Racing Legends – Driven to Destruct?

The BBC is currently running a short series of programmes about British motor racing legends. The first, last night, was about Sir Stirling Moss and allowed Sir Patrick Stewart an escape from the responsibilities of commanding the Enterprise to share driving a Mercedes SL300 Gull-Wing around the Florence area with his boyhood idol. The history of Stirling Moss was uncovered by the programme in a steady flow through his career from his first drives until the crash at Goodwood in 1962 that ended his career. One thing that became clear is that Moss remains a driven man. He certainly doesn’t sit on his laurels. However, the other thing that became clear was his absolute commitment to racing. When asked by Stewart whether the accident in 1962 had effectively saved his life, he suggested that had his new Ferrari car arrived in time for the event he would not have crashed. Indeed, throughout the programme he made it clear on several occasions that none of the accidents that he was involved in were his fault – all of them were down to deficiencies in the vehicle. That may sound arrogant but I suspect he speaks the truth. Racing cars and drivers on the circuit are seeking perfection in both machine and man and those who have reached the pinnacle of that profession do so by not crashing due to driver error. However, it is difficult for an average driver like myself to equate with that level of supreme confidence that even today Moss conveys.

So I looked at the upcoming programme tonight – Sir Jackie Stewart (or so the BBC website tells me). But Radio Times tells a different story – Colin McRae. Now that is weird and the Radio Times suggests that this is a three programme series. Given that McRae is no longer with us and that both Moss and Stewart are still alive, one assumes that the third programme will also be about a living British racing driver. However, neither Radio Times or the BBC website are listing that third programme.. strange.

It gave me food for thought. During quite a bit of the Moss story it was made clear that Motor Racing is a dangerous sport and that in Sir Stirling’s era 3 – 4 drivers were being killed every season and sometimes spectators were also involved. Moss claimed that it was the danger that attracted him to the sport and as I listened to his responses to Patrick Stewart’s questions it became more clear that he had absolute faith in his own ability to drive his cars to their best. It is a fact that he is still held in the highest reverence within the motor racing community despite never winning the World Drivers Trophy. That tells me how good he was. But, that absolute belief in one’s infallability does raise a few hackles with me…

You see, one of Britain’s great racing drivers was Graham Hill. There is no doubt about his driving ability – He would have been the Crowned Prince of Monaco if it didn’t already have one! So I have to ask what he was doing trying to land a twin-engined light aircraft in thick freezing fog at Elstree in 1975 – an act which cost him and five other people their lives. Was it that belief in personal infallibility which made him carry on when other pilots would be running for an open airfield, any airfield, elsewhere? I learnt to fly some years later and whilst I had a reputation for being willing to fly in bad weather you’d never get me airborne when there was a risk of fog. So how bad was it on the night Hill crashed? I was at Peterborough that evening watching the trains, or at least those trains that I could see. Anything on the opposite side of the station was invisible and the high intensity signal lights were struggling to reach halfway along the platforms! Almost all the ttrains were running late as drivers applied due caution in the conditions.

Colin McRae? He killed himself and 3 others by crashing his helicpoter whilst carrying out ‘unnecessary low level manoeuvres’… Another case of belief in infallability?

You can read the official report into Graham Hill’s accident at

A Foggy Morning at Andrewsfield - plenty of time to eat a Full English Breakfast while waiting for it to lift...

A Foggy Morning at Andrewsfield – plenty of time to eat a Full English Breakfast while waiting for it to lift…



  1. nice read, and as Jackie Stewart says it was malfunctions within the car, structure/ design etc, today it would be the backroom boys getting accused of killing a driver. But thankfully these days is quite a rare occurrence. We hear so much though perfect harmony of man and machine makes a winner…Happy new year Martin thanks.. 😉

    • Happy new year to you and your’s Gerry. Glad you found the post interesting. Even more interesting, that third programme seems to have disappeared! A mystery to intrigue us…

  2. I recognize many of the names you’ve mentioned, but didn’t know the story. How tragic to think that perhaps either impatience or a sense of infallibility contributed to loss of life. I am terrified of driving in fog. I’ve had many close calls. But flying in fog sounds impossibly foolish. I sometimes watch a NASCAR race and when they spinout, crashing into the crowd, I wonder how we find this entertaining, but I’m not much of a speed or thrill seeker. I’m probably not someone who should weigh in on the topic! 🙂 Happy New Year, Martin. Debra

    • Hi Debra, There is an element of get home-itis that afflicts Pilots and motorists alike. Goodness knows how many pilots have allowed themselves to be forced lower and lower by clouds in an effort to get home. Too many accidents happen that way 😦

      A happy New year to you and yours 🙂

  3. I have a difficult time walking and talking simultaneously (without incident), so it’s probably a good thing I recognize my complete fallibility.
    Wishing you and your family a very, very happy new year, Martin! 🙂

    • LOVE that photograph…
      (I intended to mention that right away but my memory is quite fallible, too, you know!)

      • Thanks Bob – it was the closest related photo that I had to hand and the group who owned the aircraft in the photo were fuelling it whilst waiting for their breakfasts to be cooked in the clubhouse. Definitely a morning of freezing fog. It turned into a nice day later on.

        All the very best to you and your’s Bob 🙂

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