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The golden years of formula 1 road racing lasted fourteen short years. In that
span, a mythology of super-human daredevils, fantastic machinery, and violent
death is still remembered by an aging and dwindling crowd.
Few people living today can remember these breathtaking European races through
city streets and narrow country roads. There was little protection for the
drivers and none for the spectators. There were no glassy smooth banked ovals to
drive on, no pits where a host of mechanics could keep in touch by radio and
wait for you with four new wheels and a jet fuel filler. There were no
adjustable wings and rotating monitor cameras and no cars decorated with decals
from chewing tobacco companies.
You drove through mountainous terrain and skirted the seacoasts. You avoided
chickens and children as best you could, and you drove in the rain on roads
you'd never driven on before. You rarely reached a speed of one hundred miles an
hour . . . half the speed of the juggernauts of today, but twice as dangerous.
There was the Mille Miglia, a thousand miles from Brescia, through Verona,
Vincenza, Pescara and Rome. Leaving a trail of dead and mangled farm animals in
its wake, Alfonso de Portago, the Spanish nobleman, driving No. 531 for Ferrari
achieved 150 mph just after stopping to kiss Linda Christian before reaching
Rome. His mangled body and that of his passenger, Gurner Nelson was extricated
from the wreckage along with nine spectators, most of them children. That
carnage was even exceeded in Monza where 15 were killed. There were hundreds of
competitors from little hot rod Fiats to giant four-liter Ferraris and the
winner would have passed a hundred vehicles on narrow country roads lined with
men, women and children.
There were no crowd barriers, no track officials and there were no restrictions
of any kind from checkpoint to checkpoint. You simply drove like a madman as
fast as you possibly could from one to the other in an unforgiving machine that
was literally a fire bomb on wheels.
The drivers were as idolized as bullfighters, and World War II fighter pilots.
They wore no asbestos clothing, no crash helmets and had no pit crew and, other
than band aids, there were no medical services. Women adored them and their
husbands sighed indulgently, knowing that neither Juan, nor Nigel, nor Alberto
was long for this world. Like bullfighters and fighter pilots they did not drive
for the money they drove because to do anything else was unthinkable.
There were no tracks. They raced on the same roads that the farmer drove his
sheep and the mailman delivered his mail on a bicycle. No steeply banked curves,
no measured mile. They drove in the rain and in the dark of night, and whatever
the weather, whatever the risk, they drove at the absolute limit of themselves
and their equipment.
. . . and the places they drove! Romantic names that old aficionados remember
with passion and tenderness. Targa Florio, Monaco and the Nurburgring . . . all
gone now. The passion is gone and with it the deadly game of formula one.
©Harry Buschman 1996
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