Thursday, 2 May 2013

May 2nd 1959 : at Silverstone for the 11th Annual Daily Express International Trophy Race

Saturday May 2nd 1959 dawned bright and sunny when my Dad and I left our house in Yewdale Crescent, Potters Green in Coventry. I was about 5 months short of my 14th birthday. We were off to Silverstone in our 1953 Phase 2 beige coated Standard Vanguard to watch a non-championship Formula 1 motor race, The 11th Annual Daily Express International Trophy Race run over 50 laps of the full grand prix circuit at Silverstone  in Northamptonshire.

We got to the Silverstone at about 7 am and cars were already queueing to get in. In those days there were places where you could park your car beside the track. We parked near Club Corner. The circuit was very different from the one that you see today. There were no grandstands down at the Club Corner section of the circuit. 

My recollections? What first comes to mind is the overwhelming aroma of bacon frying in pans on the primus stoves of enthusiasts who had spent the previous night camping beside the track having watched the practice sessions on the previous day. Secondly I remember the smell of frankfurter sausages cooking as the hot dog stalls began to open. I hadn't  encountered a hot dog before. My Dad bought me one. I had some onions with it. It was delicious and I've never tasted one as good since. 

We walked around the circuit towards Woodcote Corner where the grandstands were and Dad decided we should buy a paddock pass. We crossed the bridge which was just by the starting line and Dad paid 7 pounds and 10 shillings to get us into the paddock area. He told me not to tell Mum about it because that was a lot of money in those days. 

In the paddock we went to lunch in the canteen and sat beside a group of Scuderia Ferrari mechanics who were eating  lunch in what I thought was a very messy and impolite way. They did not always use their knives, forks and spoons and sometimes just picked up the food with their hands while speaking loudly in a language  I couldn't understand. For me these were very strange and exotic creatures.  It is  difficult even now to imagine the evolutionary chain which links them to the smart, clinical, athletic and co-ordinated teams of mechanics you see maintaining the cars today. 

When I'd finished lunch I had to go to the lavatory and as I opened the door to enter the Gents' a man was coming out. He looked at me and smiled. I looked at him and just as he had passed me by I realised that I had been standing next to the Australian driver, Jack Brabham.

In the paddock I also saw at close range Stirling Moss, (who was my hero, then) Bruce McClaren, Phil Hill, and Roy Salvadori, Two drivers in the race who were not as famous but were heroes dear to me were Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb who a few years earlier while driving for the Scottish team Ecurie Ecosse had  piloted  a D Type Jaguar to victory in the 24 hours sports car endurance race at Le Mans. Later in 1959 Ivor Bueb died of his injuries following an accident he had in a Formula 2 race near Clermont-Ferrand.  

Also in the race driving a privately owned Maserati 250f was a female Italian driver, Maria Theresa di Filipis. Her participation in the race had caused quite a stir and in the week leading up to the race she was widely commented upon in the newspapers.  Considering she was in a car that was about  2 years old, Maria drove well and during the race she was positioned somewhere between the middle and the rear of the field until she retired with engine problems.

This race marked Aston Martin's entrance into Formula 1 and two single-seater Aston Martins raced that day. They were painted in a metallic light green. The English driver Roy Salvadori drove one into second place  and the American Carroll Shelby drove the other into 6th place. Although it seemed a promising debut this was not the beginning of a glorious Formula 1 era for Aston Martin. Unfortunately the car, into which a great deal of money had been invested, was a front-engined model and over the season became increasingly uncompetitive. The marque made its exit from Formula 1 later in the year.  1959 was the year when rear-engined cars began to be predominant and Jack Brabham who won the Daily Express International Trophy Race on this day, went on to be the 1959 world champion in his rear-engined Cooper Climax. 

May 2nd, 1959 is anchored determinably in my mind but when I ask myself why this is so I can never single out anything that would make it so special. To be sure the smell of bacon and hot dogs and the whiff of hot engine oil which hung in the air when the racing was on remain evocative for me, the screaming siren noise of the 2.5 litre formula 1 engine still resonates and, seeing sporting legends close up was exciting at the time, but I don't think the race that day was spectacularly exciting.  Jack Brabham won rather easily and - as the nerdish anorak section of my mind is compelling me to convey   - my great all-time hero to be, Jim Clark had not arrived in Formula 1 yet,  although I did see him on a number of occasions during 1959 driving a Lister Jaguar for another Scottish racing team the Border Reivers when Dad took me to less grand race meetings at Mallory Park, the racing circuit near our home. Looking back from a perspective of over 50 years I find it uncanny that a day which should have been an enthralling memory, is not,  and yet I long for it and have not let it pass forgotten into the mists of time.

After 1960 going to motor races ended for me. I got a Saturday job. I still followed motor racing closely by reading newspaper reports and Dad and I would watch the televised continental races at Monte Carlo or Spa Francorchamps because they were always run on a Sunday.   Dad continued to go on his own. He went to the Le Mans 24 hours race on more than one occasion.   I don't think Dad and I were ever as intimate again. Mind you, we didn't talk much at the circuit. I would ask him the odd question about the cars and he would answer but it seemed for the most part we were quietly comfortable with each other. 

I never miss a Grand Prix if it is on television even when it is taking place in the middle of the night British time. Nowadays, I have to admit I almost invariably find the racing dull. I suppose I watch it because I am doing it for, or with Dad, just to keep our secret.
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