Festival of Speed: Stirling Moss

Stirling Moss at Festival of Speed 2013
Stirling Moss at Festival of Speed 2013

THERE was laughter and applause from the crowd as motor-racing legend Stirling Moss spoke about his experiences of the sport today (Sunday, July 14).

He spoke about the differences between his days of Formula 1 racing in the 1950s and the pressures facing modern drivers today.

“Motor racing has changed very much in the danger aspect,” he said.

“In the early days it was very dangerous, we were losing two or three drivers a year. Thank God now it is better.”

Mr Moss should know, he still has a steering wheel with a dent in it from his accident at Goodwood. The dent was caused by his head.

“You didn’t wear seatbelts in those days because there was a 50/50 chance of the car catching fire,” he said.

“None of us wore seatbelts, you didn’t want to be trapped in a car, strapped in when it was on fire.”

At one point the drivers were given fire-retardant overalls but refused to wear them because they creased and looked ‘silly’.

Mr Moss welcomed the fact there had been no fatal accidents in Formula 1 for 19 years but added some of the drivers’ habits, like wheel tapping, wouldn’t have happened when drivers were less confident in the safety of their cars.

Another change has been the increase in the business-side of racing.

Joking about sponsorship, he said if modern drivers win a race they have to go and talk to their sponsors, whereas he would go and ‘chase some crumpet’.

However, the press didn’t always make it easy for him.

“In those days the press were more interested in my sex life than my driving,” he said.

“People think the drivers have a hard time now, believe me it was a lot more difficult then.

“You were always having to sneak out the back and if somebody spotted you out with some little crumpet in a nightclub they would call the press and they would all be there.”

Mr Moss said this accounts for why his 198 scrapbooks of press cuttings have more in their ‘private life’ sections than the racing ones.

He said he preferred road racing to circuit, particularly the long-distance races across Europe: “Every week you’d arrive in a small town and they’d put the straw bales down and that is the circuit.”

The amount paid for the races would depend on your ‘box-office appeal’ he explained.

“After a race I would go round and wave and, of course, people would wave back,” he said. “If you go round and they are all waving like mad the organisers think you’re very popular and might give you more money next time.”