On This and That
With something like 150,000 readers of MOTOR SPORT, it can well be imagined how sizeable is the incoming post. with letters from readers on all subjects. Naturally, I get quite a selection on matters concerning motor racing, and Grand Prix racing in particular, while any that the Editor receives which concern racing are invariably passed on to me. During the summer racing season in Europe this business of receiving letters can get quite complicated, for I cover more than 20,000 miles around Europe and am never in one place for very long, so that quite often. letters are forwarded on to me and then proceed to chase me from hotel to hotel, often for many weeks, so that by the time I read them they can be out of date, or too late to receive a coherent reply. Letters that ask for help or information about visiting a Continental circuit for a Grand Prix meeting have reached me on the morning of the event in question, and I can only hope that the-reader has managed on his own and is somewhere in the crowd, watching the race. I should hate to think that someone did not set off on a Continental trip simply because he never got a reply to his letter.
These letters from readers can be divided into numerous categories, some for publication, some purely expressing opinions, with a closing remark that they are not for publication, while others offer helpful suggestions. One in the last category once asked if the little arrow on the Grand Prix starting grids in the reports was intended to show the direction of the first corner. In actual fact it did not indicate this, but as a result of that letter it now does so. Letters come in on all aspects of Grand Prix racing, and if I were to sit down and reply to all of them in the detail they deserve there would not be time to write the lengthy Grand Prix reports, so there would be nothing for the readers to write to me about, and we would all come to a grinding halt. I have to decide who deserves a lengthy reply, who gets a brief postcard, and who gets ignored, and there is no hard and fast rule about it. It is fairly easy to go by the tone of the letter as to whether the writer is a serious student of motor racing or just a ” letters to the Editor ” writer. I am convinced that there are people in this World who set out to be professional writer’s of ” letters to the Editor,” but I do not think it is a very paying profession, unless it leads to a job as a journalist. In fact, I begun my connections with MOTOR SPORT by writing a letter to the Editor, purely out of enthusiasm, so imagine my surprise and delight when I found he printed it in the following issue; and our present Editor was writing enthusiastic letters to the Editor of MOTOR SPORT way back in the nineteen-twenties.
Among the letters that come in are numerous rude and abusive ones, and these get ignored, but honest criticism or polite corrections to errors made by the Editorial staff are received with the respect they command. It really is incredible how you can read an article you have just written, read it again in various printed forms, before it finally goes to be made into pages, and then read the finished page, and all the time overlook some simple error. On the first day of the month you will get a ‘phone call to the office politely pointing out the error, and the following day a letter or postcard will arrive from another reader pointing out the mistake. Naturally, many mistakes are seen just as the printing presses grind into action and it is too late to retract, so you have to wait for a week or ten days, quite helpless, and see who is first to write in or telephone. The only consolation to all this is that it means we have a lot of very keen, very knowledgeable and eagle-eyed readers, any one of whom could probably do the job as well as I do it, if only they had the chance. One day I suppose I shall become too old and senile to get to motor races or to ‘write about them, and someone will have to take over my job. I feel sure that it will be one of my keener readers, for, after all. I read MOTOR SPORT for more than ten years before I ever wrote an article for it. During the war years, when motor racing and motoring sport was non-existent, our magazine was kept going single-handed by our present Editor, and though you can stop activity you cannot stop enthusiasm, and often when he was visiting aerodromes or factories on behalf of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, unknown people would quietly walk across and say, ” keep it going, it’s a sort of bible.”
Quite often people write in and say, “Why do you keep on about Grand Prix racing; surely Saloon cars, go-karts, rallies, etc., are more important ?” This is a question that is impossible to answer in a few words, but the designing, building, operating and driving of a Grand Prix car has always been the ultimate pinnacle of all forms of motor racing, and it always will be, principally because designers are given a very free hand and can produce a vehicle that is the ultimate in performance for a given size. There are no design restrictions to control engine type, or chassis layout, and driving these cars must be the pinnacle in driving ability, which is why so few people make the top bracket in Grand Prix driving. If it were all easy and simple everyone could be the top driver. Almost any driver who is racing has the ambition to race single-seater cars, and while the Grand Prix car is the fastest single-seater then they strive to get a drive in one. A Le Mans prototype of 4 or 5-litres might be quicker in a straight line, but its cornering propensities are not as high as a Grand Prix car, and almost everyone wants to show that he can corner faster than the next man, because that is where finesse, judgement and skill are at a premium and over-ride bravery. This subject could go on and on, which is why many letters on the subject never get a complete answer, life is too short and too full.
