“Cars at Speed” Provides a Hard Look at Grand Prix Racing

Over the last three weeks I was able to find time to read two books with very different viewpoints on Grand Prix racing.  The first book was Lurani’s book “Nuvolari” which I have mentioned in a previous post.  The second book was “Cars at Speed” by Robert Daley.  About the only thing that these books have in common is that they were written about the same time – Lurani’s book in 1959 and Daley’s book in 1961.  I posted a brief story about Lurani’s Nuvolari book on November 2, 2011.

Lurani’s book looks a the heroic aspects of a great driver, while in “Cars at Speed” Daley constantly presents the grim side of Grand Prix racing.  He writes about the dangers and deaths in Grand Prix racing.  And in the era that he wrote about there were many deaths in Grand Prix racing.  For example, he noted that he watched the workers set up the grandstands and pit area for the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix.  The pit area signs had not yet been changed from the 1958 running of the Monaco Grand Prix.  Four of the 16 entrants in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix had been killed in racing accidents ( Musso, Collins, Lewis-Evans, and Hawthorn) before the running of the 1959 running of the same event.   It should be noted that Hawthorn was killed in a stupid street racing accident, not in an on-track accident.  That said the death rate among Grand Prix racers was very high in the so-called good old days.  In the last two decades death in Grand Prix racing has been very rare.  Of course, deaths are not uncommon in racing when one considers all types of racing, but Grand Prix racing is much safer now than it was at the time that Daley wrote this book.

Daley also points out that in many racing accounts in those days, deaths in racing were often just referred to in a single line of the racing story.  Typically, something like “Driver X skidded off the track and suffered fatal injuries.”   Daley focuses those drivers, accidents, and deaths through out this book.  It is very interesting.

I am glad that I read this book, as it provides a perspective on Grand Prix racing up through the 1950s that is usually not provided in other books about racing.  It was a very interesting read.

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