Sound and speed in motor racing



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SOME OBSERVATIONS ON A LITTLE-DISCUSSED ASPECT OF THE SPORT NOW that motor racing is suspended it is only natural that enthusiasts should turn occasionally to some of the vivid memories of the Sport which has been temporarily relinquiShed. In looking Over any collection of souvenirs, such as photographs, films, press-cu thugs, programmes, or the row of volumes of MOTOR SPORT, one is soon struck by the memories of stirring sound which are

awakened. Here are a few of them, remembered at random from the store of impressions gained in a dozen years of active spectating.

Car Sounds

It is only natural that these should come first siuc. they are the true tongue of the game. Much f the thrill of driving racing ears lies in the loud exultant song of the machine. To the spectator the sound impression is equally hull of inter est. It soon becomes possible to differentiate between cars from their exhaust notes and to identify them afar off by that means. Thus, no true enthusiast is likely to forget the characteristic notes of the high-revving 750 c.c. Austins, the full-throated song of the E.R.A., the old S.S.K. .Mercedes with its screaming blower, the hearty twolung Shelsley Special and the highpitched note of the German Grand Prix cars at Donington. Most glorious of all is the torrent of sound at the massed start of a race. The writer has memories of many tingling minutes as the pack Strained at the leash before the flag

fell. The contrast is all the greater, coming as it does after the quiet period before the engines are started, when, particularly at Doninglons the great crowd waits silent and expectant while the seconds tick by. Then comes the thrill of hearing the confused roar of the pack as they rush round the circuit on the first lap. This is particularly fascinating on short courses like Monaco, Df mington, Brooklands ” Campbell,” Crystal Palace, or the

lamented Douglas. Here the roar can be heard from the start all round the backstretches in the woods, behind the ” mountain,” or through the towns, until the leaders come roaring round.


As the cars go by, the celebrated phencintenon of Herr Doppler is audible, the sudden drop in exhaust note as a car passes the observer. Instances have been widely reported of radio listeners deriving quite accurate lap times from careful observation of the times of machines passing the microphone, using the ,Doppler frequency drop as the mark to time on. Somewhat similar is the phenomenon of the sound following some distance behind the car, due to the low speed of sound compared with that of light or

vision. This is familiar to all students of high-speed flying, who learnt long ago, in Schneider Trophy days, that it is useless to look for the plane in the direction from which the sound conies. This effsct is not generally visible, particularly if a number of cars are running at once, and are walehed at close quarters. It is inost striking when a fast car is watched at Brookhouls from

the paddock or clubhouse. When the motor disappears behind the Membsrs’ Hill, there is a pause, then it is seen suddenly emerging, followed a second Or so later by the burst of sound. The converse effect is equally striking ; thus if the spectator in the paddock suddenly looks up attracted. by the sound of the car emerging from behind the mountain, it is quite surprising to see the car already maily yards out along the Home Banking.

Paddock Sounds

More intimate and personal are the noises of the Paddock. Roars of canvastearing sound crash out from time to time aS ears are started, but the general (sleet is more subtle. Tick-overs are interesting. Most famous of all is the one which gave its name to the cata which produced it, ” Chitty-chitty-bangbang,” motor racing’s greatest piece of onomatopoeia. liven to-day the sound of a really big fellow idling is, to the uninitiated, a particularly unmechanical manifestation. The wheezy slacksounding clatter of such motors as the Napier-Railton, Hassan Special or other big-engined cars contrasts vividly with their taut full-throated roar when in full flight Another fascinating sound is that of a car warming up by means of a camoperated. accelerator flipper, producing Automatic bursts of revs to avoid oiling

up. [her so unds w iii ch remain as memories include the ring of hammers on hub-caps, with that harplike background of vibrating spokes, the rattle of the little castors of the quicklift jacks over the track-surface, the gurgle of fuel, the hissing of compressed air, and the jangle of tools, cans, funnels and other equipment on the pit-counter.


Cornering has a whole gamut of sounds of its own. Beginning with the squeal of hard braking, accompanied quite Often by the mutter of • front-axle tramp and the banging of explosions through the blower relief-valve, and the gusty flutter of flames from the exhaust, we then hear the change-down and follow through the corner, to the scream of

tyres scraping sideways. Then comes acceleration, perhaps with the scream Of wheelspin, and finally the falling note of the exhaust as the upward gearchanges are made.

Public Address

The fairly reeent art of running commentary, through public address units, has brought with it fresh types of dramatic sound to remember. While the work of the commentator is chiefly the dissemination to the crowd of accurate information on what is happening, times, lap-speeds and so m, the more practised exponents of the art do contrive to sustain dramatic interest, by vivid description of

lie scene before them, for the benefit of the crowds at other points 611 the course. One of the most dramatic incidents heard by the writer over the speakers was at Bristol Speed Trials in 1937. Here the announcer at the start handed over quickly to his colleague further on, who was extremely excited and who was putting vivid descriptions of the runs over on the speakers. ” Waddy is just coming into sight now,” he screamed. ” His little car is travelling at a terrific pace, easily the fastest vet, he is all over the road. He is just approaching this bend, his car is snaking, he has There was a complete cutting break in the commentary and we knew, many of us, that something had happened, After a few moments the announcer’s voice returned, asking in chastened tones for

the ambulance. Fortunately Waddy was not seriously injured, and the photograph which we took a few seconds before his crash reminds us only of that sudden dramatic silence in the high speed commentary.


Two sound memories of Montlhery stand out clearly. One is that of a big car running round the banking, as heard

from the garages underneath. he general effect is that of a fairground switchback, the car making the light concrete structure of the track rumble, excited by the passage of the wheels over each of the joints in the track surface.

The other memory is of the whole of Montlhery track groaning in the sunshine on an April day. As the sun shone, the light structure of the track warmed up and expanded, sighing gently as it stretched itself in the sunshine. When a cloud came over the face of the sun, the process was reversed, and the track groaned as it contracted.

Crowd Noises

The noise of crowds lingers as a memory, too. The silence of Donington just before engines are started has been mentioned. The self-satisfied clapping after a good ascent at Shelsley is just as unforgettable. Little else remains in British motor sport, for we are in the main taciturn even at our most excited. The circus applause of the skid-thirsty at Quarry Corner leaves a strange impression, but it is quite definitely part of the local colour, and will be something to listen for if the race returns to Ulster.

Memories of the sound of Continental crowds come easily to those who have been fortunate enough to have heard them. The heavy, but, when necessary, full-throated enthusiasm of the Germans, the non-stop chattering excitement of the French, and the indescribable highpitched fervour of Italian and Spanish racing enthusiasts. These sound impressions are part of the motor racing picture. They are vital and very memorable to such enthusiasts as have learned to know them, May the day soon come when we shall hear them all once more!