Motor racing, it’s a bygone term. These days it is categorised and branded accordingly and the majority only know Formula 1. Therefore it’s somewhat ironic that Mr Motor Racing never won a Formula 1 world championship. He died on April 12th, 2020.
As I write, that date is yesterday. He was born in 1929, he raced cars professionally from 1948 to 1962. I never met him, I’ve read a lot about him. I was born in 1977.
A brief history – Formula 1 was created to regulate, conglomerate and brand Grand Prix racing. GP races were the biggest prize motor sport event that each country had to offer, they were cowboy and overly insane, and by the late 1930s they’d become Hunger Games. The first F1 Championship was in 1950, it was designed to bring some order (a formula) to the top of the GP racing circuit.
Stirling Moss didn’t sign up to be a Formula 1 World Champion, the title didn’t even exist in 1948, the year he turned pro.
He was the son of a dentist, he rode horses well, good enough to compete and win enough money to buy his first sports car. The white helmet he wore? It was a jockey’s helmet. His father made him wear it. Back then they didn’t wear seatbelts because being strapped to the car meant more chance of being killed than being jettisoned. The fuel that powered the engine was aviation grade octane and the machinery that enveloped them ignored their wellbeing. It was better to be thrown out to deal and die with nature than be burnt to death crushed in metal.
Sports car racing, that was what the general public thought of when they thought of motor racing, and it was very different to Formula 1. It was about drivers, piloting cars point to point, the most famous of these events were endurance time trials on open roads.
Imagine walking out on to your local B road and watching one of these cars go by, you’d hear it nearly a minute before you caught a glimpse, if it was a straight road it would pass by at 170mph.
The driver in that car knew they would die if they crashed, and not crashing meant surviving because the cars didn’t have power-steering or traction control, the clutch and gearbox were heavily manual, there was nothing in the car to offer comfort, they would finish deafened, poisoned from fuel waste and physically exhausted, yet finishing meant you hadn’t died.
That’s how Stirling Moss finished the 1955 Mille Miglia, a race, a time trial, that set off from Brescia in northern Italy, raced 500 miles south to Rome, and then back to Brescia. It took place on “closed” roads, he set off at 7:22am on May 1st 1955, he returned at 5:29pm that evening, he averaged 98mph. He won 212 races in his career. You could take 211 of those away and leave the 1955 Mille Miglia and he’d still have earned the title, Mr Motor Racing, and none of his peers then or now would deny him that right.