Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Racing Legend

Stunned is the single word that best describes my feelings on that fateful Easter Sunday morning, 44 years ago, when I heard the news. Just hours earlier, at the Goodwood Racing Circuit in England, Stirling Moss had crashed his racing car (a Lotus Formula One car, if I remember correctly) head-on into a dirt embankment at 100 m.p.h., suffering life-threatening injuries in the accident.

Although Moss went on to recover from his injuries, his professional driving career, perhaps the most brilliant career in all of motor racing history, was over.

Stirling Moss' consummate driving skill made him the quintessential driver. Whether in an open-wheel or closed-wheel car, in open cockpit or closed, Moss excelled. His prowess at the "LeMans start" became legendary, and his unique "long arm" driving style made him the most recognizable driver on the track.

Unarguably, Moss was the greatest driver never to win the World Championship. During a career that spanned about 12 years, he racked up scores of victories, driving such cars as Jaguar, Maserati, Cooper, Lotus, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, on the premier circuits of Europe and North America. His early victories in Cooper and, later, Lotus formula and sports racers helped ensure that rear-engine cars would become the norm, not the curious exception, at modern racing events.

Moss set yet another milestone when he became the first professional driver to earn more than $100,000 in a single year. Because driver salaries were notoriously low throughout the 1950's, Moss became one of motorsports' early pioneers of product endorsements.

Today, Sir Stirling Moss, nearing 80 years of age, continues to be a crowd pleaser. He still writes books, still does speaking and promotional tours, still inspires awe. Not too long ago, at Laguna Seca Raceway, he made what was to be the final run of the vintage Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR roadster that he drove to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia. Jay Leno, comedian, late-night talk show host and avid car enthusiast, went along for the ride. And I am soooooooooooooo envious.

Thanks for the inspiration, Stirl. And thanks for the memories.

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