My first Formula one race

My first Formula one race

I went to my first F1 racing day in 1968. I was 7501px-Kyalami_1968layout.svg years old and remember it like yesterday. My uncle Spiro took me to Kyalami, 20 miles from my home in Bryanston. We walked round the track to get the overall feel and started our viewing at Clubhouse bend. Where the cars slow down to first gear for a 90 degree left hand turn. Braking hard as they enter and accelerating hard as they leave.
First up was the F2 race. We waited about an hour in the sunshine, excitement building with every sip of the forbidden coca cola. A few vintage cars drove around the track to keep the excitement up. And then off they went. The formula two race. I had never heard such a decibel overload. The roar as thirty cars raced past ten feet away, engines screaming at ten thousand revs per minute (As uncle Spiro explained to me, the inner workings of the internal combustion engine, with pistons and cylinders and rich petrol).
Out of the first corner one car emerged way ahead of the others pulling away with every passing lap. By the end of the race he had lapped the second place car. I thought that is how racing worked. The winner laps the rest of the field. 6d7c52692ef7338c9078a36bf5598899All I could talk about was this amazing driver, and in those days they had open cockpit cars with helmets and goggles, so you could see their faces clearly.
I was hopping with excitement. The deafening sound. The smell of petrol thick in the air. The crazy risk of going into corners, tires screeching, at breakneck speed. Just wow. Here was a whole new world of possibility for unimaginable fun and from the first sight, sound and smell of a race car, I was invested.

Nieuwe Ford Corsair V4 en nieuwe Ford traktor geïntroduceerd op het circuit van Zandvoort door de Britse autocoureurJim Clark *4 november 1965

Jim Clark
4 November 1965

The F2 race ended and we walked over to Crowthorne, at the end of the main straight, and the big race began. The main event. Formula one racing. Bigger engines. Better tuned. Ford Cosworth 3 liter V8’s. They were even louder. I was enchanted by the magic spell of the big race.
Out of the first corner, one car surged ahead. The number four car, the same driver as the last race. By the end  he had lapped the rest of the field and he won with such ease Formula one for me was evidently a one man show. One guy won both races that day.
I went to the pits with Uncle Spiro, who was a car mechanic and knew people, where I was introduced to this gracious man with a Scots accent. Another first for me. Why does he talk so funny? Something Scots, with their distinctive accent should consider when traveling and meeting young people.

Uncle Spiro explained to me that
Jim Clark did the mechanic work on both his cars that day, the F2 one and then the F1.  Just months later Jim Clark died on the track. In a F2 race.

On 7 April 1968, Clark died in a racing accident at the Hockenheimring in West Germany.  He was originally slated to drive in the BOAC 1000 km sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead chose to drive in the Deutschland Trophäe, a Formula Two race, for Lotus at the Hockenheimring, primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone. Although the race has sometimes been characterized as a “minor race meeting” the entry list was impressive with top-running Matras for the French drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, Tecnos for Carlo Facetti and Clay Regazzoni, Team Brabhams for Derek Bell and Piers Courage, a Ferrari for Chris Amon and McLarens for Graeme Lawrence and Robin Widdows. Team Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Clark were in Gold Leaf Team Lotuses and a young Max Mosley was also in the race, moving up from the Clubman series.
The event was run in two heats.  On the fifth lap of the first heat, Clark’s Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees. He suffered a broken neck and skull fracture, and died before reaching the hospital. The cause of the crash was never definitively identified, but investigators concluded it was most likely due to a deflating rear tyre. Clark’s death affected the racing community terribly, with fellow Formula One drivers and close friends Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham all being personally affected by the tragedy. People came from all over the world to Clark’s funeral. Colin Chapman was devastated and publicly stated that he had lost his best friend. The 1968 F1 Drivers’ Championship was subsequently won by his Lotus teammate Graham Hill, who pulled the heartbroken team together and held off Jackie Stewart for the crown, which he later dedicated to Clark.

Every year for the next 15 or so after that I was at Kyalami and saw all the great competitors in formula one. Us local youngsters would go to the practice days via the Kyalami 49-mainRanch Hotel, where almost all the drivers stayed. Sitting by the pool with a cold coke, I met Niki Lauda,  Jody Sheckter, James Hunt, John Surtees and many others. They were so accessible to young people. No TV or security to get in the way.I was at a practice day on the 22 March 1974. With my friend Craig DeVilliers, watching the cars zoom around, we watched  Peter Revson’s Shadow DN3   lose control and smash into the barrier at “Barbecue Bend”. The car stood on its nose, wrapped itself around the barrier and caught fire, and although safety workers and other drivers managed to pull Revson from the wreckage, we learned later that he was already dead. Following his brother in this tradition of dying in race cars. His drive in the Shadow team was taken by a Welsh driver, Tom Pryce, with the carbon parts that caused Revson’s crashed replaced with steel.
I was there again three years later, in 1977 when Tom Pryce, 27, struck a young fire marshal who foolishly ran across the track in front of him, carrying a large fire extinguisher. At that point in the long straight Pryce’s car was traveling at over 200 mph.I was in the stand at Crowthorne at the time and watched his head explode in a red mist, his car barely slowing as the fire extinguisher decapitated the driver. It felt to me like slow motion. The driverless car with a dead mans foot on the gas, kept going at 200mph straight towards us.  Lucky – race organizers used piles of rubber tires protect the stand and those tire’s stoppTom_Pryce_Webshots_Gillfoto_17ed the car before a bigger tragedy unfolded.
I saw the fire marshal turn into a red mist before my eyes, which is what happens when your hit by a sharp car at 200mph. There was very little left of that young man.
I watched spellbound as first responders removed his body from the car. I  read later that one of those chaps stole the wedding ring off Tom Pryce’s dead body. His wife requested its return. It was returned. That night the incident was all over the news. replays of the marshal turning to red mist.I loved the F1 circus. Later, when I moved to England in 84, I heard many great stories from my friend Leo Sayer who was great friends with Bernie Ecclestone, and had many first hand tales of rock and roll F1. Leo got to drive one of the great cars of the day.
I made a recording with Leo’s friend Damon Hill soon after he won the F1 title, and learned Damon is born on exactly the same day and year as myself. A lovely man.
But then Bernie sold the soul of F1 car racing. It became a parade of rich kids in scalextrix, running on rails of rules that cut the sporting heart right out of the process.
I haven’t watched these 1.6 liter, 1,000 hp computer cars for many years. The last great race I watched live on TV was the one when Senna died. I remember the moment he dived across the line straight into the wall. For me, F1 died with him.
They changed the rules to make F1 safe and no one has died in a racing incident since. (As far as I know.)  In 94, when Senna died, aged 34, the cars ran 3.5 Liter engines. His Williams for the 94 season had a V10 engine by Renault Sport termed the RS6 specification, delivering approximately 830 hp. But none of the computer tech that is in the current computer cars. It was a pure power car that needed a pure power driver.
I watched the greatest ever on my first visit to F1 and shook his hand. He died soon after. I watched two men die before my eyes, when I was aged 13 and 16, and a third, Ayrton Senna, live on TV
That’s enough for me.