Many other queries come in, such as ” Why is the print so small at the end of some of your reports ? “, or ” Why do you put speeds in kilometres per hour ? ” The print is small because of limited space and the fact that I play hell with the production department if they cut out any words, and I use k.p.h. because that is. the official measurement in Europe, Also, I found in the past that no two people seemed capable of converting .k.p.h. to m.p.h. with the same result, and being a monthly magazine a lot of people had already seen a figure in ” Motorcar ” or “Auto-racing ” which differed, and letters would come in suggesting that I was wrong. By giving the result as produced by the official F.I.A timekeepers there was no argument. In addition, it is a hope of mine that one day Europe will be completely united, and the first step is surely that Great Britain should change to the decimal system and metric measurement.
Letters often arrive expressing serious doubts about the intentions of certain individuals in the motor-racing world, especially organisers and promoters, and while I am in agreement with a lot of views expressed, for I also have serious doubts about our future, I cannot put these things in writing, for somewhere, someone is unfortunately waiting with a ” small print man” (solicitor) ready to pounce and line their own pocket at the expense of honest opinion or sporting interests. There are many questions asked on this subject, such as ” Why do all race promoters keep saying they don’t make any profit, even with 100,000 spectators ? ” and another will ask, if these people are business men, why can’t they make a profit ? ” Nobody will deny that big-time motor racing is a business and the whole point of business is to make it profit, yet race organisers or circuit owners have to get financial backing from newspapers, cigarette manufacturers, drink manufacturers and so on. My feeling is that these self-styled business men arc not very good business men, and they would not last long in the open world of business. If there is any profit from organising motor racing I am not sure where it goes, but one thing is certain, it does not go into the pocket of the spectator.
On the Subject of spectators, I get a lot of letters from readers who are visiting foreign circuits for the first time and ask advice about spectator facilities. Whenever possible I give this information gladly, for it is all too easy to visit a race and see nothing, returning home sadly disillusioned. There are no hard and fast rules about viewing points; they depend entirely on the nature of the race and the circuit in question, but if it is driving that you want to see then you seldom see it near the main grandstands or pits. During practice I often move around the circuit, invariably in the public enclosures, for some Of the best viewing can be done from the cheapest enclosure. A typical example is the Nurburgring, for there are splendid vantage points all round the circuit where you can look down on the track from a high bank. It may mean a long walk up earthy slopes and some foraging through undergrowth, but it is worth it. Monaco is another circuit where the paying public get a much better view than those people in the pits with free tickets, and I spend some of the practice time in the stand at the Station Hairpin, or the Casino Square, while if you have a friend with a balcony in the Hotel de Paris, you can get a wonderful view of driving techniques. At Rouen you see nothing from the pits or grandstands, but a walk down the hill in the public enclosure will produce some first-class sights of highspeed cornering, while at the Nouveau Monde hairpin the natural banks of the public enclosures are much better than being on the track with a special pass. The raised banks at Goodwood on -Matigwick or St. Mary’s earners produce excellent views of cornering, and Brands Hatch can offer splendid viewing, but you must be prepared to walk through the woods and climb up banks and slopes. There is a point at the foot of Paddock Bend, in the public enclosure on the outside of the bend, that offers one of the best views of full-lock slides, with the driver biting his lip, that you could wish to see. Of course, if you are only interested in the mechanical aspect of motor racing, or the personal aspect, then the situation is quite different, and you get the best viewing from the pits or grandstands; and, equally, if you wish to follow the race minutely then you are bound to stay in the pit area, for that is the nerve centre of any race. Having to write reports on these races I am more or less forced to stay within the pits and start area, otherwise you get out of touch with detail movements., but occasionally I get the opportunity to go to a motor race and not write the report, and then I can enjoy a wander round the circuit and watch the actual racing taking place, instead of having to visualise it. One of the happiest races I went to was a Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, where I went without a free pass and wandered around in the public enclosures. It was a glorious sunny day and I was able to see the racing taking place on the corners, and, in addition. I met a surprising number of old friends. It all very enjoyable.
