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The massacre which occurred this week confirms the responsibility of those who don't prevent other men from exposing themselves to an atrocious death.... There is an insistent demand that these racing exhibitions be prohibited because they are not necessary to the progress of the machine.... And the drivers? The Marquis de Portago had written an article for Sports Illustrated. The unhappy man declared that nothing terrified him more than to lose control of his machine. This is the victim speaking. He teaches and warns without knowing he is doing so.... All racing, which is a race to death, must be abolished.
A young man was killed in Italy, racing his automobile. This young man has an article in this week's Sports Illustrated, and in this article he says this: "Racing is a vice." In other words, car racing had so gripped him, was so in his blood, that he had to race automobiles even though he knew it might mean death.
With the nation's foremost auto race, the Indianapolis "500" on Memorial Day, just around the corner, the racing world was astir last week with controversy over the Mille Miglia accidents and their toll of 13 dead. First there were attacks on city-to-city racing on public roads and then a broader assault, from some quarters, on all auto racing. The attacks came partly from responsible individuals and organizations genuinely shocked by the death toll and partly from persons who saw a chance to capitalize on the headlines.
At Indianapolis, where an apple-cheeked young man named Patrick James O'Connor seized the pole position for the "500" in the first day of qualifying trials, the Mille Miglia echoes were, however, faint. As a matter of fact, American racing perhaps never before displayed such vitality. After a driver's death and an extraordinary number of accidents during practice, Saturday's trials attracted a crowd of 130,000—to watch just nine cars qualify on a day that was forecast to be, and was, peppered with rain.
Except for its possible effect on the decision of Detroit automobile makers to meet June 6 and reappraise their involvement in stock car racing and performance trials, the Mille Miglia was hardly mentioned. But Detroit's case of nerves over the horsepower race and its recent excursions into competition was not exactly new. The manufacturers have been jumpy for some time over the possibility (real or imaginary) of a legislative ceiling on horsepower and have bent over backward upon occasion to free their products from the "taint" of speed.
The commotion over racing, however, raised questions that deserved to be answered. The clubs responsible for Italian auto racing reacted quickly and wisely by suspending all further open-road racing during 1957, snatching the initiative from politicians who howled for an immediate ban on all road racing.
The central question is whether cross-country racing should continue, and the almost universal answer is no. Speaking for drivers, the world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, says the Mille Miglia should never be held again, because it is too dangerous. There can be no doubt that today's racing cars are too powerful for the ancient, narrow and winding roads of the Italian race, where evidently the spectators cannot be given reasonable guarantees of safety. The same appears to be true of open-road racing everywhere.
The United States discovered early—in the old days of the Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island—and rediscovered in races on public roads in the postwar sports car boom, that the danger to spectators was too great. Such racing no longer exists in the U.S. Mexico, once notoriously casual in its attitude toward racing, has not held its Pan-American road race since the ghastly slaughter of 1954.
Country after country has discovered that it could not in good conscience support city-to-city racing, which has now become as untypical of racing in general as the citing of the bulls by the public in the streets of Pamplona is a formal bullfight. The Mille Miglia, aside from an occasional event in Sicily and South America, was the last, and certainly the most important, race of its kind.
City-to-city racing is probably doomed then, and justifiably so, but what of racing in general?