He may have stopped racing competitively just last year at the tender age of 82, but former British Formula 1 race car driver, Sir Stirling Moss, has not stopped entertaining the thousands of spectators who still come to see him at public events. On a pleasant Saturday evening over Labor Day weekend, Sir Stirling spoke for over an hour at an intimate fan event under a white tent at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, answering questions from the program’s moderator, as well as from the audience of 150, with equal amounts of humor, keen memory, and ease. It was an evening to be remembered for Moss fans, race fans, and innocent bystanders alike.
About motor racing, Sir Stirling echoed his now-familiar refrain about the difference between the sport then and now, saying that an “important ingredient for me is it should be dangerous.” He pointed out that danger is what heightened the energy of motor racing over other endeavors back in his days of racing professionally in the 1950s and 60s.
“We had the fun,” he said about himself and his colleagues back in the day. Danger has another purpose, according to Sir Stirling, in that it “keeps out other people who are too slow.” Although he says it is important for the sport to be safe, he is concerned that the pendulum has perhaps swung too far toward safety, taking the key “ingredient” of the sport too far out of the equation. He said in his day, drivers faced a higher possibility of crashing and joked that they just hoped they’d “crash backwards so you can’t see it.”
Asked why he never competed in the Indianapolis 500 in the States, the racer said that this was back in the time when it took 14 hours to fly between Great Britain and the U.S. He said he was racing every weekend back then and would have to give up four race weekends to compete at Indy, so that seemed to make the choice for him.
He talked about his win of the 1955 Mille Miglia race, saying how not being able to learn the 1,000-mile course well ahead of time as he tried to do at other tracks, “frightened the hell out of me.” He worked with journalist, Denis Jenkinson, whom, he joked, was a “weird man” who navigated and chronicled Moss’s comments about the route in the now infamous scroll notetaking system. Apparently one of Jenkinson’s “weird” behaviors, as Moss spoke about it with the audience, was that he never wore socks. According to Moss (who told many of these stories with good humor and not a little tongue in cheek), the writer did not change his ways when the driver bought him a pair of socks later – he never put them on.
About historic racing, Sir Stirling also made a few comments. He said that “People cheat” in historics all the time, enhancing the cars beyond how they existed in their original period. “We should try to preserve some honesty to keep the cars the way they were,” he said.
He also proposed an idea of affixing some sort of disc or seal to the cars competing in the same class, a “disc for a different color,” he said, so one could tell “who’s fighting who [sic] out there.” He pointed out that “racing is a lot nicer for the spectators if they could sense what class they [the cars] are in.” He had tried to watch a bit of the racing at Lime Rock over the weekend, but because of the mix of classes racing together, he said, “It was quite difficult, really.” He said about the use of discs, or something similar, “I think it would make it a lot easier.”
It is not the first time that Stirling Moss has given thought to the spectators and their experience of his sport. He wrote a primer for new spectators called How to Watch Motor Racing back in 1976 and told the Lime Rock audience that when he was racing he discovered that if he waved to the crowd while going by in the car, they were delighted by the gesture and waved back. This was one way his popularity grew. Even in telling this story today, the driver exuded the charm that must have attracted his fans to him originally over 50 years ago. “It’s all show-biz, really,” he said, smiling.
The racer has kept up this devotion to his fans, and they with him, this many years later. According to Lime Rock, this event was only one of four two-hour talks, six 90-minute autograph sessions, and several other media and other demands on the driver’s time over the four day-weekend he was at the Connecticut track. He showed the stamina of the athlete he is in handling it all.
Asked about how he has managed to recover so well physically from all of the mishaps and accidents he has survived during his career and lifetime (including his pro career-ending crash at Goodwood in 1962 and his personal accident falling down an empty elevator shaft just two years ago) in addition to how well he has been getting along on into his 80s, Sir Stirling was quick to point out that he has had good doctors and that they have encouraged him to “keep the muscles up,” since “they keep everything in place.”
Stirling Moss is one of the best known racers in all of motor sport, and is also the best known driver to never win a drivers world championship. “I’m lucky I didn’t get it, really,” he said when asked whether just missing the brass ring time after time has gnawed at him all these years. He said the distinction of not winning despite his talent “gives exclusivity” to his record and though he did admit he retired too soon, he still believes he had good reasons for it at the time. He has said that having the appreciation of his fellow drivers has meant more to him over the years, that his speed was what his peers compared themselves to race after race, in practices, and in qualifying.
Some may think Sir Stirling Moss has convinced himself that not winning the drivers world championship is ok after coming close so many times as a way to cope (his close calls include 1958 when he honorably stood up for fellow Brit, competitor Mike Hawthorn against a penalty that resulted in Hawthorn winning the championship over him by just one point). When encountering the man and listening to him in person in these advanced years of his life, however, one finds oneself thinking that, while he may wax nostalgic about the loss of the exciting days that more danger provided back when he was a young pro, the wisdom of his years wins out when he looks back over the scratch and scramble drivers engage in to achieve world championship titles.
“Titles really don’t mean that much,” he said simply, almost as an afterthought and in a quiet voice perhaps not heard by those with the good fortune of sitting in the front row. After he graciously thanked everyone for coming, the audience walked out from under the tent into the sun setting on the unofficial end of summer. Strolling out with them and in thought, one came away thinking that this racer means just what he says about winning or not winning titles.
Even so, another title not possible to be won from any one season of competition, or given by any one person or organization, came to mind. The title of living legend is one that suits Sir Stirling Moss — the racer, entertainer, and gentleman — better than most.
Check out Connie Ann Kirk’s homepage for links to her main Examiner page, Facebook, Twitter and blog. Also see her motor sports blog at Poetry in Motion: Vintage Speed.