Whitney Willard Straight

IT IS with deep regret and some surprise that we learn of the death of Whitney Straight CBE, MC, DFC, Legion of Merit USA, Norwegian War Cross, at the early age of 67. Although Whitney Straight was an American, he was very much in the tradition of the Brooklands’ drivers between the wars, for he was a wealthy undergraduate at Cambridge when he discovered the joys of motor-racing. So much did Straight enjoy his motor-racing that he quit his studies to make a profession of it. He purchased three 2.9-litre Maseratis and two MG Magnettes and ran his racing as a business, thus being one of the early professionals in this country. Part of his business was the hiring-out and looking-after of racing cars for clients, who numbered his close friend Dick Seaman, Marcel Lehoux, Buddy Featherstonehaugh and H. C. Hamilton. Seaman was to base his motor-racing business on that of Straight’s.

Straight’s notable successes included winning the 1934 Prix de Berne with an MG, and, Maserati-mounted, he won the International Trophy race at Brooklands, where he also took the Mountain Championship, setting a new Mountain circuit lap-record of 82.06 m.p.h., the Donington Park Trophy Race, and the South African Grand Prix. That Whitney Straight was as good a sprint exponent as a circuit driver was shown by his mastery of Shelsley Walsh and the longer Mont Ventoux, where he made f.t.d. He was also placed in many races, often on the Continent. I recall how exciting it was to see Straight in action. He would fly from Cambridge in his D. H. Moth, and at Brooklands his chauffeur, Dewdenay, would be in attendance to help with the pit-stops, and would afterwards drive Straight away in an 8-litre Bentley if he wasn’t flying home. Very much in the tradition of racing in the nineteen-thirties was Whitney Straight and who will forget his Maserati being braked into the Brooklands corners, for example in the International Trophy Race, with yellow flames crackling from its exhaust pipe? He held the Class D Mountain lap record in the Maseratis five times, the class G record with the MG in 1933, and the Class C outer-circuit lap record with the Duesenberg is his for all-time, at 138.15 m.p.h.

Straight was no mean amateur pilot, flying his own aeroplane to Continental racing engagements, and when war broke out he had a distinguished career in the RAF. In 1941 he parachuted from his Hurricane, became a POW, but escaped back to England. He was made Air Commodore, Air Transport Command, in 1942. He had forsaken racing for commerce in 1935 forming a civil aviation company to develop and operate aerodromes and flying schools, the company office being in Manchester Square, W.1. He was responsible for the Miles Whitney Straight light aeroplane with 130 h.p. Gipsy Major engine. He became a Director of many companies, Deputy Chairman of BEA, Executive Vice-Chairman of BOAC, Deputy Chairman of Rolls-Royce and Deputy Chairman of the Post Office. But he retained his love of motor racing and was the Guest Speaker at a recent dinner of the Brooklands Society. A professional among amateurs at a time when motor-racing here was largely the preserve of wealthy, care-free participants, Straight was able to compete with these happy, larger-than-life characters while making his motor-racing into a business, without letting this detract from his very considerable skill as a driver of very fast cars. —W.B.