Motoring sportsmen: Major H. O. D. Segrave

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36

By THE EDITOR.

Some seventeen years ago, passers-by on a quiet Irish road were startled by the appearance of a single cylinder motor-car being driven for all it was worth by a very small boy. The car was a 6-b.p. Rover, and its driver Master H. O. D. Segrave, now known throughout the motoring world as one of the most skilled and fearless of racing drivers.

Henry O’Neill de Hane Segrave, to give him his full name, was born in America, his father being an Irishman and his mother American. Educated at Eton, de Hane Segrave was destined for a military career, and at the outbreak of the war we find him at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from whence he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Going overseas with his regiment, Lt. Segrave took part in the battle of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, Somme, Festubert, receiving wounds in action on two occasions.

In 1915, he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, and after performing gallant service in the air was prompted to Flight Commander in the field, but on being shot down later was invalided home. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered to resume duty, Capt. Segrave was in harness again, this time as a Staff Captain, R.F.C., at the General Headquarters of the B.E.F. Later on, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Henry Norman, Bart., of the Air Council, and served in a similar capacity to Major-General Sykes, Chief of the Air Staff. When the selection of British officers to accompany the Air Force Mission to the United States of America was made, Major Segrave was detailed for important work under the British Ambassador at Washington, and for a long time was responsible for what are known as propaganda duties in connection with British actions in the field.

During his military career Major Segrave was twice mentioned in despatches; and, as may be gathered from the above brief summary of his service, his duties were of an extremely varied and important character, with a spell of diplomatic work.

Racing as an amateur.

Soon after the Armistice, Major Segrave resigned his regular commission, and whilst still in America bought a 4-litre Mercer racing car with which he won several long distance events on American dirt tracks, gaining victories over well-known transatlantic speedmen on high-powered racing machines. Up to the year 1920, Major Segrave took part in racing events, hill climbs and speed trials as an amateur, many of his performances on the 1914 4½ litre Grand Prix Opel being remembered by our readers.

Fighting for recognition

His natural aptitude for speed work and steady nerve, cultivated largely when flying in the war, aroused in Major Segrave the ambition to become a professional motor-car racer. But how was this ambition to become achieved, seeing at that time he had practically no experience of road racing to his credit? His offers to assist the Sunbeam organisation were repeatedly rejected; but eventually, thanks to his persevering efforts, he at last induced Mr. Coatalen to give him a trial; all sorts of dreadful penalties being held over his head should he crash the car or fail to make a show.

Major Segrave did not hesitate to accept the offer, and in 1921 took his place in the Talbot team in company with such famous drivers as René Thomas, Andre Boillot and Lee Guinness. Such a trial was sufficient to daunt any but the stoutest heart, but Major Segrave settled down to make the first circuit of what was for him the first lap in the race for fame and came in seventh. Mr. Louis Coatalen and his colleagues were watching the performance of this persistent young soldier, and in the end congratulated him upon a first-class display of skill and daring. This first exploit resulted in the signing of a contract for Major Segrave, who by personal effort has worked his way from being a practically unknown amateur to one of the foremost drivers of the world. It is safe to say that Major Segrave has won more races than any other Englishman, and his records leave those nearly all Continental cracks well down the list.

Some racing achievements

Starting in 1921 when he drove in the Grand Prix, Major Segrave followed up his initial appearance as a road-racer by finishing third in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes at Le Mans in the same year, being only 1 min. 34 secs. behind the winner. In the autumn of 1921 he won the first Two Hundred Miles Race at Brooklands on the 1½-litre Talbot, this class of racing being easy work compared with the strenuous contests over Continental roads where more serious opposition was met.

In 1922, Major Segrave figured at Brooklands, and won many races on the single-seater Indianapolis Sunbeam with which he broke the Ten Miles World’s Record, and at the championship meeting won the Championships for both the 5,000 C.C. and 2,000 C.C. classes.

