This is both an
automotive age and an age of anxiety; I suppose it is only natural that the
first American world champion driver not only should be a guy who has been
pretty far out on cars for as long as he can remember but one who also has been
described as anxious in four or five languages. Being that guy, I would be the
last to claim that he is as relaxed as, say, the public Perry Co mo. But I take
exception to the view, which seems to be widely held, that I am some kind of
suicidal basket case who can't help exposing his raw nerve ends to the tensions
and dangers of Grand Prix racing.
Let me say first
of all that racing has been good to me. Winning the world championship was my
highest goal. I am proud of having achieved it. Let me point out also that I
have a healthy respect for the dangers of racing. My driving has almost always
contained a high caution factor. I have had a few accidents, but in a dozen
years of racing I have not so much as scratched a finger. Needless to say, I
have been lucky. I want to go on racing, but I hope that I can retain my
identity and at the same time, very frankly, diminish the danger to myself. I
like being in one piece and having an unscarred face.
Perhaps I am
oversensitive, but since returning to America this fall I have found that I am
being treated with kid gloves. My friends and acquaintances apparently believe
I went into a tailspin over the death of my Ferrari teammate and rival for the
championship, Count Wolfgang von Trips, in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Followers of racing will recall that Trips had held a small but very important
lead in the race between us and that by winning at Monza I also won the driving
At the risk of
seeming to be callous, I can only say that my emotional defenses are pretty
strong. I can be stoical when I have to be. Every racing driver who has been
around for any length of time has had to cope with the deaths of other drivers.
Obviously racing goes on nonetheless. Trips and I were friends, but we had
never been especially close. I was saddened by his death and I felt terribly
sorry for his parents, who had wanted him to quit racing, but I was not
shattered. Does that make sense?
In any case, I
sleep at night, eat well enough and continue to take a keen interest in all
aspects of racing. Sometimes I wonder what my ancestors would have made of all
this. My family, of Dutch origin, has been in this country since well before
the Revolutionary War-since 1675, in fact. I think I am the first male member
of it not to attend Union College in Schenectady, New York since the school was
founded in the late 1700s. We have been a family of respectable business and
professional people. My father was at one time city editor of the Schenectady
Gazette. He moved from Schenectady to Miami, where I was born, and then to
Santa Monica, where he was postmaster from 1935 until the time of his death in
I was smitten by
cars as a boy, and I stayed smitten. When I was 9 or so I began driving my
parents' cars into and out of the garage and steering them from time to time
out in the country. One day, when I was 12, I was walking past a used car lot
in downtown Los Angeles with my aunt, and I saw this Model T Ford. It had only
8,000 miles on it and everything was original, but they wanted an outlandish
price for it—$40. My aunt was partial to me, though, and she bought me the car.
My father wasn't too happy about it, but he let me keep it. My father's main
worry was that my studies would suffer from what he considered my excessive
interest in automobiles, and I'm afraid his fears were justified. Every chance
I had I drove the Model T on the private roads of a friend's place down in
Santa Monica Canyon. Today I would have to say that I am against kids having
automobiles, because I feel it detracts from other more important activities in
their formative years.
anyone had talked like that to me in those days, his counsel would have gone in
one ear and out the other. I am just as glad that I had no communication on the
subject with my parents or with any good, sensible mature adult.
I was enthralled
with cars and power and speed, but I already had a certain saving caution. I
did not, for example, "bicycle" that Model T—in other words, corner it
on two wheels, as some characters I knew often did with their cars. Later on,
one of my amusements was dragging away from stop lights on the streets of Santa
Monica. This was in wartime, and the streets were not as crowded as they are
now, nor were the police as strict. Any kid who was anybody had "pipes"
on his car, meaning a muffler and tail-pipe system that picked up and amplified
certain harmonics in the exhaust and made a sound like—well, a better
There was no
problem in finding out whether a driver who pulled up beside me wanted to drag.
We had our little signals. If one guy revved his engine in a subtle way, and
that was returned, then the drag would be on. My left foot would be trembling
on the clutch in anticipation as I waited for the moment when I let it in and