Brian Redman: Meeting a Legend

This past weekend, my son, Marshall, and I got to go to a very special event to hear Brian Redman tell us about his racing history. Mr. Redman has won a few things in his day - the 1970 Targa Florio being one of the most spectacular. 

If you are not familiar with this particular race, it was run on public roads in the mountains of Sicily near Palermo. Founded in 1906 by the wealthy pioneer race driver and car enthusiast, Vincenzo Florio, it was the oldest sports car racing event, part of the World Sportscar Championship between 1955 and 1973. While the first races consisted of a whole tour of the island (92 miles per lap for a total of 670 miles!), the track length in the race's last decades was limited to the 72 kilometres (45 mi) of the Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie, which was lapped 11 times. After 1973, it was a national sports car event until it was discontinued in 1977 due to safety concerns. 

Brian and teammate, Jo Siffert, drove 11 laps - 495 miles and about 8,000 corners! - stopping for fuel every two to four laps. Each lap took over 34 minutes. They beat Nino Vaccarella, a local favorite and course expert in a Ferrari, for the victory and took the checker to a crowd subdued with stunned silence. Brian told us that the 908/03, his winning car, was also his most favorite race car he'd ever driven.

I love the fact that Mr. Redman started off by entering his company delivery station wagon as his race car in 1959. "I don't remember where I finished – a good thing , that – but the inauspicious results of my début set the pattern for equally humbling drubbings throughout the year." He quickly realized that "competing in a mundane little estate car was not the short road to Formula 1." But compete in Formula 1, he did. Back in those days, drivers raced in any series they could, often at the same time. We're seeing Fernando Alonso miss the Monaco Grand Prix this year to have a go at the Indy 500 – and most of the older guard are cheering him on. May that love of driving and desire to compete regardless of car and venue continue to drive racers forever.

Mr. Redman raced in 15 Formula 1 Grands Prix and took a podium spot in Spain in 1968. But he preferred sports cars, racing for Porsche, Ferrari, and Aston Martin. He's enjoyed class wins twice at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona, many at Spa, the Nurburgring, and other famous races/tracks. 

And yet, Mr. Redman appeared to us to be very humble and gracious. He signed memorabilia and his book both before and after the event. He even came out to the car park to sign cars – including mine! He chatted with us about recent talks with Hurley Haywood and how his wife asked him to stop racing after his accident at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa ("I said, 'I'm going [racing]." – perhaps not so compromise-oriented, but certainly a testament to his love of the sport).

It is truly incredible to meet someone who lived and raced in an era where survival had long odds. Yet they were able to put that out of their minds and enjoy this sport. Brave? Crazy? Addicted to adrenaline? You can decide for yourself. All I know is that it runs in the veins, like it or not. And that it was wonderful for my son and I to be able to meet a legend.

Racing From Peking To Paris

Lest anyone thing that the ACF is all about wrenches, gas, and oil - I also spent a fair bit of the winter reading...about wrenches, gas, and oil. One of the most fascinating reads was Peking To Paris by Luigi Barzini. Barzini was an Italian journalist who, in 1907, joined a team of two others to race a car from Peking all the way to Paris. Even by today's standards, that is a big undertaking. But imagine that in 1907, the car was only a commercial entity for about 10 years and was still very novel. Over much of the route, the racers would encounter people and animals (the car's primary competition at the time) who had never seen a car before and many who weren't yet aware of their existence! Also allow for the fact that there were no gas stations, no repair facilities who were familiar with working on cars, and the big one - not many reasonable roads and none up to our modern standards. Twenty five cars registered for the race and five actually showed up in Peking to compete.

On top of these logistical challenges, the Italian prince who owned and largely piloted the car, Prince Scipione Borghese, his mechanic, Ettore Guizzardi, and Mr. Barzini were driving an Itala

The Itala they drove was a 40hp model and was open to the elements. Wind, rain, name it. Of the competitors, it was the biggest and heaviest car, but also the most powerful. It was a race, after all, so speed counts. But fuel economy is of concern in endurance racing. Especially when you have no idea where your next fuel stop might be.

A particularly fascinating aspect of the race is that for the first few weeks, going through China and Mongolia, they required the regular assistance of a large team of local helpers to make forward progress. These human beings often had to pull the car through difficult terrain, out of deep mud - often up to it's axles, and through water crossings. In 1907, bridges were not built with 2,000kg cars in mind. They often adopted a strategy to move over these sub-par bridges swiftly before they could break. Imagine that stress! One bridge, actually, was not quite up to the challenge.

To read of the adventures, misadventures, and specific challenges of driving a car long before this earth had any appetite for them, well, it was astounding. It's so easy to forget that our ultra-convenient infrastructure is a very modern fabrication and that early motorists really were pioneers taking great pains to advance a new invention to prove out its usefulness. 

This race is still happening and would be an absolute bucket-list item for anyone who fancies endurance racing, history, and travel.

Another great read during the "cold track season" was Damon Hill, Watching the Wheels, My Autobiography. Damon is the son of twice World Champion Graham Hill. Graham was tragically killed at the age of 46, along with much of his then F1 team, in a small plane crash returning home from a race. Having lost my own father at the age of 33, I found quite a bit to commiserate with in Damon's story of his life.

The aspect I particularly liked is that you may think that it is fairly natural for the son of a racing driver to become a racing driver - and a successful one. But I, personally, had no real inkling of how difficult it is to achieve that status even once let alone in succession. And the glimpse of the process from the inside provides quite a bit of insight into things like why Nico Rosberg would win and then retire immediately. The many years of training, sacrifice, mental gymnastics and political games - all of these things, plus the trappings of fame and fortune, must absolutely wear out the soul of these people at a very young age. 

