Fathers, sons and brothers

– is the younger always the better?

Nobody would question that the qualities required to make a success in a sport such as motor racing, at the top level, are pretty much the same as those required to make a name in other demanding sports. Keen judgement, quick reflexes, above average eyesight and co-ordination, balance and competitive spirit are necessary for a successful participation, whether he be professional racing driver, downhill skier. show jumper, squash placer or participant in non-competitive, but no less risky activities such as deep sea diving, mountaineering or bull fighting. Having agreed on that point, one is then tempted to look at the question of whether these sorts of natural gifts are inherited or can be honed by practice and sheer application to the job in hand. Motor racing, ever since it started, has involved a considerable number of families, fathers starting off by participating on their own and their enthusiasm later permeating down to their offspring — not confined specifically to sons, in due deference to the Equal Opportunities Commission!

Taking a broad cross-section of motor racing “families”, it becomes clear that there is strong evidence to suggest that, in the case of father and son, it’s the son who makes the most progress and, in the case of brothers, the younger brother who proves to be the most accomplished. Psychologists will be quick to explain that this is a quite logical state of affairs, stemming from resentment of parents in the first case and determination to eclipse one’s senior contemporary in the second case. So, without attempting to get drawn out of our sphere of interest, we decided to look at several such relationships to see whether we could identify any significant, common strands. If one considers that motor racing has been well under way since the turn of the century, then one is probably only considering two generations as far as fathers and sons are concerned, although close scrutiny reveals that there are some third generation racers from the same family raising their heads as we move into the 1980s. There is also the fact that the “mix” of qualities required has changed since the early years of motor racing, certainly over the period of a generation. When Alberto Ascari’s father, Antonio, was racing in the 1920s, there was far more premium on sheer bravery and bravado than thirty years later by which time guile and cunning had perhaps become more important constituent ingredients in the racing driver’s metabolism. Ascari Senior’s sheer passion for the sport was the spark which lit Alberto Ascari’s enthusiasm. What’s more, Alberto Ascari not only developed his talents along the same path as his father, but he also learned from his father’s example, in the opinion of Enzo Ferrari, Antonio Ascari’s career was characterised by feats of extreme daring, a man who put courage and verve before cool calculation. Ferrari, writing in his memoirs My Terrible Joys (Hamish Hamilton, 1963), states “His son Alberto was very young at the time, but he never forgot his father nor the lesson of his example”. Later in the same volume, Ferrari commends Alberto Ascari for demonstrating a sure and precise style. Evidence, perhaps, that he had not only inherited his father’s natural skills, but honed them to a sharper edge given the benefit of his parent’s example.

In the case of the Ascaris, of course, there was no way that Antonio could ever provide any practical assistance to his son owing to his death when Alberto was so young. Moving across the Atlantic we can see a dramatic example of the benefit denied to Alberto Ascari in the Petty family. Regular Motor Sport readers will doubtless be familiar with the exploits of Richard Petty in the fast, specialised world of NASCAR “stock car” racing and the way in which this driver from Randelman, North Carolina, has become a legend in his own time. But Richard Petty had the best possible guidance during his formative years — the paternal enthusiasm and influence of his father, Lee Petty, the man who won the very first Daytona 500 NASCAR race on the banked Florida circuit in 1959. Richard Petty admits that his father’s influence was tremendously important, enabling him to avoid obvious pitfalls and to take important “short cuts” when it came to learning the hard way. The great delight of this sort of family involvement is that Lee Petty still takes a more than active interest in his son’s racing and, in the last couple of seasons, this continuity of interest is moving into a third generation as Richard’s son, Kyle, has now started out in the NASCAR racing world.

Parental enthusiasm and pride run very firmly hand in hand and, unlike elder-younger brother relationships, seldom lead to resentment when the son proves better than the father. One man who did an enormous amount to nurture his son’s enthusiasm in the sport was Australian enthusiast Stan Jones, who raced courageously in the 1950s “down under” in a variety of cars including a fearsome Maybach aero-engined special and a Maserati 250F. The beaming schoolboy son that contemporary photographs show grinning at the wheel of the Maserati as his father pushes it through one of the paddocks is, of course, Alan Jones, the 1980 World Champion. Alan admits that he was brought up to “eat and breathe” motor cars and motor racing and somehow always felt that he would go racing himself. His father was essentially an amateur, racing for fun whilst at the same time running a motor business, but he still found time to encourage his son for all he was worth. Towards the end of Stan Jones’s life, despite being partially paralysed by a stroke, he followed his son’s progress in Formula Three, even going with Alan to Brazil at the end of 1970 for the Torneio series. Incidentally, Stan Jones was a real “no nonsense” Australian and his son tells a delightful story of how, during a controversy about the wing height on Alan’s F3 Brabham, “the Old Man” actually chased Peter Warr out of the Jones pit at one of the Brazilian races, the Lotus team manager beating a hasty retreat in the face of an indignant Jones Senior who was defiantly brandishing his crutches! So you can see it is not merely the enthusiasm and ability that passes from generation to generation, but also temperament. Alan Jones is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense “Aussie” just like his father!

