Road Race

With the 2011 Isle of Man TT in the books, I was reminded as I watched Guy Martin and John McGuinness streak along the (mostly) straight between Guthrie Memorial and East Snaefel Gate that this is how all races used to be. The country lanes that surround the Isle of Man are simple little 2-lane stretches of (very) curvy blacktop. It is hardly an acceptable racing surface as we’re used to today. There are no runoff areas. There are no fences to catch debris. The riders transition their weight over a crest and land with their helmets perilously close to a hedgerow or garden wall. In short, it’s a proper race.

The fact that the TT remains as it is—and should be—is nothing short of miraculous. Now close your eyes and imagine those simple country roads with a charging Alfa Tipo 33, as on the mountains of Sicily, or the engine note of a Stanguellini 750 echoing off the village walls south of Brescia. You can’t help but feel a bit robbed by history.

The juxtaposition between the TT and this weekend’s Canadian GP—the chasm between the spirits of these two events—is even more startling when you see this image of Maurice Trintignant and his Gordini T16 bombing down a country road in Rheims in 1953. Even when we see a “street course” like Monaco today, it’s sometimes hard to remember that humble country roads were good enough for the pinnacle of motorsport.

O, that they could be again!

8 responses to “Road Race”

  1. What was the death per crash ratio compared to today? I love the old cars of the 50s and 60s but given the choice I would rather crash in a car of today. Nostalgia is wonderful but we always seem to remember just the very best parts and not the worst.

  2. Monty says:

    Its a huge shame that this form of motorsport has gone in the UK. I’m just glad that bike racing still exists on closed publis roads in Ireland and the Isle of Man. I fear that the health and safety, noise & fun police will get their hands on those events and spoil them at some point too. 🙂

  3. Carlos Emilio Alvarez says:

    Very few of these heroic drivers survived to natural death. A VERY LARGE PERCENTAGE died in race accidents, other died in regular automobile or aviation accidents, like Mike Hawthorne and Graham Hill.
    The list of “Known” drivers who died in races in the 50’s and 60’s in never-ending.

  4. Mike Jacobsen says:

    I had a quick look at results of GP racing 1950-60 and counted those drivers who had regular rides for a full season or more and then marked those who died racing (a few after 1960)–50 drivers, 18 deaths while racing (plus Hawthorn on public roads not racing). Deaths: Fagioli, Sommer, Ascari, Bonetto, Behra, Marimon, Mieres, Schell, Maglioli, Castelotti, Menditeguy, Collins, Flockhart, Lewis-Evans, von Trips, Allison, Clark. One might also count Portago, who was not an F1 regular. Four of the 50 are still living (Moss, Salvadori, Gurney, Simon). I’m sure I’ve missed something, so correct or add. Michael Jacobsen

  5. Mike Jacobsen says:

    My apologies for listing Umberto Maglioli among those lost en combat–he lived until 1999. The 18th fatality was Chris Bristow. MJ

  6. Scroggs says:

    Mike, Tony Brooks is still with us too.

  7. John says:

    Yes, motor racing is significantly safer today ; it is also significantly boring. The cars are uninteresting/ugly, the drivers are so PC and sponsor driven that a well programmed robot could do their job and the tracks are sanitary to the point of, quick, where’s the Thesarus… uh, boring is the only word I can think of.
    I dont want to see ANYONE crash and or die. But certainly there’s a happy medium between the two extremes? Maybe more interesting/challenging venues as in the past combined with safer cars and driver equipment? Oh, and while I’m wishing, could we have prettier cars that somehow were relevant?

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