Monday, 17 October 2011


When I was first captivated by motor racing, it was not uncommon to read of drivers being killed. Jim Clark, Lorenzo Bandini, Mike Spence; they all perished within 15 months of me visiting Brands Hatch for the first time in 1967. And through the seventies, a steady stream of names came to be added to the list of drivers who died at the wheels of their fearsomely fragile cars.

And as my teenage years gave way to my twenties, I compared my life to that of my father, who spent the same period of his life in the Royal Navy during World War II, where young men met untimely deaths on an even more frequent basis, but I never spent much time on philosophical reflection.

Now I am in my fifties, and more and more friends, colleagues and relatives are having problems with their health, often (as the NHS would put it) with ‘negative outcomes’.

And in most cases, there is no rhyme nor reason why certain folk are victims and others seem to lead ‘charmed lives’. Regular readers (should) know that I am a Christian: that I faithfully believe in heaven (and hell) and that after we finish these lives on earth there is something more to come. So I am not about to get morbid here.

All that said, nothing can prepare you for dealing with the sudden death of anyone, be it close relative, dear friend or sporting hero. But that is not to say that you cannot be prepared. Try it now - just imagine that you hear of the death of the one person on earth that you feel closest to: how would you deal with it? Don’t dwell on it though, don’t become depressed, just give it a few moments thought. Now imagine how that person will deal with the news of your death. Are there things that need to be resolved, discussed, agreed? Again, I am not suggesting anything too deep here, just planting some seeds, which might grow, especially if there is a particular need.

In the last decade or so (it might have been the death of Diana, Princess of Wales that started it), there seems to me to have started a trend for disproportionate outpourings of grief at sudden deaths, especially those that hit news headlines. I have heard it called ‘emotional correctness’, and it is an apposite term.

I am not denying the tragedy of death (particularly in the case of young racing drivers in accidents), but I sense a whiff of self-aggrandisement in a sort of “my eulogy is better than your eulogy” way. Or “Look at me I'm upset” - whatever became of private grief? Thousands of families every week go through the same sort of agonies, all suffering the same sense of loss, but without hundreds of media-types jumping on bandwagons and starting campaigns. The death of Senna changed Formula 1, that of Dale Earnhardt changed NASCAR, but after the dust settles, the “sport” continues; brave young men (and women) take risks and observers - be they in the organisation, the media or the spectator enclosures - become complacent once more.

The other thing that irks me is the use of the phrase “passes”, instead of “dies”. I am not being insensitive or uncaring here; but these things happen, reports have to be written and despite my faith, I find that the word “passing” lacks the impact of “death”. I understand that it is more common to use it in the USA, but for me, it is another Americanism that we in England can do without.

Sorry if this appears harsh - that is not my intention. I suppose I am just expressing my feelings. I never could quite get my emotions right.


  1. To be honest - I think it has been so long since a high level driver has been killed, that noone really knew how to react. Thankfully, everything has been respectful. Apart from the odd news story which was completely crash related.

    I've been surrounded by motorsport since birth - as my father was heavily involved in driving and engineering. So the fatal side of the sport is by no means a mystery to me.
    I've been present at (I believe) 3 meetings where someone has been killed.
    The most recent in 2008 where the accident happened right infront of me at the Adelaide street circuit.
    The most overwhleming sense that I got on those 3 days was the sheer grim reality. There was no sense of honor. Just a grim hush over the track and a lot of soul searching. There is absolutely no good to take from the first marshall on scene giving the "unresponsive driver" signal.

    As far as dying goes, I'm sure most hardcore fans of motorsport would take it over being widdled away by ill-health - but that is a retrospective thought - "dying doing what he loved" is not your first thought as you watch it unfold.

    I'm not really sure what my point is. . . Just sharing some thoughts on the bad side of our beloved sport.


    My main irk is with the media - pretending like all of a sudden they are motorsport experts.

  2. Tom - Thanks for your comment - I was wondering whether I had upset all my readers so much that they couldn't bring themselves to tell me so. I suppose it's true... it has been a while since a top-level driver has been killed. I'm not sure that the "dying doing what he loved" thing is quite right either. Sure, none of us want to be "widdled away by ill-health", but my experience suggests that people have to be pretty sick to not want to get older.
    Somehow accidents like Zanardi's can be inspirational, whereas Dan's just leaves you empty.
    Anyway... I am away on holiday from tomorrow, so it'll be quite here for a while. Hope to get back with something soon though. I have a special Audi treat lined up for early November...