Another interesting aspect of actual race meetings, especially on the Continent, is the growing number of readers who are taking their holidays to coincide with a Grand -Prix event, or Le Mans or the Targa Florio. I meet a great variety of these, and it is interesting to have a brief chat, for I have always considered that I know the type of person I am writing for. Having been an-avid reader of MOTOR SPORT since the age of 12 years, I know what I wanted to read about, and I was a normal (or should it be abnormal) enthusiast for motor racing, and especially Grand Prix racing and Grand Prix cars. It soon became an obsession which in turn became virtually a religion, and certainly became a way of life, and it still is. I don’t think you can successfully turn people into motor-racing enthusiasts, you either get the disease or you don’t, and most of us got it at a very early age. Once it is there I am sure it stays forever, which is why many racing drivers do not disappear when they retire, they take on jobs of helping-with the organisation or the trade aspects of the game; once you are really in it, you cannot give it up. I meet readers of all ages, and nationalities, during my travels, and it is really refreshing to meet those who obviously have the same outlook on motoring and motor racing as I have, added to which it makes my job of reporting really satisfying. A great many of them say, “. I wish I had your job,’ and I know just how they feel, for I used to be in the same situation thirty years ago.
The paddock is always a fascinating place for an enthusiast and entry is never easy, with the result that many people ask me for help. There are those who get ignored, because of their manner of asking, or approach, and those who get help. One of my happiest memories was at Monza; where the paddock is surrounded by a high wire-mesh fence. It was during practice when an Australian reader approached me and asked if he could borrow my paddock pass for five minutes. I have had many people ask if I could give them one, but never to borrow one, so I inquired why he wanted to borrow it. He said he had four mates that he wanted to get in, and he had no pass himself. He was so obviously organised, and anyone who comes all the way from Australia to Monza deserves to be in the paddock anyway; so I lent him my pass. Sure enough, in five minutes he was back, slipped the pass into my hand and said ” thanks a lot, we’re all in’ and I never saw him again. I met another reader in the paddock at another race meeting who had been there for all three practice sessions, but said he would probably not be there on race day as he was running out of plausible excuses to give to the man at the gate. All this brings. to mind the letter in last month’s issue, from the reader who suggested that a lot of the ” hangers on ” who fill the pits and paddock, because it is a fashionable place to be seen, should go away and leave it to the really keen ones. I agree with him entirely, for it pains me to see people in the paddock or pits who are not really interested in racing cars, or even racing itself, but it is good for their social standing to be there. They stand around showing themselves off to each other, and are always in the way when mechanics want to start a car, or move a transporter, and never think of helping anyone. They will watch a lone mechanic struggling with tool hokes„ wheels, etc., as if it were a circus stunt and make no attempt to even open a gate for him. The first time I ever got into a paddock, when I was a pimply schoolboy, I was ‘beside myself with joy when I was able to help a mechanic push-start a racing car and he turned round and said ” thanks sonny.” Some paddocks get full to a point of stupidity with people who just want to be seen, and if they would realise that it is only people of similar character that are seeing them, they could all go and stand in a fieldtogether and admire themselves, or each other, or whatever it is they are admiring, and leave the paddock to those who have work to do and those who appreciate the work. That master of humour Russell Brockbank summed all this up in a cartoon some while ago; in which two mechanics were about to tow-start a racing car amidst the ” social set,” quite regardless of the mayhem they were about to cause to the ” dear things.” Motor racing certainly has a lot of problems around it, least of all the simple matter of producing more b.h.p. per litre than the next team, or knocking a tenth of a second off Jirn Clark’s lap times.
Writing reports about motor racmg also has its problems, as well as its tricks of the trade, and there are so many interesting things to do in life, that routine and conventional things must get put aside at times, as I instanced last month during the MercedesBenz Press Day, and as happened again this month at a Lotus Press Reception. but that’s another story. Wherever possible, readers’ letters are dealt with, some immediately, others eventually, but whatever the outcome I would ask those who write to take heart, for even if you never get a reply, your letter has been read and appreciated, and quite often acted upon.—D. S. J.
[I should like to endorse -this!—Ed]