Sir Stirling Moss, the absolute epitome of a racing driver, and surely the greatest racing driver ever, died on Easter Sunday at the age of 90 after a long illness.
I first saw Stirling Moss when I was seven years old. My grandfather took me to London’s wonderful Crystal Palace racing circuit on 25 May 1953. We arrived mid-morning after the racing had started and the first racing car I ever saw was a formula 3 Cooper-Norton. It was a long way ahead of the rest of the field. It was driven by Stirling Moss and he went on to win.
Immediately, at such a young age, I was a Stirling Moss fan.
I closely followed motor racing and Stirling’s career through the 50s and into the 60s through the pages of Motor Sport magazine — to which I still subscribe. I was totally enthralled by the account of Stirling’s incredible drive in a Mercedes to win the 1955 Mille Miglia, written by his navigator, Motor Sport magazine’s Continental correspondent Denis Jenkinson.
I followed Stirling’s drives in the wonderful Vanwall F1 cars and, for me, the highlight was travelling with a school friend to Goodwood to see him win the Tourist Trophy sports car race in a Ferrari 250GT. My friend and I travelled to Goodwood by public transport — it was a long journey — and we arrived at the back gate of the track, by Fordwater Corner, after the race had started.
There was no public entry at that back gate and, in fact, there were no people around at all. So we did what any self-respecting fourteen-year-old boys would do — we climbed up and over the wire mesh back fence into the circuit and we enjoyed a spectacular view of the track. In those days there were no safety barriers, so we were really close to the action.
Stirling came through Fordwater well in the lead and we enthusiastically waved to him. Next lap he came through in a superb sweep with one hand controlling the car on the steering wheel and the other waving to the two schoolboys on the fence. Pure magic. I can still see that scene in my memory.
At Easter 1962, I was back at Goodwood with the same friend, but this time we went by car with his father and we paid the admission. We were watching from close to the chicane on the front straight when Stirling had his F1 career-ending crash at St Mary’s corner. It was a very sad day. He suffered massive injuries, mainly to his head, and was in a coma for a month.
With Stirling out of top-level motorsport participation, I switched my allegiances to Jim Clark. But I crossed paths with Stirling again in 1984 at Amaroo Park in Australia when he came out for a ‘Tribute to Jaguar’ historic race meeting. By this time, Stirling had developed his career as a professional motor racing icon, driving historic cars and generally being a motor racing ambassador.
Stirling was back in Australia in 1986 for a series of Jaguar customer events at race circuits around the country and I got to know him personally at these . He gave me some very valuable driving tuition at a few of the events as he arrived at the tracks before the events started and he took an XJ6 round for a few quick familiarisation laps.
He was extraordinary. He just swept the XJ6 round so rapidly and so smoothly and without a trace of drama: Masterly. At Calder, Wanneroo and Warwick Farm circuits there was enough spare time for me to do some laps behind the wheel with him as the instructor. It was a wonderful learning experience. My Stirling Moss most valuable driving tip: “Concentration, dear boy, concentration.” Something I have very much taken to heart in my driving over the years since.
Over the years I saw Stirling and his wife at various events around the world including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Australian F1 Grand Prix in both Adelaide and Melbourne.
My final interaction with Stirling was at my favourite race circuit, Le Mans. Now, Le Mans was definitely not Stirling’s favourite circuit. He raced there but never won and I was very surprised to find him racing in his own Porsche at the historic legends support race for the 2011 24 hour race.
At the beginning, at the end
Stirling’s wife had purchased the Porsche 718 RS a year previously as a thirtieth wedding anniversary present. He had the intention of competing in historic events in Europe and the USA. He was 81 years old at the time and, at that Le Mans race, he decided, very wisely, that his racing days were over. The photo below, taken by me, shows Stirling in the passenger seat as the Porsche is driven back behind the pits at the end of his brilliant career. The lady on the right is his wife, Suzie.
So I was there almost at the start of his racing career, on the day it was derailed and at the very day it ended.