Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

How I got into Motor Racing

Motor Racing - Those Were The Days

Motor Racing - Those Were The Days

To my left the sun was setting behind the ancient walled town of Carcassonne, a brooding chiaroscuro against the vermillion sky. On my right, half a medieval chateau stood perilously close to the fast moving traffic, a victim of the modern need to be somewhere else in a hurry. On the radio Mary Hopkins coo'ed "Those Were The Days" and I felt great. I was on my way home from a Formula 2 meeting in Pau, Southern France and looking forward to going to Hockenheim in Germany the following week. At least that is how I remember it now. That's the great thing about getting old. The past gets edited and refurbished and only the glitzy bits remain. In reality I was probably tired and pissed off, dreading the thought of having to go through the whole rigmarole again the following week and just wanting to get home and get some sleep.

That I got into motor racing at all was just chance. Like the rest of my life, unplanned. I had been in the RAF, a pilot, I had never fancied going into civil aviation. I tried the Stock Exchange - didn't like it. Tried banking - disliked that even more. A friend had a pub and he persuaded me that a shop that was up for sale a few doors along from his establishment would make a perfect restaurant and I would love it. I took it and opened a restaurant. It was pretty successful but I soon found that 'love it' I didn't. Another friend had a construction company. He was always having demolition jobs which he had to farm out and he suggested that I form a company and do the jobs for him. For the next year or so I demolished property throughout south east England. It was fun but as more work came my way I didn't have the time to actually smash the buildings down myself and it began to lose its appeal. I still had the restaurant and one evening I was talking to one of the diners, Kenny Cooper, and he told me he owned a garage and was a racing driver. I was only mildly interested but when he asked if I'd like to go to a meeting with him I went along. Kenny was driving a Formula 500 Cooper-Cooper, not the most sexy car on the race track. I wasn't impressed but went to a few races with him because he asked me to. I never did become an addict.

Kenny then went on holiday. On a cruise ship! It sank and that was the last I saw of him. But not of the Cooper-Cooper. His mother called and asked me if I would like to have his two cars. I wasn't a lot interested until she explained that they were free. I thought I might as well take them as not. Kenny had booked up a schedule of races so I stuck a cross on the back of the cars and took his place. Later I decided the underpowered F500 cars were not for me and bought a burnt out Jaguar XK9, stripped off the head lights, mudguards, boot and anything else that was strippable and went Autocross racing. Sheer vandalism! This was the time when future stars like Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark, Jochen Rindt, Jack Brabham, Chris Amon etc were casting around for a safe billet to further their career. I couldn't compete, so when Colin Chapman offered me the chance to team manage the Herts & Essex Lotus Racing Team I grabbed it. It was the start of something special. After the Lotus team I took on the Equipo Argentino F3 Brabham team of Pablo Brea. That led me to a meeting with Patricio Peralta Ramos, proprietor of the largest newspaper in South America. I had been doing some freelance work for magazines such as Motor, Auto Sport, Auto Car, etc. and my own magazine, Auto Race & Rally. Peralta Ramos asked me to do a weekly column for his newspaper. Originally this was just on motor racing, but later he enlarged my territory to include other sporting events and international disasters of interest - like the eruption of Mount Etna in 1971, and the collapse of the motorway in San Paolo around the same time. Patricio, who was one of the sponsors of the Carlos Reutemann Brabham team, also wanted me to keep an eye on his interests, and made me Competitions Manager.

This meant constant travel and new venues. Looking back on it now, the names of the places I visited bring instant flashbacks of people I knew and things we did. As I said before, these have automatically been edited and revised by time, but the great thing about the Internet is that you can ramble on as much as you like. If nobody reads it, well what's an old man to do? I don't want to write about the races or the cars. Nor have much to do with the circuits. I want to write about the people, and tell a few bullshitty stories about what we did back then before everything got serious and money ruled. I've also been an inveterate collector of recipes so I want to bung a few of those in to round out the memories.

If you're with me this far, I'll give you an idea of what I want to write about on a regular basis....

BARCELONA - reminds me of Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, Colin Chapman and Paella.

HOCKENHEIM - Max Mosley, Piers Courage and Bratwurst.

ZANDVOORT - Jack Oliver, John Surtees and Bitter Ballen.

MONACO - Jackie Stewart, Liz Taylor and Bouillabaisse.

KYALAMI, South Africa - legendary team owner Rob Walker, Bernie Ecclestone and Baoule Shrimps.

BUENOS AIRES - James Hunt, Niki Lauda and Parilla.

CLERMENT FERRAND - John Watson, photographer Jutta Fausel and Chestnut Cake.

LE MANS - Jack Oliver, Jackie Ickx and Tarte Tatin.

And there's plenty more....

WATKINS GLEN - Chris Craft, Graham Hill, spare ribs and hot-dogs.

NURBURGRING - Piers Courage and Schwarzwalder Kirshtorte.

AUSTERREICHERING - Mike Hailwood, Joe Bugner the boxer and Goulash.

INTERLAGOS - John Watson, James Hunt, Ingrid Pitt, Nazi Reunion, can't remember what we ate.

MONZA - Juan Manuel Fangio and practically anything edible.

FUJI - James Hunt, Niki Lauda and raw fish.

I think that's enough to be going on with. In two weeks time I'll tell the story of the weekend in Barcelona with Clark, Chapman and Hill. It was Jimmy Clark's last weekend. If you'd like to make a comment or send me a message, please click here.

(You can listen to Mary Hopkins singing, out of sync, to her plucking banjo, Those Were The Days, on YouTube. Just about says everything.)

Posted 1/5/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing