With the recent passing of Sir Stirling Moss, it reminded me of an expression my father used to say about great sportsmen and leaders as I was growing up. Whenever he would see Ali, or Foreman on TV or Carl Lewis at the Olympics or Jean-Claude Killey on any mountain anywhere – my father would point at the TV and say, “Not many of em left”.
As though like fighter pilots from World War II, or great leaders that changed their nations for good, he was intermating that truly inspiring sportsman and leaders were few and far between, and a dying breed that come along once in a lifetime.
In fact, as I grew older, he would change it to include himself and say, “Not many of ‘US’ left” and smile from ear to ear as I was in on his joke.
The truth is when it comes to motor racing, especially the era after World War II in the 1950’s and 1960’s, racing drivers were put on unique pedestals and were revered like the fighter pilots from the war. The risks they took and bravery they effused in pursuit of speed and the sport they loved, not to mention the dangers they faced each and every weekend at places like Spa, Nordschiffe and Indianapolis, made them into “boys own” hero figures.
Looking back at the lack of safety and horrific accidents that occurred both to those taking part and those watching, it doesn’t take much to realise those willing to risk their lives in pursuit of being the fastest were a different breed from many sportsmen. That factor is as true today in motor racing as it ever was.
Thankfully safety coupled with the tireless work by the likes of Sir Jackie Stewart, Michael Schumacher, Bernie Eccelstone, Damon Hill, Charlie Whiting and many, many others, safety in racing has never been more of a priority in modern motorsport.
Sir Stirling Moss was very much part of the golden era of the fifties and sixties in motor racing. Going wheel to wheel with the likes of Fangio, Hawthorn and Surtees, Moss was truly a legend of the sport. Handsome and a fast an eye for the ladies, but a gentleman through and through.
The trouble is, as my dad would say, is there really is “Not many of em left!”
Drivers that raced in the 50’s, 60’s and even the 70s in those halcyon days of racing, are getting thin on the ground these days. As we all hunker down at home at the moment, I’m sure I’m not the only one reflecting on the past as well as watching some excellent films and documentaries celebrating the life and achievements of these motor racing legends.
I soon realised that over my now 30 years in the sport, I’ve been very lucky to meet and spend time with several of them including Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Chris Amon.
In fact one of those greats, Brian Redman, is ‘kind of’ family. I know him as Uncle Brian and he’s probably the biggest reason I got into motorsport.
Brian Redman is my father’s best friend from their home town of Burnley, Lancashire. He was his best man at his wedding and I was his son James’ best man when he got married. He is actually my sister’s godfather, but to me he’s Uncle Brian.
Redman is one of those great drivers whose career spans over 60 years of racing and like a lot of drivers, has an almost photographic memory of racing from the 50’s to the present day.
So who better to call than the 84 year old great, about his personal memories of Sir Stirling Moss.
Brian first saw Stirling when he went to Aintree near Liverpool, just 30 miles from his home as a teenager in 1955. He saw Moss win the British Grand Prix, defeating Juan Manuel Fangio in the mighty Mercedes Benz 196. That year, as was the way in those days, Moss not only finished runner up up to Fangio in Formula One, he also won the Mille Miglia, Targa Floria and at then in his off season at the start of 1956 won his first of three New Zealand Grand Prix in a Maserati 250F.
Brian didn’t meet Stirling that day, but he did ask El Maestro :
“ Mr. Fangio why are you so fast.”
To which Fangio replied :
“Simple. More throttle, less Brake”
Motor Racing 101, but great advice for Redman who would begin his stellar career in 1959 going on to become a Formula One driver himself. Yet he is better known in the USA for his three consecutive Formula 5000 titles in the mid-seventies, and numerous endurance wins at the ROLEX 24 hrs at Daytona as well as wins at Sebring 12 hrs x 2, the Targa Floria and Spa 1000 KM .
In 2011 he was inducted into the international Motorsports hall of fame. Clearly the little lad from Burnley had listened to Fangio’s wise words spoken back in 1955.
Brian first met Stirling Moss in 1967 when he was faced with two of the toughest challenges of his young career. Taking on the infamous “Green Hell”, the Nordschleife the original 16 mile Nurburgring as well as racing against one of his racing heroes and fellow Brit Stirling Moss.
Brian Redman :
“I’d gone to practice for my first 1000km of Nurburgring and had borrowed this Vauxhall Cresta from David Bridges my boss in Formula 2 at the time. But after half a lap of the 16 mile course, the brakes had gone so I was wandering around in the pits doing nothing when out of nowhere this BMW 1600 rolls up and the driver lent out of the window and shouted- “Want a ride round old boy”. It was Stirling Moss.
“So I got in the back seat and my first flying lap was with him . It was a great experience, but I really didn’t see much of the track as I was trying not to slide from one side to the other of the back seat.
“It was Stirling’s Mille Miglia races with Denis Jenkinson that really stood out to me. I won the Targa Florio, which is also through the back roads of Italy, but it was only 44 miles per lap with about 750 corners per lap. The Mille Miglia was unbelievable; it was 1000 miles from Brescia to Rome and back again on public roads. Denis Jenkinson had invented a rally style roll of paper detailing the route and shouting out ‘fast right’ as they had no radios or headphones back in those days.”
For the record, to put it in real context that year (1955), Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson completed the feat in 10 hours 7 minutes and 48 seconds. Thirty-two minutes ahead of second placed Juan Manuel Fangio in the same Mercedes Benz SLR 300. Their AVERAGE speed, 99 miles an hour, a breathtaking pace never to be repeated.
Brian Redman :
“Not only was he incredibly competitive, but like all the greats, he had that little bit something extra. Some had that ability to pull out something extra against the best drivers in the world at the time.
“Today it’s Lewis Hamilton. He’s spent his entire life totally dedicated to his career. But in Stirling’s day, there were safety belts, no roll cages and no fire systems.
“In my first Formula One drive at Kyalami in South Africa in 1968, only half the field had seat belts because of the danger of fire.
“So in Stirling’s era particularly, the danger was very considerable, so many drivers were killed and hurt.
“He was also such a gentleman and his sporting attitude cost him the chance for a F1 world title to Mike Hawthorn in 1958. Hawthorn was accused of reversing on the track after spinning. Moss defended his rival to the stewards and Hawthorn went on to win the world championship by just one point, the closest Moss ever came to winning the world championship.”
What is often forgotten when discussing Stirling Moss, is that while he was at the height of his powers in the mid and late 50s, his career came to an untimely end in 1962 after his own horrific crash at Goodwood, which almost killed him. He was unconscious for the best part of a month, paralysed for 6 months and never came back to top level world championship racing.
Broadcasting, a brief stint in touring cars, and a regular around the world of vintage racing Moss became a motorsport ambassador and is known as the greatest driver of his generation not to win a world title.
From his first race in 1949 to his first Formula One victory in 1955 at the British Grand Prix and up until his Easter Monday crash in 1962, he competed in 529 races in many different categories. He won 212 of those races, an incredible career which saw him inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He will be greatly missed by the racing community for many years to come.
I met him at the start of my motorsport career at the 1990 British Grand Prix. He was graceful enough to give me a break as a cub reporter at 22 years-old working for my first major network BSKYB.
I had been sent to cover Nigel Mansell at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. Nigel had dramatically announced his imminent retirement from Formula One, Ferrari and motor racing altogether. It was a big story and my news editor wanted the scoop. Now that wasn’t the first time “El Leone”, as the Italian fans knew him, had threatened to retire and it wouldn’t be the last. Surprise, surprise, after his stunning “bombshell” Nigel wasn’t talking to the press and my fledgling six-month career in television was looking to be on shaky ground if I didn’t return to London with the scoop.
Out of the crowd with a huge grin on his famous face, driving away from the BRDC in his golf cart, was Sir Stirling Moss.
I hailed him down with a look of a desperate man which at the time I was. Could he tell me about being a British racing driver at the top of his game and choosing to retire as Mansell was about to do?
Well, he stopped the golf cart, stepped out, smiled, and proceeded to regale me about racing at the British Grand Prix. The pressure of racing for an Italian team like Ferrari and Maserati, and what he thought of Mansell’s fantastic career and what Mansell had done to reinvigorate the British fans of Formula One. For 20 minutes he talked to me as a crowd began to form around him. He was in his element and I was in awe.
Suffice to say my new editor loved it as the perfect reflection on the day and I kept my job and thanks to Stirling that day, I’m still going.
Thanks for the memories Sir Stirling. A brilliant racing driver and one of the true gentlemen of the Sport.
“There’s not many of em left.”