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Peter Revson
September 23, 1974
After 14 years as a racing driver, Peter Revson was near the top—handsome, rich, a winner. And then came the spring of 1974
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September 23, 1974

Speed With Style

After 14 years as a racing driver, Peter Revson was near the top—handsome, rich, a winner. And then came the spring of 1974

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And I would be lying if I said accidents don't worry me. They mean I won't finish a race. I don't like pain, but I have a high threshold. If I were to be in a serious accident, I've decided I could live with the consequences and some are very unpleasant. I have heard people say they'd rather be dead than disfigured. I don't agree. If I were in a really bad wreck, I'd spend some of the money I've saved on plastic surgery. I've seen racing drivers who have had very bad accidents and who are back driving race cars. They don't look like Valentinos—but people don't turn away from them in horror, either. I'd be thankful my faculties were still intact.

MANDEL: If 1973 was an unsatisfactory year for Peter Revson, 1967 was tragic for his brother Douglas, although perhaps he never knew it. He was killed that year.

Douglas Revson died in a small single-seater race car on a wet track in Spain. The news of his death saddened the racing community for the obligatory moment, but it didn't distract it much. After all, Douglas Revson was just another rich kid playing at racing, and that kind of thing can be expected to happen. Few people outside sports-car racing on the East Coast knew Douglas.

Peter Revson could have been killed in 1967, and that would have been newsworthy. People knew Peter. He had already made his mark.

Peter was a rich kid in the minds of racing people, too, but if by the year of his younger brother's death he wasn't a superstar, there was still something about him and something about his driving that demanded he be taken seriously. At least not written off as just another preppie making noises about being a race driver instead of going into his father's business.

Douglas Revson never quite escaped that image. He was an intense, moderately good-looking young man. His rides were acceptable but the problem was that they were his rides, which is to say he owned the cars he drove. If one is any good at all, or promises to be any good, one does not have to buy a car to go racing. Johnny Longden or Willie Shoemaker did not have to own their own horses: it is almost as cut-and-dried in racing. Doug Revson owned everything he drove. By the time of his death, though, his older brother was being paid to race somebody else's cars and was very much a man of his own.

Thus, there was explanation enough for Peter Revson's occasional truculence toward his fellow racers. If everybody in the pits and in the grandstand thought that the profits from 100 million tubes of Orange Flip lipstick were buying your car, you'd tend to be a little testy, too. There was his prep school background, hinting of great family wealth: Hotchkiss, an elegant school in the fine Eastern tradition; Williston Academy, then on to Cornell and Columbia. In those days Revson was convinced that everyone figured he was floating to his successes on a sea of Intimate.

International racing in the 1960s was not so complicated as it is now. There were three formulas: Formula I, the major leagues, and Formula II and Formula Junior, the minors. There was room for only a few top drivers in Formula I, and so the Junior circuit was large and populated by very fine young drivers. Back in the 1963 season Revson raced against the likes of Peter Arundell, Denny Hulme, Frank Gardner, Mike Spence, Jo Schlesser, Gerhard Mitter, David Hobbs and Jochen Rindt. It was a fine, carefree life. At Monte Carlo, where there were almost 70 entries for the preliminary race to the Grand Prix, Revson camped with the other Junior drivers on the beach in front of some high-rise buildings—a band of gypsies living hand-to-mouth. He remembers looking up at the Hotel de Paris and realizing that this was where the Grand Prix drivers stayed. It would be romantic to report that Revson wistfully hoped that he might be staying there himself one day. But it wasn't hope; he was counting on it.

Revson raced well enough to merit note. In England, Reg Parnell, who had been following Revson's progress on the Continent, offered him a place for the following year on his Formula I team. Parnell was going to run a pair of ex-works Lotus 25s for Chris Amon and Mike Hailwood in order to develop his own car. He would use Revson as a test driver. But Reg Parnell died during the winter.

Parnell's son Tim took over the team, but it wasn't the same. Tim was not experienced and he was not paternal. Tim Parnell made a deal for Revson to drive a Lotus BRM in Formula I under the name of Revson Racing. That way it would sound as though it were a different team altogether and that would mean additional starting money.

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