The Editor: Jenks's Mille Miglia report remains the gold standard of sports journalism

“As we mark our centenary we’ll continue to report in the Spirit of Bod and Jenks ”

“On May 1st motor-racing history was made, for Stirling Moss won the 1000-mile Mille Miglia, the first time in twenty-two years that this has been achieved by a British driver, and I had the very great privilege of sitting beside him throughout this epic drive.”

So began what is one of the greatest pieces not just of motor-racing journalism but of all sports journalism ever printed. It is, of course, the opening paragraph of Denis Jenkinson’s epic 10,000-word retelling of the 1955 race across Italy in which he navigated for an otherworldly Stirling Moss at the wheel of his silver Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, No722, using a Sellotaped roller-map navigation device.

Moss completed the race in 10hr 7min 48sec hitting speeds of 170mph over rough roads, averaging a barely conceivable 98mph. It stands even today as arguably the greatest drive of all time and the resulting story, headlined ‘With Moss in the Mille Miglia’, and the fact that our continental correspondent played an integral role in the victory has been a lodestar for Motor Sport ever since.

As we celebrate our 100th anniversary in this special issue I re-read Jenks’s Mille Miglia report. I recommend readers do the same via our website where, for this month, we have brought the story in front of the paywall for all to enjoy for free. In many ways it is ahead of its time, predating the so-called gonzo journalism of the 1970s popularised by Hunter S Thompson which placed the reporter at the centre of the action and was so fêted at the time. Still, Jenks wasn’t interested in fashion or stylised writing: his report is brimming with factual accuracy, a straightforward – if a little disbelieving – account of a remarkable race fraught with peril and ending in jubilation.

“We clasped each other in delirious joy, and would have wept, but we were too overcome and still finding it hard to believe that we had won. Then we were swept away amid a horde of police and officials, and the ensuing crush amid the wildly enthusiastic crowds was harder to bear than the whole of the 1000-mile grind we had just completed.”

It goes unreported what the notoriously hard-to-please editor Bill Boddy thought when he received the Mille Miglia write-up from Jenks (posted the day after the race) but a hint of his reaction can be gleaned from an understated note added at the end of the mammoth report in the June 1955 issue of the magazine: “In view of the space devoted, we feel justifiably, to the Mille Miglia race, ‘Readers Letters’ are held over until next month – Ed.” The “we feel justifiably” is doing a lot of work there.

It would be too much to say the story informs everything we do – there have been great examples of writing before and since. But for me, it is the gold standard to which our coverage should aspire. As we mark our centenary and hurtle towards our 101st year of publication I hope we will continue to report in the Spirit of Bod and Jenks.

As fate would have it, on May 8, almost exactly 69 years to the day after that Mille Miglia victory, I attended a memorial service at Westminster Abbey for Sir Stirling, who died in 2020. More than 2000 people gathered in the gothic grandeur of the place. They ranged from royalty (the Duke of Kent representing the King) to world champions (Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell were among the congregation), family and friends (including the son of Moss’s great mate and rival Juan Manuel Fangio), as well as ordinary fans including 100 readers of Motor Sport who had been entered into the ticketing lottery, reflecting Stirling’s insistence on treating all with equal courtesy. Sir Jackie Stewart delivered a pitch-perfect eulogy where a PG-rated joke even had the dean of the church chuckling. The dean, incidentally, managed to namecheck Motor Sport in his address, which given the enormous influence Moss had on this magazine sent a shiver of pride through me.

That the memorial happened at all was thanks to his son Elliot, who was determined that his father would get a fitting send-off and his mark on motor racing be properly acknowledged. As he wrote in a note in the order of service, “His skill surpassed the boundaries of what was considered possible in his sport, but his sportsmanship surpassed the sport itself. Stirling Moss became more than a racing driver, he became an icon.”

I hope that readers will enjoy this special bumper-sized issue of Motor Sport. We have given more pages than usual to our features section in order to devote – we feel justifiably – more space to this month’s special contributors, to all of whom I am extremely thankful for their time and effort.

To help us with our ongoing centenary celebrations we are also launching a friendly vote to discover which is your favourite cover of the past 100 years. To make life a little easier we have created a shortlist which you can view on our website. As editor I cannot be seen to sway the voting in any way, but if I could just draw your attention to the one featuring a small, grubby-faced and bespectacled man being embraced by a motor racing icon…

Joe Dunn, editor
Follow Joe on Twitter @joedunn90

Next Issue: Our August issue is on sale from July 10