I read with shock the news that F1 driver Jules Bianchi has succumbed to his head injury, many months after his crash at the Japanese GP. He was the first GP driver to die since Ayrton Senna in 1994 and hopefully, the last. A testament to the great advances in race safety over the past decades.
My mind immediately went to the anonymous club racing drivers of past years, of whom I was one, and the antiquated machines and death trap tracks we raced on and how lucky most of us were to reach old age. Safety was not a word spoken often in the pit lanes of the seventies. It took Jackie Stewart to change that.
Race tracks like Cadwell Park where the flint walls were the barriers and the open cow shed door was the escape road. Crystal Palace with its railway sleeper walls. Thruxton where the notorious bump could catapult you into the concrete marshall's post and Snetterton with it's inviting bridge pillars. But in the 1970's we raced for the thrill of it against anything with four wheels. We thought accidents happened to other people, not us. In my first race at Snetterton, in a dilapidated Lotus Seven with no seat belts, I wore a black woolly jumper and jeans.
Later, in a Mallock U2, I did at least progress to fireproofs and seat belts, racing it across the tracks of England for eight years with no personal injury before newspapers took away my free time, and possibly saved my life. Some were not so lucky.
|1st race in a Lotus 7 at Snetterton. No seat belts!|
|Crystal Palace all comers race|
|Start line at Brands Hatch|
|Three Mallock U2's abreast. I'm 23|
|Thruxton Clubmans championship race|