The political significance of motor racing

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ALTHOUGH the war has brought motor racing to a standstill, its political importance is such that, apart altogether from the sentiments of the enthusiast, it should be encouraged with all possible fervour as soon as Peace breaks out. The uninitiated are for ever asking what is the value of this dangerous and complicated undertaking. They have been answered by hosts of authorities. Sir Henry Segrave, Sir Henry Birkin, Cecil Kimber, George Monkhouse, and other notabilities have explained the uses of motor racing at some length in the motoring classics. Nevertheless, too much emphasis is apt to be placed, even to-day, on the benefits that racing confers in the way of design improvement and advertisement for individual manufacturers. Most car owners, however limited their technical knowledge, appreciate that racing resulted in, or accelerated, the development of safe tyres, detachable wheels, reasonable brakes, efficient small engines and similar beneficial design factors. But all that must be credited to a past age, before the last European war. The Trade knew the advertising value of competition work—in the early nineteen twenties. We are concerned with recent times— and of recent times particularly in the last seven years, motor racing has played a very important part in international politics. Charles Jarrott, in the year 1906, predicted that when racing ceased to benefit the Industry, then would racing cease. In that palmy age he could not have foreseen otherwise. The fact—and it is one we must recognise—is that whatever its value to the Industry, motor racing from the time of the last war has been a very important factor in the development of the international situation.

Mercédès won the French G.P. in 1908 with a 12.8-litre car, from a German Benz That we may take as a Mercédès endeavour, but in 1914, on the eve of the world war, we find Mercédès again victorious in this classic contest, the 4½-litre cars with sixteen valve o.h.c. motors, based on aero-engine practice, finishing first, second and third in a crowd-silence dramatically broken as the “Marseillaise” greeted the first French car home. In this country, long before the race, Mercédès had calmly announced that they intended to win the forthcoming Grand Prix for “publicity purposes.”

Consider! For six seasons before the present war the German Mercédès-Benz and Auto-Union teams, undisguisedly State-aided, have swept all before them in international racing, their only serious rivals when they entered the arena in 1934 being the Italian Alfa-Romeo, also State-backed. Participation in motor racing allows a nation’s engineers, designers, metallurgists and technicians to try out their skill against that of other nations; it inspires their youth to great and glorious deeds which they can perform in the air just as well as on the ground and it serves both to illustrate a nation’s potency to its own peoples, and to occupy a most impressive part in that “war of nerves” of which attacked nations hear so much to-day. This is not the distorted impression of a motor racing paper. Read the views expressed recently in the American Press; consult any intelligent person, racing enthusiast or not, who saw Germany race at our circuit at Donington Park in 1937 or 1938.

When the war is won, we must appreciate the political significance of international road-racing as Herr Hitler appreciated it seven years ago, and Benito Mussolini even before that. A nation’s political intentions and military efficiency are reflected in its motor-racing successes. Victory in a classic motor race means much more than sporting success to the Dictator mind.