The son of a bricklayer, Victor Hémery worked on the sea and then trained as a mechanic before embarking on his career as a professional racing driver. He was a difficult man who did not respect reputation or rules but was a talented racing driver nonetheless.
He worked for Léon Bollée from 1895 before defecting to lead Darracq’s competition department in 1900. He ran second in the early stages of the 1903 Circuit des Ardennes light car race before finishing fifth. A disappointing ninth in the French eliminating trials for the 1905 Gordon Bennett Trophy, that poor performance was assuaged by victory in that year’s Circuit des Ardennes in what was his first major success.
Vanderbilt Cup victory and Land Speed Record
Hémery and team-mate Louis Wagner travelled to America at the end of the year for the Vanderbilt Cup. Vincenzo Lancia set the pace but was delayed after colliding with a slower car and Hémery inherited a second international victory. His abuse of photographers after the event did nothing for his popularity however.
His 22,518cc Darracq set a new Land Speed Record of 109.65mph on December 30 1905 at Arles that lasted for less than a month. He was in the field for the first Grand Prix – the 1906 French GP at Le Mans – although his engine failed on the second day of competition.
Racing for Mercedes and Benz
Hémery’s association with Darracq ended in 1907. He drove a Mercedes in that year’s French GP but raced for Benz thereafter. Second in the Coppa Florio at Brescia that autumn, he won the 1908 city-to-city race from St Petersburg to Moscow and was second in that year’s French GP despite being temporarily blinded in one eye.
He starred in the new American Grand Prize in Savannah, Georgia by finishing second in 1908 and 1910. Hémery also regained the LSR at Brooklands in 1909 when his Blitzen Benz averaged 125.946mph. He drove a Lorraine-Dietrich in the 1912 French GP when third on the opening lap before suffering engine failure next time around.
World War I rudely interrupted the sport but Hémery returned during the 1920s and raced a Rolland-Pilain in the French GPs of 1922 and 1923 – retiring on both occasions. He ran a garage business in Le Mans after he stopped racing but was impoverished by the time he committed suicide in 1950.