This parental enthusiasm can be seen in many cases today, in various categories of the sport. Jack Sears, whose enthusiasm was fired by his father Stanley, in turn encourages his son David who has been making, promising progress with a Formula Three Argo. Jack Sears was primarily an enthusiastic amateur who reached what might be described as a “semi-professional” level in sports and saloon cars. His son has taken up single-seater racing because he wants to make motor racing a career – and there are indications that he may be better than his father. Irish Formule Libre competitor from the 1960s, Harry Acheson enjoyed his racing, but his son, Kenneth plans to do more than just that. This year he has been one of the leading lights on the British Formula Three scene, only losing the national title to Stefan Johansson at the very last round of the series. Alfred Moss was a prosperous, industrious dentist, but he also tried his hand at racing (including Indianapolis in 1925) before turning his attention to encouraging Stirling’s famous career. Similarly, Leslie Hawthorn and Jack Surtees were essentially amateurs, but they were also successful businessmen capable of giving their sons crucial backing at the start of their careers. Both Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees became World Champions through their ability, but there is no denying that their fathers’ counsel and advice was of invaluable assistance when they began racing.

There will always be exceptions to the general rule, notably Sir Jack Brabham’s son Geoffrey who, although quite a competitive youngster in the Formula Three and Can-Am categories has failed to demonstrate form worthy of an F1 opportunity. There are also what might be described as “borderline cases” where father and son have both been talented, but it is difficult coming to a conclusion as to which has been the better competitor. In the case of the pre-war Auto Union driver Hans Stuck, and his son, the contemporary F1 and sports car driver of the same name, the enormous change in the forty years of motorsport that separates their respective eras rnakes it difficult to come to any conclusion. I suspect, however, that Hans Stuck Junior can probably be adjudged more competitive than his father. On the other side of the Atlantic that rough and ready Armenian, Billy Vukovich, was on his way to winning his third consecutive Indianapolis 500 when he was killed in 1955. In the 1970s, his son (again of the same name) tried his hand at USAC, but he didn’t match up to his father’s achievements in terms of hard success. But, again, there is always the question of competitiveness to consider. Merely because a driver in one era doesn’t match the achievements of a driver from a previous age, it doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t as talented, although it is an index that is hard to ignore. Some would argue that Indianapolis in the 1970s was an infinitely more demanding place to race than it had been two decades earlier.

Turning to the subject of older and younger brothers, one of the best examples must be that of Jimmy Stewart who drove Aston Martins and Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars during the 1950s. His career came to an end, the result of an accident, in 1955 when he was only twenty three years old. At that time his young brother was just coming up to fifteen years old and obviously highly impressed with Jimmy’s achievements. This was, of course, Jackie Stewart who was eventually to win a total of twenty seven World Championship Grand Prix races and three Championship titles before his retirement, at the age of thirty two, after the 1973 season. Jackie can well remember his feelings towards his brother, but there was never any contemporary rivalry since Jimmy had retired from the sport long before the younger Stewart could even hold a driving licence, let alone participate in racing. He remembers being very impressed with all the newspaper cuttings about his brother’s achievements in the family scrapbook and felt a burning need to “justify himself”, in some way, in the eyes of his parents. It was a manifestation of the rivalry prompted by Jimmy, but as Jackie wasn’t old enough to race, he took up clay pigeon shooting in his early teens and achieved international level before he turned his hand to motor racing in 1963 at the age of eighteen. Stewart feels that the younger brother will always have to work that little bit harder to justify himself because parents, subconsciously, will always tend to favour “number one son”. He never remembers feeling any sense of resentment towards his elder brother and worries that his success, and consequent wealth, may have been difficult for Jimmy Stewart to come to terms with. That, of course, is another interesting matter altogether.

