Among all the global sadness of the Covid19 crisis the death of Sir Stirling Moss wasn’t the banner headline it would have been in less traumatic times. Moss wasn’t just the most famous racing driver in the world, I think he was for quite a time, it’s most famous sportsman. One of those rare people who in the days before the web devalued such things, transcended the sphere they dominated and became household names even among people who have never taken any notice of their partcular sport. You could know him without knowing why. The name itself helped.
If you take royalty and politicians out of the equasion, was Moss, the Maestro, at his peak, the most famous private citizen on the planet? Maybe.
In 1996 I was parked up at Northampton stock car track getting into my fireproof overalls as a silver Mercedes drew alongside and a head appeared out of the window . “I say old boy!” said the driver ” Where does one sign-on around here?” I replied, he said thanks and drove on .
I looked at my brother Ashley, who was with me and after a moment to recover we said simuteneously “That was STIRLING MOSS!” in disbelief.
The reason we were there was to test the newly imported “Legends” race cars which had just gone on the market. These scaled down retro American sedans featured Yamaha 1200 cc motorcycle engines and for a fee of about £5o you could have an afternoon test run, prior to (as the plan went) buying one. The problem was they were £10,000 each. – not that costly for a turn-key race car even in 1996 but as it turned out, rather more than most of us could afford. They found few buyers initially. I went along as I just fancied a go. The promotor had clearly invited the world’s most famous racing driver to gain some PR milage and from what I hear of Moss, as a canny businessman, I imagine they paid him handsomely too.
I went out in the red car first, one of the two cars present and did my laps, enjoying the surprisingly torquey engine, roller-skate handling and sense of speed that the retaining wall in such close proximity gave. As I came in and clambered out, Moss was waiting to take my place. Ashley was stood on the starter’s gantry video camera in hand. I gestured to him to take a photo too. One with Moss and me in the same shot….well wouldn’t you? So he did. Thats me in the red overalls. God I look young… I even had hair!
All round me the crew and track people were looking on with a kind of stage-struck awe. That was Stirling Moss…
He did his laps and came in. Now the protocol was that when one car came in, the other went out with a different driver so as he’d suceeded me in the red car, it was my turn in the blue one … but he had other ideas, got out of his car, said “Well that’s more fun that karting!” saw the other car being readied and promptly climbed straight in. But I wasn’t about to complain.
After his stint he got out, I got in and off I went. My brother video’d as Strling Moss actually watched me drive. Me !
By the end of that stint my neck muscles, used to bends that went both left and right, with notable spells of travelling straight in between them, had cried enough from the relentless gyrscopic forces of lapping a quarter mile oval. Moss had gone by this point. He never did hang about! Unable to hold my head up by now, a very odd an unpleasent sensation, I had to let Ashley drive all the way back! It was a surreal end to a surreal day. But to test the same cars as Striling Moss….that was £50 well spent!
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