible, I can tell it’s the spread of South African GP photos. No great surprise there — Motor Sport was always daunting for a little kid of any age. Pages of words and few pictures didn’t exactly encourage me to pick it up as I grew older. But it was always in the house, the austere green cover with its white stripes and stark black and white logo so very familiar — and somehow its contents must have gone in.

Nearly 30 years later it’s strange to find myself writing these words as the editor of this old, respected publication. But reality has set in as I face the challenge of maintaining Motor Sport’s standards of quality and authority. It has changed almost beyond recognition since 1976 (and is all the better for it as far as I’m concerned), but its core purpose remains unchanged: to entertain and provoke opinion about a glorious sport, written for enthusiasts by enthusiasts — and that’s not about to change under my watch.

I take the chair vacated by Paul Fearnley, the finest editor I have ever worked for. He’s a tough act to follow. But, as another former editor said to me, “Welcome to the best job in the world.” So far, I must say he’s not exaggerating.

Stoneleigh’s International Historic Motorsport show, held at the end of February, was a great success, the organisers claiming a gate of 20,000 over three days. Congratulations to all involved. Congratulations also to Motor Sport’s tireless news editor, Paul Lawrence, who was named journalist of the year at the historic motorsport awards dinner. No one works harder to get around every corner of the country to report on the British Isles’ wide variety of racing and rallying, and he does it all with a smile too. Well done, Paul — it’s totally deserved.

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