Brotherly relationships can often be a little tricky when they both try their hand at the same sport — particularly when they are doing it at the same time. Sometimes the result can be most harmonious, as with Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez who shared Ferraris furnished by their wealthy Mexican father in long distance events early in their career. There can be no doubt that Ricardo was an outstanding driver, better than his elder brother over whom he clearly exerted considerable personal dominance. After a meteoric first Grand Prix season, Ricardo Rodriguez was killed in practice for the 1962 Mexican Grand Prix at the brutally early age of nineteen years and it was only after he had left the scene that Pedro’s ability blossomed out. There is other evidence to show that a talented younger brother can appear on the scene and perform so well as to demoralise his elder relative. Take the case of the Fittipaldis, Emerson and Wilson. Emerson Fittipaldi recalls being taken along to his first motor races almost “under sufferance” by big brother Wilson and being very much out of things as Wilson associated with his own friends, notably Carlos Pace who was also to become a talented Grand Prix competitor. In 1970 Wilson Fittipaldi and Carlos Pace came to Britain to race in Formula 3, but young Emerson not only beat them to it by coming to England the previous summer (history, relates, on a reconnaissance trip for his elder brother!) but had mastered Formula Ford and whistled through the junior formulae to get his first Formula One opportunity before Wilson and Carlos had even mastered Formula 3. Emerson’s talent earned him a place in Formula One, but Wilson had to find sponsorship before he could follow his younger brother into the Grand Prix arena. For a couple of seasons they raced against each other, but Wilson Fittipaldi was intelligent enough to see that his younger brother was very much more talented than himself and, after laying the foundations for the Fittipaldis’ own team, quietly dropped out of driving at the end of 1975 to devote all his energies to looking after Emerson’s career. Since that time Emerson drove for the “family team”, up until his retirement at the end of the 1980 seaso,. with Wilson fussing enthusiastically round demonstrating considerable loyalty and pride in his “kid brother’s” achievements.

By contrast, it would be no disrespect to the Scheckter brothers to say that relations between 1979 World Champion Jody and elder brother Ian have not always progressed smoothly. Although Ian was participating in South African national motor racing before Jody started out, the younger Scheckter made his way into Formula One very much sooner than his relative. Ian Scheckter’s arrival in European Formula One, as opposed to his annual outing in his home Grand Prix, came at a time when Jody’s career with Tyrrell was in the doldrums. He certainly seemed very edgy on the subject of his brother’s presence in Grand Prix racing, was reluctant to talk about it and generally they kept themselves to themselves. It was almost as if Jody resented his brother trying to “muscle in” on what he clearly regarded as “his patch”. At the time of this family rivalry, many people found Ian Scheckter to be far more pleasant company than his somewhat neurotic younger brother, but as time passed, Jody Scheckter matured, relaxed and gained more success. He became a more pleasant individual as well — although, by then, Ian had virtually given up his Formula One aspirations!

Similar rivalries clouded the early careers of Graham and Gerry Birrell, although they had happily evaporated by the time the younger of the two Scottish drivers was killed in 1973. In North America the comparative talents of the Unser brothers, Bobby and Al, provide an interesting matter for discussion because both are obviously so good, each with considerable USAC success to his credit, that it is extremely difficult to decide who is the best. However, most observers of the North American racing scene tend to feel that Al, the younger of the two, shows rather more versatility than his brother. Jose Behra, younger brother of the brave Jean Behra, provides a definite exception to the rule as his motor racing exploits were overshadowed by his elder brother and it was impossible to come to any firm conclusions over the relative merits of Tony and Tim Brise. Following Tony Brise’s sad death in the Graham Hill air crash five years ago, Tim bowed to family pressure and turned his hand to the “less risky” pastime of rallying. Both the Brise boys, incidentally, were actively encouraged to compete from an early age by their stock car racing father John who, regrettably, passed away last autumn on the fifth anniversary of his eldest son’s death.

So what can one deduce from these thoughts? Well, there is no doubt that the attributes required for demanding activities are passed from generation to generation, and that they tend to improve as they are handed down from father to son. Whether they improve in quality or remain at the same level and are merely further “polished” thanks to father’s experience, is less clear, however. There is also evidence to back up the theory that if one is born with “competitive spirit”, it’s something that can manifest itself in just about any sphere of activity, whether sport or business. Look at the number of aggressive, successful racing drivers whose fathers have been equally aggressive and successful in a business, rather than sporting, context. Winning families tend to spawn more winners and the whole process continues from generation to generation with a certain momentum. There are occasional “hiccups”, naturally, but I would definitely take the view that winners in motor racing, as in any other activity, tend to be born rather than made. I think the motor racing facts lean very much to support this point of view.

The relationship between motor racing brothers seems more straightforward. Every family has its rivalries and a spectacular sport such as this merely heightens them rather than creating them from scratch. It’s a mixture of envy, combined with the natural human instinct to be boater than the next man, a personalised and particularly intense version of the competitive “hunger” that exists in every sportsman. Coming from within a family unit, this competitive instinct is more pronounced. If you want to beat a man you’ve never seen before, then you will doubly want to beat a man you’ve grown up with, argued with, shared parents with, and whose achievements you’ve been trying to match ever since you first started to crawl as a baby. Having said that, one can only speculate as to how good younger brothers of drivers who are established as top line stars will become. Take Jacques Villeneuve, younger brother of Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve, already an accomplished Formula Atlantic competitor. Will he eclipse his brother? Or will he fly in the face of all these predictions and fail to make the grade? Time alone will tell. — A.H.