In this new series of feature articles of “Racing Heroes”, I look back at the idols I have admired throughout motor racing.
Before I go back in history to those drivers I watched, read about or idolised, I think back to the first ever season that made me fall in love with motor racing and my first ever racing hero.
It was the season that captured my imagination and gave birth to a lifelong love affair with racing. Two men, from two different backgrounds with contrasting personalities and styles.
The year was 1976 and as a fresh faced four year old my world changed as I saw two men battle for a championship. James Hunt and Niki Lauda. I remember, vaguely, asking who the posh man was being interviewed on the television and was told his name was James Hunt. I declared, as confident as any young child can, that I was going to support him and his team.
I’ve been a McLaren fan ever since.
James Hunt, the outspoken playboy champion who wore the distinctive black crash helmet decorated with bands of red, blue and yellow which depicted the colours of his childhood boarding school, Wellington College.
James Simon Wallis Hunt, to give him his full name, was born on 29th August 1947 and made his Formula One debut at the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix, driving for the Hesketh team owned and financed by the eccentric British aristocrat, Lord Hesketh.
This team used a Rolls Royce as team transport and champagne would be available like tap water.
It was in 1975 when Hunt won his and Hesketh’s first race at the Dutch Grand Prix. The following season he would win the world championship in a dramatic and well documented season. THAT battle with Niki Lauda. He retired three years later.
Long before the film ‘Rush’, I had read of the initial hostile relationship between Hunt and Lauda, which over time blossomed into a strong friendship. Lauda would go on record and tell Hunt’s son how much he loved his father.
That was the mark of the man, because men wanted to be James Hunt and women wanted to be with him. I was four years old, I had no understanding of what a ‘playboy’ was. All I knew was that I found watching this well spoken racing driver exciting. He had a determination, a will to win and above all he just wanted to race, as fast as he could. He just bloody well raced, every second of every lap.
James Hunt sadly left this world in 1993, his will allocated funds for his closest friends to enjoy one last party.
There are those in some quarters who do not hold James Hunt in their top five or even top ten of racing drivers. To me, he was my first racing hero, along with Niki Lauda also, but there was something about James that just made me smile. Yes, he was wild and had a tendency to do impulsive things, but on the race track he excited me.
They both hold a special place in my heart for what they introduced me to in 1976, the world of motor racing.
Since then I have gone back in history and found other heroes in racing as well as those who followed that 1976 season, but James Hunt was my first racing idol and for that James Simon Wallis Hunt, 1976 Formula One World Champion, I thank you.
See you at the chequred flag.