Damon's story showed me another good example of how losing a parent early in life greatly affects your outlook and decision-making process - for good. You can pretend that it doesn't but it's a fallacy. It catches up to you eventually and demands that you confront the issues. Damon fought hard against not only these personal challenges, but against the best drivers of his age and maybe any age - Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher chief among them, but also Nigel Mansell, David Couthardt, Mika Häkkinen, Jacques Villeneuve and more. 

Damon was Senna's teammate at the time of Aryton's tragic death at Imola in 1994 after his Williams team bought out that year from Alain Prost and took in Senna instead. Damon was an official part of the inquiry, driving in essence the same car on the same track at the same time. The cause of Ayrton's accident is often cited as a broken steering column, but Damon presents compelling evidence that it was instead suspension failure that caused the catastrophic event. The cars were equipped with telemetry at the time and, as a racing driver, Damon talks at length about what he would expect to have seen in the data if the column itself had broken and how that differed from what he saw. Damon also presents quite a bit of additional information about the day, the days leading up to it, and that a potential fueling mistake (adding too much) all contributed in ways to the outcome. 

Damon's racing history is certainly a fascinating tale, but it is also intriguing in it's discussion of what I find to be incredibly consistent when reading the histories of racing drivers - the constant and persistence need to find sponsors and the financial wherewithal to fund their racing. That fact certainly hits home for me. Racing is not for the faint of wallet and it's not enough to be quick. 

I also consumed Aussie Grit by Mark Webber. Mark is a consummate professional and generally wonderful ambassador for racing. He's a warm, funny person (from what I've seen of him in interviews and at races) - even taking a swig of champagne from the well-used racing shoe of his countryman, Daniel Ricciardo (known as a "shoey")! But he also provides insight into the frustrations of working with a somewhat childish and devious Sebastian Vettel. Seb has seemed to have taken a page from Michael Schumacher's book of "win at all costs." Mark provides great insight around the famous "Multi-21" incident at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix where the team ordered Seb to allow Mark to finish first since he was already in the lead at the end of the race, only for Seb to aggressively pass Mark to snatch victory but risk crashing out both cars. Mark has gone on to do endurance racing for Porsche, and I saw his car racing at Le Mans last year, so I'll always be a fan.

It wasn't the worst winter weather we've had, but it was still a good season to reflect on the human side of this sport, the history, and how far it has come in just over a century. I hope you all had a good off-season as well and are primed for 2017!

Cars And Coffee At Oxford Motorcars

What's a great way to use an hour between dropping the kids off somewhere and then picking them up? Enjoying some of the stored beauties over at Oxford Motorcars. They specialize in MG race cars so the iron here is primarily vintage English - Jags, MGs, Triumph, and Austin Healey's with the occasional Morgan thrown in. But some German, Italian, and even American marques are present as well. Looks like this will be the first Saturday of each month over at their facility in East Providence.

Results From the 3rd Annual French American School Karting Grand Prix

On February 12th, we rev'ed up our electric motors at R1 Indoor Karting, the new karting facility in Lincoln, RI, for our 3rd annual French American School Karting Grand Prix. This new facility is preferable in a few ways over our prior destination. This is much closer to us, generating a better turnout, they were quite a bit easier to work with to set up the event, and they have a dedicated, full-time junior track so for the first year this wasn't a parents-only event! We had a few veterans but lots of new faces and lots of kids!

Sharp Peaks Or Rolling Hills

I made a pledge to myself to not "let myself go" too much this winter. Last winter I gained some weight, saw my driving skill atrophy a little, and generally had a hill to climb to get back into the spirit of things in the Spring. The older I get, the harder it seems to be to put in the effort to do this remedial work. So I thought I'd try to nip it in the bud this year before it got out of hand.

Are There Health Benefits from Track Driving?

Can driving on track be beneficial for your health? Can something "dangerous" actually be really good for you? Let's try to find out. Please note that I am a driving enthusiast, not a doctor or researcher. So your mileage may vary. I welcome all information from the medical community to expand on what I have found here.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've not been as focused on training and conditioning as in prior years. And that fact has made itself apparent. I've buckled down and have begun my training regimen once again, thankfully. I'm running moderate distances four or five times per week. And I continue to exercise caution in what I eat. Weight loss is still my primary goal, but I cannot ignore physical conditioning to get there any longer. So I'm finding out how to blend them.

As a part of tracking progress, I've purchased scales for the house that are a bit easier to read consistently and hopefully more accurate than the old metal one we had been using. Another minor investment in trying to stay in the game. I've also started wearing my wife's now-unused Apple watch. It's useful for reminding me to stand and for tracking some portions of daily activity (perhaps inaccurately, but better than no tracking at all). After all, you can't improve what you can't measure, right?

Unorthodox Autocross Is Norm at ADSI

What happens when you allow for true variety at the autocross? Amazing fun. That's what. The July autocross at ADSI had a little bit of everything you could ever want! 700+ hp? Yes, that was there. A full-on airport fire truck running the course? Sure. Kids in a Polaris gas buggy? Absolutely. 24 Hours of Lemons race cars? Check. A hill climb car that would kill you just for looking at it? Uh huh. We saw it all.

If it's Sunday, it's time to autocross

This coming Sunday is my first autocross day of the year at ADSI! And I hope you will come join me!

The predicted showers should add some extra fun and challenge. But doesn't look like a washout. 

8am for lessons until noon. Noon to 5pm for open autocross. Morning students get to jump the afternoon lines all day and get in many, many runs. 

So I hope you'll come see Brother Rich break in his new Potenza RE71r tires by whupping us all on the course. That takes the pressure off the rest of us - "he's got new tires, so, of course he's 10 seconds faster and lapped me twice." Just start saying it now and it will roll off the tongue. 

Hope to see you there. Contact me if you want to meet up or need directions.