Spare a thought

Dear Reader,

Last year I asked you to send me a postcard listing your three personal Memorable Moments in motor racing, and the response has been overwhelming. They cover every aspect of racing, with quite a surprising number of motor cycling episodes, and range from last year to 60 years ago, all of which is very gratifying for I have never felt the need to write for any particular age group. To me a motor racing enthusiast is the same whether he, or she, be 18 or 80 years old.

Once you are bitten by the motor racing bug it seems to become permanent, and while some of us have stood the test of time others are still relatively new to the sport. I have met many people, mostly from America, who try to analyse what the fascination is, to try and find out “Why?” I’m afraid they bore me because I am not particularly interested why I like motor racing, I am just very happy that I do and I much prefer to talk with like-minded people. I seem to recall a musician once saying something like: “If you have to ask what rhythm is, then you haven’t got it.”

Reverting to the postcards and the three Memorable Moments one aspect made me rather sad. There was the glaring fact that some of the readers had taken their “moments” from television viewing, citing moments like Arnoux and Villeneuve banging wheels at Dijon-Prenois, or Mansell and Senna side-by-side and almost touching wheels at 170mph heading straight at the camera’s long-focus lens. Memorable Moments indeed, but only as seen on the small screen and it made me spare a thought for those people have only the small screen from which to get their motor racing excitement.

They cannot experience the “feel” of a Honda V12 passing on full song a few feet away from you, or the noise and pandemonium in the pit lane, or the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd at Imola, or the full noise of a Grand Prix start, or the sound of a Formula One engine really working hard on the climb after the Eau Rouge plunge at Francorchamps as it disappears up the long straight to Les Combes, or the totally unreal sight and sound of a Ferrari as it plunges down from Casino Square, past the Tip Top, to the hairpin at Mirabeau at Monte Carlo. If you are a media man and your job forces you to sit in an air-conditioned press room, watching the action on a television monitor screen, you also miss the real fascination of motor racing.

There are thousands of exciting and fascinating effects to motor racing in all its forms, from the club hillclimb to the British Grand Prix and you really have to be there to get the most out of the sport. Of the millions (!) of viewers only a very small proportion get the opportunity to experience actually being there, and an even smaller proportion have the experience of actually taking part, whether they are competitors or officials, so those of us who are fortunate to be there should spare a thought for all those enthusiasts who cannot “be there”. One hundred thousand, or thereabouts, actually go to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix and they are the fortunate ones, and during a season a small handful actually get to other Grand Prix races, or Le Mans, or the Monte Carlo Rally or whatever your particular interest is.

We live in improving times and these days it is not too difficult to get to an event in other parts of Europe, and people like Page & Moy and other travel agents do a splendid job of taking people to race meetings outside Great Britain. I am continually hearing from, or meeting people who are making their first sortie to a Grand Prix or to Le Mans; a very few regret it and most are already planning the next trip. Not many can afford the time or the money to go to more than one big event, and if they have been attending the British GP for a number of years, they have watched other events on the television and get the urge to see for themselves. I hear remarks like “I am really going to make a big effort next year and go to Monza” or Le Mans or Imola, Hockenheim, Monte Carlo or wherever. Some are even determined to get to Indianapolis, just once. For every one like this there are thousands of viewers of television who do not have the opportunity or the money, even to get to Silverstone. So I say to those of us who are fortunate, when you are there, wherever it is, spare a thought. . .

One reader who celebrated his “three-score-and-ten” last year was taken to the Italian Grand Prix to fulfil a life-long ambition of motor racing enthusiasm. His family decided to do this as a birthday gift, but were rather anxious about the heat and strain of an Italian race day on their father. They decided first of all to settle in a comfortable hotel away from the turmoil and noise of Monza, and then to go to the circuit for the two practice days only and to spend race-day in their hotel and watch the race on the television. It all worked out splendidly, practice days were not over-crowded, or too long, and they could absorb the atmosphere of an Italian Grand Prix in full swing. The race they could enjoy in the comfort of their hotel and really feel they were there at the track.

They were still wrapped up in the atmosphere of the two days of practice and qualifying, and that was more than sufficient to make the holiday a very relaxed affair, which was really the whole point of the trip. Had they attempted to take in race day, bearing in mind it was their first visit to a European race, I am sure they would have got back to their hotel very tired and probably rather jaundiced about the whole affair. It would have meant a long day, from 6am to 10pm, during which they would have sat in their car in traffic queues for about six hours, they would have found three Italians with the same grandstand seats as theirs, they might have had a camera or something pinched, eating would have been awful and the noise would have given them headaches. If you are used to all that sort of thing it is worthwhile to be part of the scene, but as I said, this was a holiday trip and very successful, thanks to a bit of planning beforehand.

The idea of taking in a European event as part of a family holiday is a popular one, and while not everyone can plan their holiday to co-incide with the Monaco Grand Prix, there are lots of lesser events all over Europe, and a visit to see how the rest of the world get on with their motor racing is most instructive. The interesting thing is that the enthusiasm for the sport is the same in any country. This month’s Memorable Moments are from Nigel Tucker;

1. Cutting school in May 1961 to buy Autosport (sorry), to see an amazing new Ferrari and read about someone called Giancarlo Baghetti.

2. Claiming to be the first in a crowd of 20,000 at Brands Hatch top straight at the British GP 1970, who realised that Jack Brabham was overdue on his last lap.

3. Seeing Mansell take Piquet before our very eyes at Stowe in the British Grand Prix 1987.

Yours, DSJ.