'Modern safety measures are defacing historic racing': Doug Nye

'A new historic racing demonstration series asks drivers not to wear modern full-face helmets’ – hurrah!'

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Pigged-off is probably not the most refined expression, but it adequately describes at least part of this particular bystander’s reaction to what the historic racing scene has become.

I’m the first to applaud the enthusiasm, commitment and in some cases the skill demonstrated by most involved. I’ve also been long connected with the creative side of the Goodwood events, and also in the specialist competition car auction world supplying many great cars.

My particular discomfort involves eligibility and the adverse effect of increasingly ‘one-size-fits-all’ FIA regulation upon the historic racing scene so sorely affecting the picture of the past that it presents to today’s spectating (and viewing) public.

Of course it’s a source of grief when one sees a YouTube video presenting “all the crashes from the Monaco Historics”. While in the real GP Mick Schumacher did a comprehensive job of showing how Monte Carlo’s barriers can demolish a modern F1 car, that’s no excuse for part-time amateur ‘hysteric’ drivers demolishing their valuable rarities there. To what end? For most the reality is that it’s only ego-preening pretend racing.

But this has always been the case, and it’s a facet of vintage, historic and classic car competition which will always endure – as long as national legislation allows enthusiasts (and poseurs) still to compete in ‘proper’ racing cars from bygone times.

But my state of piggery is stoked by the way that modern regulations deface the general scene. Even the most basic appearance of so many historic-racing cars – and their drivers – is now so far removed from the contemporary reality it’s like a badly dressed movie. Aah – the defenders of modern reality will crow – you’re a dinosaur content to see cars flying through crowds, drivers maimed, death and destruction. Most whingers – embarking on a bleat like mine – will perhaps shamefacedly back down and protest innocence of any such attitude, they just wish to make the point. But I’m not sure I can do that. When I came to motor racing in the late-50s/early-60s it was largely because I was so impressed to see men – and a few women too – risking all versus physics and local geography. The aesthetic scene – away from the British aerodromes – could be breathtakingly impressive.

In most modern cases – largely due to the onward march of those twin great gods, civilisation and safety – that aesthetic is lost today. On the modern stage one sees a wonderful Grand Prix car from the 1930s, ’60s or ’70s driven by someone who suddenly looks too big, due to a roly-poly romper-suit and massive, bulky crash helmet. We also see cars whose once supremely fine proportions have been wrecked by a lofty and massive roll-over bar. We are all expected to turn a blind eye to such defacement because “it’s for safety”. And where safety’s concerned no civilised person can complain.

Well, some of us do, though sense appreciates that progress is one-way, so this facet of historic racing can never revert. So why not cut out the ‘racing’ pretence?

“I hope it gets the support this tiny dose of old time reality deserves”

Jason Wright, the Italian-based American businessman/ enthusiast/car collector and historic racer possesses an exceptionally fine-tuned appreciation of “the way it was” – and he is behind a move to adorn some leading historic race meetings with a demonstration of just that.

So, starting with the Austrian Österreich, sorry, ‘Red Bull’ Ring meeting in early June he is running a limited series known as ‘1961-1965

Grand Prix’ – an invitation demonstration for 1500cc Formula 1 cars, with no entry fee. His regulations simply say:“This is a demonstration, not a race, and is intended as an event where we can enjoy our cars in safety”.

“Due to both the value and the format of the demonstration, anyone causing an accident will be asked to leave. Cars will be safety-checked by our scrutineer. All drivers must attend the pre-race drivers’ briefing.

No HTP is required [hurrah! – DCN]. A valid driver’s licence is required. No racing licence is needed [hurrah!]. We ask drivers not to wear modern full-face helmets [hurrah!]. Old style helmets are preferred but they must be in good condition. Being a demonstration, not a race, homologated racing equipment is not needed [hurrah!].

“Overtaking is only allowed on the left on the designated straights, and must be completed before the first braking marker.

No car can remain in the lead for more than one lap. No timing is allowed and no cameras on the cars [hurrah!]. No advertising on the cars [hurrah!]. Our aim is to make the cars look like they did in the day [hurrah!].

“Practice will start and end in the pits.

Each demonstrative race will have a standing start with grid positions drawn from a hat.

“Cars will follow the pace car from the pits to the starting position. The starting grid will be two by two format [boo!]. No overtaking on the first lap.

“After the chequered flag cars will be parked in parc fermé for an hour. All drivers on the podium [hurrah!].”

Well, Jim, it’s not historic racing as we know it – but I for one really appreciate the sentiment behind it, the true-to-original preparation that is going into it, and hope very much that its creators receive the governing body support that this tiny dose of old-time reality most surely deserves. I feel better now.


Doug Nye is the UK’s leading motor racing historian and has been writing authoritatively about the sport since the 1960s