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Formula One


Harry Buschman

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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