Motorsport Safety - the Peter Procter Story
Peter Procter and motorsport safety
That's him on the left. You might recognize the chap on the right - that's my dad, Eric Jackson. And here you see the two of them, probably about in the late 1990s, enjoying a drink together at some party of event.
They are old pals and Peter is one of my dad's heroes. There's nothing very remarkable about the photograph really - two old Yorkshiremen having a chat - but both have got amazing stories to tell.
Today it's Peter's story.He is about five or six years younger than my dad. Yes, they have the fact that they are both from Yorkshire in common but in addition, they both raced and rallied cars.
They met early in their careers and both had competed in rallies and races all over the world. I'm not certain, but I think they might have first met when competing in the Monte Carlo Rally. Peter competed at Le Mans and in a couple of Grands Prix, among much more but his racing career came to an end in 1966.
Goodwood, England 1966
This picture was actually taken a couple of years before 1966 but I wanted to show it to you so that you can see why my dad, in his autobiography, refers to his pal as 'a pleasant looking lad.'
In 1966, Peter was racing at Goodwood in a Ford Anglia. This wasn't a small club event. Goodwood was the prestigious British circuit in those days and also in the race were such legends as Jim Clark and Jack Brabham.
You can guess from the photograph above what happened.It was on the first lap.His car was hit from behind and exploded in a fireball. Look how woefully inadequate the safety equipment was. The two chaps you see are dressed in ordinary street clothes rather than today's fireproof Nomex suits, gloves, balaclavas and footwear. And look at those pathetic fire extinguishers. Yes, the fire they are fighting is a human being.Read my dad's description in the black box below.
His car was touched from behind by another and it somersaulted off the track. It burst into flames. Horrified spectators could see him trying to get out of the burning car. Despite being an extremely strong and fit man, he couldn't open the damaged door. Using his enormous strength he kicked his way out of the back of the car and managed to crawl over the petrol tank, which was also on fire.— Eric Jackson
He was airlifted to hospital where it was discovered that he had third-degree burns covering 65% of his body. The odds were very slim that he would survive. However, thanks to his own strength and fitness, plus the tireless work of the surgeons, many of whom had worked on burned airmen in the Second World War, survive he did.Next, Eric Jackson describes the first time he met Peter after his accident:
At a motorsport event, a chap I knew told me that Peter was also there. 'How does he look?' I asked 'I heard that his face is in a hell of a mess'. 'You'll soon find out' said the chap 'here he comes'. I admit I was apprehensive. What do you say in a situation like that? Peter saved the day. He shook me by the hand and said 'Good to see you Eric, you ugly old bugger'. The ice was broken. That was Peter all over.— Eric Jackson
More bravery yet to come
Peter had extensive surgery over the years. He must have suffered a great deal but my dad speaks often of his friend's bravery. More was to come. He was determined that other racing drivers shouldn't suffer the way he had.A little further down this page there is an advert that Peter appeared in.
Despite a great deal of surgery, it is not a pretty sight. How incredibly brave is a man who would appear in motorsport publications with subscribers all over the world - in the hopes that other racing drivers could be spared similar injuries?
In this ad, he is describing new fireproof racing suits and equipment. He explains that racing regulations were, at that time, very lax indeed. Here is an edited version of the ad's copy:
‘My name is Peter Procter. I’d like to tell you about a new flameproof material for racing drivers’. He then describes the product and ends ‘One final thing. You might find it distasteful that I should appear in this ad. My reason is this. Drivers don’t have to wear fireproof clothing in this country; you may race in a t-shirt if you want to. I think it should be mandatory to wear properly designed protective clothing.— Peter Procter
Archibald McIndoe Burns Unit
There were those who cynically wondered if Peter's decision to appear in the ad had an additional motive, that of money. No-one who knew the man doubted the sincerity of his reasons for appearing in the ad and could point out to the cynics that yes, he received a fee for appearing ... and promptly donated it to the McIndoe Burns Unit where he had been treated.
You can donate too
Today, known as the BlondMcIndoe Research Foundation, the burns unit is as busy as ever treating children, servicemen and women ... anyone who needs their specialist care. As you can see in the image above, the foundation has a distinguished list of patrons.
Peter wrote a book about his life in the early 2000s but unfortunately, it is now out of print. But you can read about him in Eric Jackson's autobiography. Eric has several heroes - Peter being one.
One of the others is also a huge advocate for motorsport safety and I imagine that most people, even non-racing fans, are familiar with his name, especially British and Scottish people. Can you guess?
The other was also a legendary motorsport figure, although not a driver, but his is a name that anyone with a knowledge of Ford Motor Company, and especially the history of their competition division will know ... especially since a Formula Ford series is named after him. Any guesses?
Although I was brought up in a rallying and endurance racing family, I soon became interested in Formula One. Even when I realized that I would never be a Grand Prix driver myself (a child can but dream).
But here's the story of one person who did realize his dream of working in Formula One, Steve Matchett. Working with the Benetton team meant that he worked alongside some of the greatest motorsport legends of the day. I've read this book over and over and it's probably about time I read it again - it's a great read and gives valuable insights into the world of F1.
See the video about the institution that saved Peter. Cry, then please donate.
(Some images aren't too pleasant.)
© 2013 Jackie Jackson