British enthusiasts had an opportunity of watching the fascinating driving methods of the now famous Sunbeam exponent, when he took part in the Tourist Trophy race of 1922. Up to the time of his magneto failure, his driving was an outstanding feature of the race and, incidentally, he created a record for the course, which remains unbeaten to-day.

That year was a somewhat unlucky one for Major Segrave, for when running fourth in the French Grand Prix at half way he was forced to retire with engine trouble. Going over to Spain for the Penya Rhin race at Barcelona, Major Segrave finished fourth and then ran second in the Sicilian Coppa Florio over the mountain course, acknowledged by all drivers as the most difficult circuit in the world. Had there been any doubt about Major Segrave’s prowess at the wheel—which there was not—his achievement on the Sicilian course would have dispelled it once and for all, and from that date onward he won the approval and respect of all the Continental tracks.

Major Segrave ran third in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes at Le Mans in 1922, and also in the Two Hundred Miles Race at Brooklands, thus finishing a remarkable year of racing.

In 1923, he won the French Grand Prix on a Sunbeam, the first and only Englishman who has won this blue riband of the motor world, and also the Grand Prix des Voiturettes at Boulogne.

Ignition trouble spoilt his chances in the French Grand Prix at Lyons in 1924, for after leading for four laps and putting up the record time for a circuit, he dropped to seventeenth position, afterwards performing the astounding feat of overtaking twelve competitors and finishing fifth. That year’s wins included the Spanish Grand Prix at San Sebastian and third in the Two Hundred at Brooklands.

This year – 1925 — when driving a 1½-litre Darracq in an event for unlimited cars he won the Grand Prix de Provence against several 2-litre Grand Prix racers, though handicapped by the banning of super-chargers. At Montlhery he was third in the Grand Prix de Montlhery, and his most recent success up to the time of writing is the breaking of eight Class F international world’s records at Brooklands on the new single-seater British built Talbot racer.

Major Segrave’s views on racing

Speaking of racing as practised in England and abroad, Major Segrave states that the Continental manufacturer takes a far more serious view of the benefits to be obtained from speed events than does his English confrere. To the former, racing is a great and important national industry and the drivers have in consequence attained a greater degree of skill than one finds in this country. As chief of the S.T.D. racing team, Major Segrave regrets the scarcity of British drivers, and as a result has to fall back upon the services of Continental exponents—who now help him as team mates. Whilst many promising drivers are to be found among British motorists, there is always the difficulty of training them for fast road work and the risk of entrusting a very costly racing machine, worth about £4,000, to a comparative novice is too serious to be taken lightly. Many promising drivers who possess the necessary nerve and dash appear, explained Major Segrave, to lack the iron restraint to avoid risks when practising and to carry out instructions upon which team success so largely depends. Motor racing is a most exciting and difficult profession which so far has seldom been regarded in its true light, but opens out for the keen youngster chances of a wonderful career—if taken up more as a business than as a mere pastime.

Major Segrave’s views on this subject are of extreme interest, for while the amateur motorist has done an enormous amount of work in developing the sporting side of the pastime, one realises that in the hands of such men as Major Segrave, professionalism is raised to a dignified height, and his record is one of which any British motorist may well be envious.

Major Segrave’s hobbies

As might be expected, the famous racing driver finds the fascination of the workshop too great to resist, with the result that part of his leisure is spent in working on cars, his own garage and shop being fully equipped for this end.

His mechanical genius also finds ample scope in the construction of model railways, his electrified system of model railways some 600 ft. in length being one of the finest in existence. He also plays a useful game of golf and is a quick and accurate shot, spending part of his holidays on the moors with the guns.

Whilst his reliability and steadiness is universally recognised, he is primarily a fast driver, and possesses wonderful judgment, which accounts for his successes on cars that if cubic capacity were taken into account would have very little chance of offering serious opposition to those of greater horse-power. In conclusion, we may affirm that the wonderful records put up by the Sunbeam-Darracq-Talbot combination are due in no small measure to the personal application and painstaking efforts of Major Segrave whose successes stand out as a wonderful example of single-handed achievement.