- Sunday, May 24, 1903
The 1903 Paris-Madrid provided a bloody conclusion to an era of road races that had begun in 1894. These long-distance, city-to-city encounters excited huge interest – and triggered a rapid rise in vehicle speeds. This latter factor was controlled in the large towns on route – entrants were obliged to stop at 'in' and 'out' controls, and be marshalled between them by a man on a push-bike – inevitably, however, many of the minor villages were taken full tilt. Then, as now, the policing of a route hundreds of miles long was impossible, and educating bystanders to the perils of rapidly moving traffic was difficult. Throw into this mix wayward farmyard animals and household pets – most of whom were unlikely to survive their first encounter with a car – poor road surfaces and, depending on the weather, mud or dust, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Paris-Madrid was that disaster.
William John Nixon, a cousin of my grandmother, was 27 when he agreed to act as the riding mechanic on the Wolseley car owned by Mr CE Allan, a director of Belfast shipbuilders Workman & Clarke, and driven by Leslie Porter.