Who cares about history? Well, anyone in historic racing for a start. We love it: the history of the cars, the history of the circuits and the history of the people who were once involved in this sport of ours.
Or so we like to think. The old joke goes that history is a version of events written by the winner but, apparently, even the losers can have a bash at it these days. Before getting stuck into that, let’s get the ‘people in glass houses’ bit out of the way: as a writer, I must have been guilty at some point of getting something inaccurate into print. If so, I apologise, but I do claim that what keeps me permanently skint is my habit of spending far too much time checking all the facts.
On shelves near my desk, I have every copy of the most important weekly and monthly motoring magazines for the past 60 years. People often say that they haven’t the space, but I have made room for masses of such stuff and I have never regretted it for a moment.
My collection of books is a constant source of pleasure, too. Apart from the fact that I can look up just about anything in the history of motor sport, all this written matter becomes very addictive indeed. This little obsession is completely harmless and I would recommend it strongly. Keep buying real books! We need them.
Buying and collecting motor racing books is a very good thing but, after years of doing it, you begin to realise that… what can I say? Well, not everything printed in them is always absolutely accurate. Mind you, books do tend to be more reliable than the information on the internet – I have never quite recovered from looking at my computer one day and learning that I’d died several years ago. That revelation is still curiously disturbing and I doubt whether I shall ever quite get it out of my head.
Whatever you’re reading, whether it’s on a proper page or just a screen, you develop a nose for nonsense. I have just read one racing driver’s recent autobiography. He always seemed to be one of the good guys, but his book makes him look like another naughty boy having a laugh with the facts.
There are plenty of autobiographers like that. It’s their first book and they don’t know that one’s memory plays tricks. They act in good faith, but get carried away and write as if they’re showing off to their devoted fan club down at the pub. The bloke who wrote this book has leapt into that trap, claiming to have won several races that he actually lost.
That’s embarrassing but I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate. What’s more serious, the professional he hired to compile the words let him down. Failing to do his research, the writer must have trusted his subject’s memory – and that’s nothing but basic negligence. He might wish to back-pedal or, as he spells it, ‘back-peddle’, but it’s too late now.
Apparently, this driver ‘had an excellent start’ to the 1977 ‘RAC Saloon Car Championship’ and informs us that he won the first three races. Oh no you didn’t, mate. The second race was on the Brands Hatch GP circuit and Colin Vandervell won it. Our hero finished seventh overall and third in class.
As for the third race, I can well remember seeing the poor, muddleheaded old chap in my mirror as I took the chequered flag at Oulton Park in front of him. According to him, he won that one, too. Numerous people then beat him in the following eight rounds, but you’d never guess it from reading his book. What a laugh.
Mind you, it’s not the most inaccurate motor racing book I’ve ever read. That dubious accolade has to go to a truly surprising volume on British Touring Car Racing that appeared a couple of years ago. Now that one really was a shocker.
All these people are still very much alive, so no doubt I have made three splendid new enemies but that’s their problem. Before they get angry with me they should apologise to all of us for letting such books get into print.
Does any of this really matter? Yes, it certainly does. Books are wonderful things but it would be a bonus if the authors got the facts right. Proper research seems to have slipped out of fashion. That’s the real problem. We must fight back. The readers, all of us in this game, deserve a proper effort in that direction.
Having started his racing career in Formula Ford, Tony made a name for himself in 1970s Touring Cars and since then has raced an astonishing variety of sports and historic machinery. He is also a hugely respected journalist.