Men of Steel, Titanium, Flesh and Blood

The recent crash of Robert Kubica whilst rallying, and his subsequent, quite catastrophic injuries has once again brought home to me some very personal memories.

I was never a motor racing type; bikes were more in my line. This is because my grandfather and uncles were not only huge fans, but were also Motorcycle journalists and writers and occasional amateur competitors. Many Sundays were spent at our local race track, Cadwell Park. We went to see anything and everything on two wheels. For me as a kid, the scrambling was most fun to watch. I don't even know if they call it that anymore but it involved people getting extraordinarily muddy and was a bit like what you might call off-roading, only on two wheels. The smell of vapourised oil and water was an aroma that is forever imprinted on my brain.

I didn't, at the age of eight, really spend much time thinking about the danger. For me it was enough to smell the oil, cover my ears at the screech of the engines and watch as the racers flew by, hanging on for dear life, and with a quite easily (underneath the goggles) discernible look of grim determination. It was all black leather and pudding basin crash hats. There was a reverential aura about these people and I only fully understood why much later on.

Murray Walker often did commentaries at Cadwell as well as commentating live for the BBC. It was during one of his stints that the BBC had to suspend a live transmission due to the death, during a race, of Kenny Irons. According to one blog:

Accident happened when the bike of fellow British rider Keith Heuwen developed a misfire and slowed exiting Charlies onto Park Straight. Irons' bike hit the back of Heuwen's with Kenny being thrown off and tumbling down the side of track into the bottom of the dip on the straight. Irons' machine slid up the track out of harms way, but a following rider dropped his machine as bunching riders tried to slow, this riders machine then slid into Kenny Irons at quite some speed so causing him fateful injuries. Keith Heuwen and the other rider escaped injury. It is believed Kenny Irons was still alive when taken to hospital (possibly Louth Hospital - but that is not confirmed), other sources state he died at the scene.
It is almost impossible to single out people who have dominated the sport in the past for there are so many, but the oldies among you will remember Mike Hailwood. Hailwood was not a quitter. I saw Hailwood at Cadwell, and then again as a guest at the TT when he did a lap of honour on the back of the newly launched Honda Goldwing (he was too smashed up and too full of pins and metal to ride it himself)

Hailwood and  Regazzoni in the 1973 SA GP
But it is a moment in Mike Hailwood's life that demonstrates just what these men are made of, apart from flesh, blood and titanium. It was Hailwood who went to the aid of fellow competitor, Clay Regazzoni, in attempt to rescue him from his burning BRM F1 car in 1973, an act of bravery that saved Regazzoni. Hailwood was awarded the George Medal for his action. Both Regazzoni and Hailwood died off track in auto accidents.

There came a point in my life when I stopped going to motor racing events because I had seen too many bad accidents, and contrary to poplular belief, that is not what fans go to see. I stopped because men, like just me, were there at the side of the road, with death facing them, men who knew the game was up who were laying there in the grass moaning and shivering and looking defeated.

I did go back, and would do again, but it is often with a heavy heart and a silent prayer for the riders.


TheNoseyMole said...

I grew up in Grimsby so Cadwell was my local track, my favorite event was the rally cross. Cadwell was most famous for motor cycling, and was allegedly a favourite circuit of many riders.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Welcome to the blog, nosy mole. I hope you enjoyed this little bit of nostalgia about Cadwell.

Richard said...

Happy memories of Cadwell here.

I've never been a big fan of racing, and only follow it in a desultory fashion. I love the technology and admire the skill and bravery, but as to whether Rossi will be joining the Rudge or Vincent teams next year is of no particular interest. But I went to a club meet last year (low-level stuff, with bikes that even I could afford and build) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I've never seen a fatality, or even a serious crash, and perhaps that would take the shine off.