Stirling Moss in Playboy
Don’t worry, the photos are safe. This was from the days of Playboy’s immensely high quality interviews and articles. Thanks to the Playboy Cover to Cover project, we can dive back into those days of excellent journalism… among other things.
The September 1962 issue is of particular interest, as it features a 19 page interview with Stirling Moss with the evocative title Stirling Moss: a Nodding Acquaintance with Death. When was the last time you read a 19 page article about anything in a magazine? Surely it must be a sign of the reduced prominence of magazine journalism.
The interview was conducted just after Stirling broke the Goodwood lap record and subsequently crashed the Lotus he was piloting at the time. He had to be cut from the chassis and spent the next two months in hospital. In 1962, it was probably the only place a journalist would have been able to keep him still long enough for an interview of any length. There’s a number of interesting pieces of information in the article, including Stirling’s thoughts on the sheer danger of Formula 1 in one of its most deadly eras:
…”Grand Prix driving, is the most dangerous sport in the world. In some recent years the mortality rate has been 25 percent per year: one of every four drivers starting the season could expect to be dead at the end of it.”
Amazing to think how much the sport has changed in the years since. Massa’s crash and recuperation had F1 fans on the edges of their seats in 2009, it’s hard to imagine a similar injury getting more than a paragraph in the race report 35 years earlier.
Of course the obvious question was: why play such a dangerous game?
“Because it’s also the most compelling, delightful, sensually rewarding game in the world. In a race-driver’s view, endeavors like tennis and golf and baseball are excersises, pastimes: demanding, yes, if you like, but still games that children can play.” … “Bullfighters, mountain climbers, skindivers know something of the racing-driver’s ecstasy, but only in part, because theirs are team sports. Toreros are never alone and mountaineers rarely; the skindiver not usually, and in any case his opponent, the sea, though implacable and deadly, still is passive. When a race-car is passive it is sitting in the garage, and its driver’s seat is as safe as a baby’s cradle”
I’m sure there would be some to disagree that bullfighting and mountaineering are team sports, but the romance of the danger of the era is certainly spelled out clearly enough by the comparison.
A fascinating bit from the author, Ken Purdy, just might be the origin of a long-revered mantra in racing circles. When describing the allure of danger, he recounts a story by famous highwire performer, Karl Wellenda; recounting a quote of his from when he struggled to overcome the tragedy of the Wellenda family’s famous accident in Detroit. “To be on the wire is life; the rest of waiting”.
Adapted years later in Le Mans, McQueen’s riff on this very line would become a catch phrase of amateur and professional racing drivers forever.
Head over to the archive for the complete article, well worth a read.