Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Formula One in 1961

by Tammy

I've mentioned before that I'm relatively new to auto racing, so I'm still learning about its history. The more I learn, the more I am both intrigued and appalled at the men (some women, but not mentioned much, aside from my favorite, Denise McCluggage) who risked their lives in the early days of the sport. (Yes, they risk their lives even today, but to a degree that's orders of magnitude smaller.)

The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, by Michael Cannell, is a great book that provides a window into the psyches of the drivers who were involved. He is especially fascinated with American Phil Hill, who was a nervous, reluctant racer at first (and perhaps throughout), but who was compelled to race in spite of his understanding and fear of all that could go wrong. His Formula One championship went down in the racing world as sort of an afterthought to the toll of deaths that season, culminating in the death of title rival and Ferrari teammate Wolfgang von Trips in the final (championship-determining) race of the 1961 season.

The information that left me gasping at the start of the book was that by some calculations, racing drivers had only about a 33% survival rate in those days, which were right before the advent of seatbelts and other useful safety equipment.

I'm clearly a student of the current-day racecar driver, especially what motivates him or her to do what they do, in spite of risks and danger. Cannell's book gave me outstanding historical perspective on how far the sport (and risks) have come. I highly recommend it.


  1. I'm not a huge fan of NASCAR, but the book "Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR" is worth a read. The Unfair Advantage by Mark Donahue is also a favorite. I love reading about the history of motorsports, particularly the birth of Formula 1 and sports cars.

  2. Thanks for the tips, Andrew!