Damien Smith's Off the line

Cheers Gerry

The cars line the grass verges of the narrow lane around West Herts Crematorium, bumper to bumper beyond the entrance for about half a mile. Big Gerry's send-off is of a size befitting the man. No surprise there — as a person he wasn't everybody's pint of bitter, but few racing drivers have left a void as hard to fill as Gerald Dallas Royston Marshall.

The persistent hum of conversation from the sea of mourners is broken by a burbling engine note, and the crowd parts as the Alvis Grey Lady that Gerry threw around Goodwood with typical crowd-pleasing gusto last year blasts at a good rate of knots into the throng. It heralds the arrival of the man himself, completing his last journey on four wheels.

Silence falls as the hearse pulls up, the coffin suitably liveried with BRDC stickers, a proud number 1 and a draped chequered flag. But the solemnity is soon broken once the mourners have followed the pall-bearers inside the chapel. This is the most lively, funny and uplifting funeral I have ever been to — again, befitting the man.

The stories of hard racing, hard drinking and hard sprinting — he was seriously quick, apparently — flow thick and fast. I wish I'd got to know him, a childhood hero from countless Brands Hatch clubbies. I spoke to Gerry for the first time just a couple of months ago on the phone. A dose of chemotherapy that morning had left him feeling tired and vague, but still he was happy to talk — about racing, the magazine, even me. It's a conversation I shall now cherish.

It's been a tough month for saying goodbye. Along with Gerry's, you will find eight other obituaries in these pages, among them two fine grand prix drivers, Cliff Allison and John Love. They shall be missed.

But racing goes on, and there is much to look forward to as we head into the heart of the season: Pau, Goodwood's Festival of Speed and Revival, the new Silverstone Classic and VSCC See Red at Donington. Hell, there's even a cracking year of Formula One brewing up nicely. When you spend so much time looking back at motorsport's glorious past and the heroes it created, it's easy to be cynical about the present. But no, don't fall into that trap — not with Michael Schumacher versus Fernando Alonso versus Kimi Raikkonen to savour. History is in the making.

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