This column was originally intended to be a reflection on the weekend’s Donington Historic Festival which, for two of its three days was one of the happiest motor racing meetings it has ever been my pleasure to attend. Then, on Sunday, a driver called Christian Devereux lost his life in a crash involving his Mini and a Ford Mustang rendering everything else instantly meaningless.
I’m not going to comment on the circumstances of an accident still under police investigation. I didn’t know the driver and wasn’t there, having left the track after my last race on Saturday evening. But I hope his family can take some very small comfort from the knowledge they are right now never far from the minds of the thousands of people who make up the historic racing community.
At times like this I don’t imagine there’s one of us who doesn’t pause for a moment and question the wisdom of this particular form of activity. We are, if not entirely then certainly overwhelmingly a bunch of middle-aged men who race old cars for entirely recreational purposes. We are not like those who raced them when they were new – hotshots prepared to take very well documented risks in the hope of getting noticed and climbing another rung of the racing ladder. People who watch what we do may notice the greying of our hair or the widening of our waistlines but not much else, save the grace and beauty of the cars we are lucky enough to drive.
Does that make us abnormally brave, or just unusually stupid? I think neither. I once did some research into safety in motor racing and while the information is now several years old, if the data has changed at all, I imagine it is for the better. It showed that over a 10 year period there were 29 fatalities in all forms of motor sport event held in the UK. That might sound a lot until you consider that in that period there were over 30,000 meetings and many of those lives lost were to natural causes. It showed that racing was safer not only than sports known to carry substantial risks like horse riding and rock climbing, but also activities like swimming and fishing.
The truth is that even those of us who race flimsy historics are immeasurably better protected by our belts, roll cages, seats, fire extinguishers, clothing, helmets and circuit design that those who originally took to the track armed with the knowledge that often the best chance of surviving a impact was to be thrown clear of the wreckage.
None of this will ease the pain of the Devereux family, and the tragedy at the weekend reminds us all in the starkest possible terms that even at the best run meetings at one of the safest circuits in the country, dangers remain.
Should it all stop, then? I hope and think not. Competitors know and accept the risks inherent in doing what we do and while it continues to be us alone who face those risks it should be our choice so to do. Were spectators or other members of the public to be involved, that would be a different matter. Historic motor racing is a fabulous sport loved not just by the thousands who take part, but the hundreds of thousands who come to watch. I hope Christian’s family are able to find at least some solace in the fact he was doing what I imagine he loved at the time he was taken.
On behalf of us all at Motor Sport, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends at this impossibly difficult time.
To read more from Andrew Frankel, click here.