Stirling Moss survives car crash—1962

Are you afraid of dangerous situations? I am. I stopped parachuting after just five jumps. I slow down on curves, when I am motorcycling, and wear a helmet. I only tried auto racing once for a three-day course, but was too nervous about the other drivers screwing up and causing an accident. And when I drive on the road, I am always a bit cautious over 100 mph, knowing that there could be a mechanical malfunction, or a deer could leap out and hurt us both. I could go on and on.

But then I read these recent complaints by Sir Stirling Moss, one of the most famous race car drivers ever:

Safety measures have robbed the sport of its thrill. “The biggest reason I raced was because it was dangerous. When you are 17, 18 years old, safety lessens the thrill. Danger makes people sort the men from the boys, and the new level of safety emasculates the sport. People say I advocate people being killed. It’s not advocating killing, but the freedom to drive with danger. There was tremendous mental enjoyment.”

Now, he says, the tracks are designed for safety, the road surfaces are better and cars, helmets and racing suits are devised to protect the drivers. Even the physical endurance needed has been lessened as races have been shortened for television audiences. “Racing is the safest sport there is,” he said.

Well I sure am a boy, rather than a man, according to his assessment.

montage of younger Stirling

Now here is an excerpt from Michael Cannell’s book, The Limit, about Moss’s last car crash, followed by some comments from people who saw this paragraph online: On April 24th, 1962, Stirling Moss entered a minor Formula 1 race known as the Glover Trophy at the Goodwood track in West Sussex. He danced at a country dancehall until 2 a.m. the night before, then rose, apparently unaffected, and prepares his pale green Lotus. On the eighth lap he pulled into the pits with a jammed gearbox. By the time mechanics fixed it he had dropped to 17th place. “What are you going to do?” a friend asked. “Have a bloody go,” Moss answered. In his determination to make up time he flew down straights at 180 m.p.h. and hurtled into corners at 75 m.p.h.–dangerously close to the limit.” He’s pushing it,” a mechanic said. On the 35th lap Moss neared a twisty right-then-left turn called St. Mary’s Corner at 110 m.p.h. when his car unaccountably veered off the road, streaked across 150 yards of lawn and smacked into an eight foot embankment. It took mechanics half an hour to saw through the crumpled aluminum and remove his limp and unconscious body. A nurse held his hand much of the time. Blood smeared his face and dripped onto his white coveralls. His right cheek was torn open and and his left eye socket was shattered. The crumpled steering wheel had broken two ribs. X-rays revealed severe bruising on the right side of his brain. He lay in a coma for a month, his left side partially paralyzed.

Commenter #1: I find it fascinating that although Moss’s career was ended by this crash, he never really took up the safety crusade that other drivers, most notably Jackie Stewart, spearheaded later in the decade. To this day, Moss seems to have nostalgia for a time in which drivers put their life on the line when they stepped into a car. He is truly a man from another era, and is such a hero of mine. He won 40% of the races he ever entered and is surely the greatest driver never to win the F1 Championship. His survival and recovery from this accident are a testament to his incredible physical constitution. Even today in his early 80s Moss survived and recovered from a recent 3-story fall in his home elevator shaft that would have killed or severely handicapped most people, let alone most 81-year-olds!

Cannell responds: In the course of my research I’ve run across countless quotes in which Moss argues that danger is what distinguished the sport. Of course he’s not necessarily advocating for danger and accidents, but it is clear that he believes that made the sport unique and set the drivers apart from other athletes.

Commenter #2: Read Ken Purdy’s “All But My Life,” written based on interviews with Moss during his recovery from the Goodwood crash, for Moss’ views on safety. One of his quotes was something like: “If some bloke wants to buy a ticket to a motor race, and chooses to stand at a dangerous point on the trackside, and I’ve entered and am running in that race, get it all wrong near where the bloke is standing, and roll myself, my car, and the spectator all up in a ball, we ALL made choices to be where we were, and it’s not a matter for courts, or legislative bodies, or the FIA, or CSI. We all know the dangers inherent in what we’re doing, and by me driving, and the spectator buying his ticket and choosing to stand where he did, we presumably have acknowledged that motor racing is a very dangerous sport, and we’ve weighed the risks, and taken them.”