The twists of life shifted me into a new groove after the Humbolt race disaster but my interest in the auto racing world has simmered to this day and now as a senior citizen (I never thought it would happen!) I can look back on my own history as well as events that took place in the world around me. Personal experience in conjunction with the experience of contemporaries is loaded with lessons that can often be appreciated and analysed in hindsight, with an understanding that is not possible while the events are busily unfolding. But it is vital to have LIVED and embedded yourself in history, and having done so, you are positioned to look back and learn. “I was ignorantly on the scene” and now I can look back and analyse with a bit more intelligence! I can see the picture from inside and from outside!
Let me ramble on racing and designing and DOING, a bit more!
I have a natural interest in designing and building things and I also have an interest in the personalities of people who are good at creating things. I love biographies and I love meeting “doers”. I am also fascinated by the interplay between designers and their contemporaries and their predecessors and with the world that they find themselves functioning in.
Let’s look at the evolution of two types of racing cars that I have been able to follow during the years of my interest in racing cars. You will notice how "natural selection" impacted the car designs. And I haven't forgotten Trojan Horses nor the Big School. I am working towards showing how the exciting world of Formula 1 racing is a Trojan Horse that has the potential to smash down walls, on the other side of which is a clearer view of the Big School!
One advantage of living for a longer period of time, assuming you are like Jim Corbett and are interested in life, and don’t simply degenerate into being a dead headed old fool, is that past incidents that were a big deal to you when they happened, even if no one else noticed, can yield residual benefits. The demolition derby would be one such personal incident.
Few of us are world famous but all of us have plenty of exciting moments that get lost in the exciting moments that everyone else is having. A day at work or a drive to a movie or playing in a sports event can, and often does, have moments that could change your life. A moment could be a negative event, a positive event, or a fluke event. Perhaps the incident will be forgotten until years later but then, there will be a connection with a later incident, and a valuable new insight will be achieved. The later incident will be amplified by the earlier incident and vice versa.
I can think of two associates who had fluke sports injuries that will likely be largely forgotten but yet will add a permanent feature to each life story. The same individuals have likely had sport victories that also form a memory that will always be part of their mental history. Incidents have been recorded and at some point will likely be replayed with greater appreciation.
Perhaps visiting a museum in conjunction with past stories of an ancestor combined with something as simple as driving to the museum on a freeway, might make you realize the sweat and mental activity that were needed to make your ease of travel so simple. Your unique position in time and your seemingly common place experiences might suddenly be highlighted. Reality appreciation and common sense might be enhanced. A hundred thoughts might be suddenly triggered by a momentary incident. The explosion might destroy a section of Bozo Barricade!
One of my sons leaned on my wife and I to see the movie / documentary “Senna” which was produced in 2010 about the life and career of racing driver Ayrton Senna. Senna was a complex man who was wildly successful in the Formula 1 world, but, as so often happens, died at age 34 – in dramatic fashion. Analysis and controversy has swirled around his death and auto racing was significantly changed by the event.
On the seemingly jinxed weekend of Senna’s death, his protégé Rubens Barrichello was injured in a crash and fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger was killed. A string of events had created a storm that may well have been influencial in Senna’s fatal crash. Rule changes meant that the highly competitive Senna found himself driving a car that had been a former winner but had been suddenly transformed into a poor handling dog by the new rules. Track and safety issues were troubling him. Even romance issues were swirling.
I was largely oblivious to Senna’s career as it occurred from 1984 to his death in 1994, and during that time I was focused on a growing family and associated demands, but my racing interest formed a background for the Senna documentary to impact me.
It made me curious about the Williams car that Senna was driving and in reading about the founder of that team I learned about Sir Frank Williams and an early Williams driver named Piers Courage. Courage died at 28 years at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1970. The crash was a fiery spectacle. Three years later, Roger Williamson, at age 25, was killed at the same spot when his car flipped and caught fire. Rescue was tragically botched and Williamson was killed by the fire, not by the actual crash. He was basically abandoned and left to die.
Williamson could likely have been saved by safety rules that came into play due to the tragedy. The safety record of Formula 1 was greatly improved due to shock over Senna’s death. But Williamson and Senna are not around to benefit!
