We interrupted our family holiday this year when I noticed that we were within striking distance of Ruthin, North Wales. From reading David Tremayne’s excellent work, “The Lost Generation”, I knew that this was the town where Tom Pryce was born, and further, that the local authority had erected a monument to one of its most famous sons. So, with some grumbling, the rest of the family came along as well, and after asking for directions, we came upon the monument at the junction of Clwyd Street and Upper Clwyd Street.
In 1974, Pryce won 100 bottles of champagne for being fastest in the first practice session for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, and nine months later came his first Formula 1 win.
I was there at Brands Hatch on March 16th, 1975, as my blurry Instamatic photo on the right shows. (I was proud of it at the time!) Pryce was on pole position in the stunning-looking Shadow DN5, and was very definitely in charge on one of his favourite circuits in far from ideal conditions. My diary entry for the day reads: “weather not good - snowed a little”.
According to Motor Sport magazine, the start was delayed while decisions were made on the question of tyres, but without question, Pryce outshone the stars all weekend. Despite a track described as ‘slippery’, Pryce not only won, but also beat Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx in their Lotus 72s and the reigning World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi in his McLaren M23. His fastest lap equalled the existing lap record.
It was only while digging out the raceday programme for the event, that I was reminded that the Formula Atlantic race that opened the meeting was won by Tony Brise. The future seemed surely bright for British racers on that day.
As my involvement at Brands increased in the 1980’s, it was clear to me that Pryce was still held in high regard by the management there. Karl Jones and Tim Davies - also favourites at Brands - were not, however, on the same level, and despite the numerous champions that Scotland has produced, Wales is still short on motor-racing heroes.
Much has changed since Pryce’s accident in 1977, of course, but people still put both themselves and racing drivers in jeopardy from time to time. Only last month, at the Silverstone Six Hours, we saw a marshal running across the track to clear some debris during the race. And those who saw the antics of Neil Horan in the British Grand Prix in 2003 probably didn’t realise quite how close we were to a major incident.
I’m not advocating any wholesale changes here, but just as we would never (would we?) see a repeat of the circumstances of Roger Williamson’s death in 1973, I believe that there are still lessons to be learned from Kyalami 1977. It seems to me that a human being sat in a racing car has a very different view of the world than one stood beside the track holding a flag (or a fire extinguisher).
The death of Tom Pryce was certainly needless; but let it not be pointless.
The inscription on his memorial reads:
“Fe gurodd y goreuon heb gefna ar ei gynefin”
“He beat the best without ever turning his back on his roots”