Motorsport Prefers Blondes
Formula One, Indy, rallying - the blondes
In the early hours of a cold, dark autumnal morning, my mum was in Barnsley Beckett's Hospital, relieved and exhausted after giving birth to her firstborn - me.
My dad, at the exact time, was screeching round North Yorkshire in a 1950s Ford Anglia on a rally.
This was the start of his motor racing career, that ultimately spanned over twenty years, and when he recently wrote his autobiography, he named it Petrol in my Blood. If ever I get the time to write the story of my life, I think I'll call it Yeah, Me Too.
I was brought up with motorsport and all forms of auto racing all around me - from the copies of Autosport that were plonked through the letterbox every Thursday morning to learning to drive at such an early age that I don't actually remember it. (It was just something people did, like breathing or walking).
Later in life, I hung out at racing circuits and tracks a lot and to this day, I get up at ridiculous hours in the morning to watch live Formula One. But today, I'm thinking about some of my favorite blondes in motorsport.
Images from Wikipedia Commons unless otherwise stated. The image above, which I included mainly for comedy value, is me, circa nineteen seventy mumble mumble sitting in approved 1970s Motor Show-style on the bonnet (or hood, if you prefer) of Hannu Mikkola's twin cam rally escort.The quality of the image is awful because a) it was a newspaper cutting and b) it was a long time ago!
This is one of the earliest motorsport blondes. The photograph shows Eileen Ellison (from Cambridge, England) taking part in the second South African Grand Prix, on January 1st., 1936. I love her 'suitable for the pitlane' shoes! The car is a Bugatti Type 37A belonging to (deep breath) Thomas Pitt Cholmondeley Tapper. The man in the photograph is either Tapper, or Eileen's brother. In his book, modestly entitled Amateur Racing Driver, Tapper consistently refers her to 'Miss Ellison'. In fact, the pair were having a rather torrid affair at the time.
As a side note, she was my son's great-great aunt on his father's side. (I might have missed a 'great' - I have a very complicated family history.) Hence the photograph is from my personal collection of family photographs.
Rosemary Smith is one of my dad's favorite rally drivers. They first competed together, if my memory is correct, in the nineteen sixties. During the Tulip Rally, he was probably a little miffed however, when she did much better than he did and won the event. In his book though, typically and true to form, he has an explanation.
He writes: She was in a rear-engined car and was the only one who could get through before the road became blocked.
This is a publicity shot for Rosemary, probably taken by Ford Motor Company, when she, my old man and several others were in the Ford works team competing in the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon. From the collection of Eric Jackson..
Sabine Schmitz is the undisputed queen of the thirteen-mile long German Nurburgring circuit and her background makes this hardly surprising because she and her two sisters were brought up at the track itself - their parents ran the hotel there. All three sisters went into racing (and you know that I like motorsport families).
Although she's been racing with great success for many years, most people came to know about her thanks to appearances inTop Gear. In fact, in 2011 when the show's famous Stig (Ben Collins) got the boot for revealing his identity, there was much speculation that the new incumbent was, in fact, Sabine. Fact or fiction?
When people realize that I am so passionate about motorsport, I'm often asked 'Why are there no women in F1?'
Actually, there are hundreds but they are in executive, legal or managerial roles, communications, aerodynamics, engineering, tech and yes, sigh, there are the grid girls too. And it is estimated that forty percent of the audience is female.
What people really mean is 'why are there no women drivers?' Well, Eileen above shows that they have been there from the beginning and there have been five in what's called 'the modern era'. Maria de Villota was a test driver until she had an almost fatal testing accident in 2012. She survived, but sadly, lost an eye. She too is from a racing family - her father was a F1 driver. Do watch her truly inspirational video below.
On October 11, 2013 Maria was found dead in her hotel room in Seville. At time of writing, it is thought that she died of a heart attack. She had been married for three months and was thirty three years old. RIP.
Really, I should stop this seemingly British and European influence and pop over to the other side of the Atlantic.
This is Ashley Force who is a drag racer and what I like about her is that she did something I always wanted to do but never did - she raced against her own dad. What's more, she won. Her father John was absolutely fine about it. (I'm not sure that my own dad would have felt the same way if I'd beaten him; I think he might have never talked to me again!)
The father, daughter and the whole family were featured in a TV reality series, showing their lives. It was a bit like the auto racing version of The Osbournes.
Surely you didn't think that this was going to be all about the girls?
Mike Hawthorn was almost a contemporary of my dad's - Mike was just five years younger. What's more, he was born in Mexbrough, Yorkshire - a stone's throw from where I was born in Barnsley and even closer to where my old man was born (Doncaster).
Mike was the Formula One World Champion in 1958 when he was twenty-nine years old. He immediately announced that he was retiring from racing; on the track, that is. Because just a few months later he was killed in a car crash on the open road. He was driving his Jaguar and, it was later discovered, 'dicing' with a friend who was driving a Mercedes.
James Hunt was a legendary driver and was known as a somewhat eccentric playboy. He made no secret of his 'rock star' lifestyle and, for example, would often arrive at prestigious, formal events wearing a t-shirt, jeans and no shoes. But today,many people remember him more for his GP television commentaries rather than his racing. His rather posh, drawling style of speech (the drawl reputedly caused by drinking wine prior to the shows) was in deep contrast to that of his co-commentator, the gentlemanly yet excitable Murray Walker.
Fans loved the combination but it came abruptly to a halt when James, formerly notorious for his racing crashes, died at the age of forty five of a heart attack.
There's nothing that I can say about Michael Schumacher that hasn't been said a thousand times already. Suffice it it to say that he too was born with 'petrol in his blood'. His father encouraged him to start in karting at an early age and Michael and his brother, fellow racing driver Ralf, grew up in a motor sport environment. To add to the family racing aspect, both their wives have also raced saloon cars.
Even more interestingly, Michael's daughter Gina was born in 1997, his son Mick was born in 1999 and both are now old enough to race cars; Ralf's son David, born in 2005, should certainly have experience in karting by now. Will we be seeing another generation of racing Schumachers?
At the end of 2013, Michael had a serious skiing accident and was in an induced coma for several months, suffering from life-threatening head injuries. He was taken out of the coma in June 2014 and moved to a private clinic where he is being cared for. The motorsport community and aficionados worldwide continue their support by using the hashtag #keepfightingmichael. On September 10th, 2014 he left hospital to be cared for at home.
I try not to have a favorite driver - they are all amazing - but if I did, it would be Kimi Raikkonen. Like most of my selection here, he is not the only driver in the family as his brother is also a competitor. Kimi has an incredible sense of humor and invariably makes me chuckle.
One of my favorite moments, and probably yours too, was in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when his engineers had the temerity to advise him on the pit-to-car radio. Kimi replied 'Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing.' He did. He won the race. The following day, by all accounts, he turned up at the team factory with t-shirts for all the staff - bearing his quote.
Here I'm taking another trip across the Atlantic to feature Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indycar driver. Ryan lives in my (now) hometown, Fort Lauderdale. What's more, he's determined to bring an Indycar race to our city, and that in itself makes him a hero to me. Although not from a racing family himself, he has created one.
He married racer Beccy Gordon, who is from a famous motorsport family, and in December 2012, they had their first child, Ryden, who is already a regular in the pit lane. Ryan's mother died of cancer and he and Becky are ardent supporters of Racing for Cancer an organization that create awareness via the sport. This makes them both heroes to me.
If you're a fan like me,there is no such thing as having too many books. All my friends and family know that a book about the sport, whether historic or present day, is the perfect gift for me.