Both deaths had a fluke element to them. Senna just happened to get struck by a wheel unit that hit his head. Had the wheel flown a slightly different direction, he likely would have been okay. Williamson died due to fluke conditions. Courage was in a crash that was so violent that survival was unlikely.
When you are pushing the limits, as is the case in auto racing, there are going to be accidents and some of them are going to be fatal. But the fine line that often exists between life and death, I am sure impresses anyone who is alive. Everyone has close calls and it rubs a common denominator in our faces – everyone dies – Reality! We all belong to one of two associations – the dead or the living! Debate on that topic seems to be minimal. The concept of zombies is a mental Bozo barricade, if it seems to be taken seriously.
Another personal childhood automotive / racing event that meshed with the Senna movie and perhaps the fate of Roger Williamson involved a Meyers Manx that I owned for a short time.
I equipped the Manx, a fibreglass body on a Volkswagen chassis, with rear wheel brakes so you could brake with either rear drive wheel via two hand levers that used the parking brake cables. The car’s low center of gravity and the brakes allowed wildly tight turning capability.
In a grass strip between our farm buildings and a reasonably busy highway that went past, I set up a track with guide stakes and we would see how fast we could get around the short course.
I knew a fellow hometowner who was four years older than myself. He had a motorcycle, likely when he was 16, and likely he had an impact on my interest in bikes. I remember him blasting out of the high school parking lot the year I arrived, his Triumph 650 walking sideways and spewing gravel as he power turned onto the paved street. I was impressed.
In the summer of 1969 he was home from university and we played some tennis together. That led to him stopping at our farm and trying his hand driving the Manx around the timed course. During the exercise he obviously pushed it a bit too hard and the Manx flipped. I was in the passenger seat and we both had lap seat belts but there was no roll bar. I don’t remember being scared. It was over so fast there was no time to be scared. He ended up with his nose against the steering wheel and the light windshield frame was holding the car body slightly off the ground. I was thrown back and the seat collapsed so that I was leaning back into the cargo area behind the seats. The bathtub body was so tight to the ground that we couldn’t get out from under it. Some oil spilled from the engine onto the hot exhaust and a cloud of smoke went up from the reaction.
My mother happened to be gardening about 200 feet away and was somewhat excited by the scene. She ran over to the flipped car but wasn’t able to do much, however a carload of young people, passing on the highway, saw what happened, stopped, and ran and flipped the Manx back on its wheels. It was a light vehicle. Terry, my friend had a minor cut on his nose, but I was untouched and Terry had no other damage. The Manx didn’t catch fire. Terry paid me something for the smashed windshield. I patched up the Manx. Life went on. The incident faded into the mental storage vault.
I am sure almost anyone has a somewhat similar story - a fluke event that could have radically changed your life or ended it. I am familiar with a shirt tail relative who was an engineer and a mountain bike enthusiast who is now permanently in a wheelchair due to a bike crash. Terry or I could very easily have had a similar outcome.
Seeing the Senna movie and reading about Williamson creates a mental chemistry mix with memories of my Manx incident. Hey, our life events and the life events of others connect. What can you learn from the full picture? How do you explain what is happening? You don’t have to be famous to experience life. Every day is an adventure loaded with events that connect you to everyone who has ever lived. And a bit like wine, life requires age in order to mature and develop real quality. "Aged on the truck" isn't an encouraging slogan to print on a wine bottle label!
The highway mentioned in the main text can be seen in the background and the south end of the grass strip where the race course was located can also be seen behind my raised arm.
Bruce McLaren was a very capable and accomplished man. He was at the forefront of the transformation of Formula 1 racing from front to rear engine cars and he formed a manufacturing business that is thriving to this day despite Bruce being killed in 1970 at 32 yrs of age.
McLaren was testing one of his casr when it lost some body work at high speed. The car skidded off the track and Bruce was killed in the wreck.
Bruce had written the statement, reproduced above, for a friend who was killed just before Bruce's own death. There is a positive aspect to the thinking but I do wonder if it is also used as a rationalization of a system that is at odds with the realities of life. Are we here for a purpose or not? If we are here to learn about life, it could be argued that we have an obligation to not be careless with our time and our existence. Like making quality wine or hatching eggs, some things can't be rushed!