Tom Pryce: Memories of a Welsh F1 star book review

Tribute works to lost grand prix talent are on the rise, and this book looks at the story of Welsh wonder Tom Pryce. Simon Arron delves into it

Tom Pryce at Jarama in 1976

Humble, unassuming and naturally gifted, Tom Pryce was a rising F1 star before his tragic death in 1977. Here he awaits action at Jarama in 1976

In recent years there has been a pleasing trend for authors to pay tribute to bygone stars whose names meant a great deal within the motor sport firmament, and yet whose accomplishments remain largely unknown to the wider world.

Cases in point include Richard Jenkins’ excellent homage to Richie Ginther and works by each of the co-authors here: Darren Banks’ profile of Stephen South, his first literary endeavour, received widespread acclaim; Kevin Guthrie’s Jim Crawford biography is perhaps less well known, but the subject is every bit as worthy.

Appetites whetted, the two pooled resources for a first joint venture, and the result is eminently readable.

Pryce’s story has been covered before, in David Tremayne’s elegant chronology The Lost Generation published in 2006 – a book that also analysed the careers of Tony Brise and Roger Williamson, a gifted trio whose potential was never fulfilled thanks to a cocktail of fate, peculiar circumstance and the inherent dangers of the period in which they were ascending the racing ladder. All three left an indelible impression on enthusiasts of a certain age – and they flourished just as my interest in the sport did likewise.

Pryce first caught my attention during a round of the Shell British F3 Championship at Oulton Park on Good Friday, 1972. He led impressively in his Royale RP11 until spinning with a couple of laps to go, at which point Williamson took control; both would be on my radar from that moment on, likewise the dominant winner of the afternoon’s main F2 feature – Niki Lauda. (Brise was eighth in the F3 race that day, ability perhaps slightly masked by a Brabham chassis, but his turn would soon come.)


Pryce at the wheel of his Shadow DN5, leading Jochen Mass in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix

Tremayne was involved in this book, too, in an editorial role, but it is very different to his earlier work, a complementary volume rather than a potential rival. It is not a simple retelling of the Welshman’s life and times, but a series of recollections provided by those who knew him from school days and beyond – family friends, rivals, flat-mates, engineers, team-mates and so on.

Notionally it is a book into which one can dip as and when the mood demands, without fear of losing the thread, but in reality it’s quite hard to stop once you’ve poured a glass of Malbec or brandy (other accompaniments are available…) and settled down in a comfy chair.

Although Pryce moved away from his beloved North Wales in successful pursuit of a racing career, sharing digs close to Brands Hatch with a bunch of fellow drivers, he never really left it behind – and many anecdotes herein reflect as much.

John Watson: “We were at a Formula 2 race in ’74, at Enna. There was no food at the track, so a group of us including Tom and [wife] Nella went off to a restaurant. I’m a bit of a foodie, love Italian cooking and am immediately reading the menu. ‘Tom, what are you going to have?’ ‘Chicken and chips,’ he said. ‘Tom, for f**k’s sake, you’re in Sicily. You’ve got some of the finest food in the world…’ That’s where he was maybe still the boy from Wales.”

Trevor Foster (then a Shadow mechanic, later team manager at Jordan GP): “I remember Tom coming to the factory for a seat fitting and he seemed just a very, very normal guy. He was a hit with the team right from the first day he arrived. Very quiet, almost embarrassed to the point of, ‘Why am I here?’, but deep down he had an inner confidence that he just knew he could drive an F1 car.”

“Tom was very quiet. Almost embarrassed to the point of ‘Why am I here?’ but he had huge confidence”

There is lots of poignancy here, naturally, and also a fair bit of swearing – mostly, but not exclusively, from Ian Flux, who was floor sweeper-cum-van driver for the tiny Token team with whom Pryce made his F1 debut: “Tom was very gifted. He never saw himself as the racer and me as just the van driver. He spoke to me as an equal, and that’s probably why I liked him so much.” NB that this is one of the few sentences in which he doesn’t use expletives…

The tone of the delivery might fluctuate from witness to witness, but the message remains consistent from start to finish.

Pryce’s big break, of course, came when officials refused to sanction Token’s entry for the 1974 Monaco GP. He was offered a seat in the supporting F3 race instead, taking over the entry originally slated for Australian Buzz Buzaglo. The latter was devastated, but accepted the consolation of a luxury weekend with his then-girlfriend in Monte Carlo; he would never race again. Pryce dominated the event and a few days later rejoined Token for a test at Goodwood, where senior team members from Hesketh and Shadow turned up in a bid to procure his services.

Pryce joined the latter, won the 1975 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, led the British GP from pole until caught out by a rain shower and took podium finishes in Austria 1975 and Brazil 1976. He died at Kyalami during the 1977 South African GP, the consequence of a freak accident that should have been wholly avoidable.

This is an engaging epitaph to a spectacular talent, one which was taken before he’d had a fair chance to exploit it.

Tom Pryce: Memories of a Welsh F1 star by those who knew him 

Darren Banks & Kevin Guthrie

Performance Publishing, £35
ISBN 9780957645073