“Movement is Tranquility”
“If everything is under control you are just not driving fast enough.”
“I’m not a driver, I’m a racer.” – Sir Stirling Moss
Introduction on Stirling Moss
Sir Stirling Moss is known by fans around the world as a legendary Formula One race driver with an impressive and extensive record on racing. Out of the 375 competitive races he participated in throughout his career, he has won 212 of those and has driven over 107 different makes and models of cars during that time. However impressive, he is best known as the winner of the 1955 Mille Miglia in a record setting run of 10 hours, 7 minutes, and 48 seconds which has been described by British Journalist Dog Nye as “most iconic single day’s drive in motor racing history”. Today, Sir Moss is enjoying retirement and still takes part in car rallies in support of the racing community while sharing his stories of achievements and adventure.
Via Corsa was able to catch up with Sir Stirling Moss:
Ron-Let’s begin when you were really young, I understand that you lived in a farmhouse outside of London at around 7 or 8. How did you begin racing?
Sir Stirling Moss- My father raced, so I was brought up with competition cars around. So then of course John Heath came around and approached me and said he was going to go to Europe because in England you’re not allowed to race on the roads except on the Isle of Man and Jersey and there was no racing there. So he said I’m going to go to Europe and would I like to join him and Lance Macklin. I was the driver and we would do the races around Europe. So every weekend we would go to a race and then he’d organize his other races
Ron- And what year would this have been?
Sir Stirling Moss- That would have been 1949.
Ron- So in 1951 I see you ran you’re first formula 1 race and then from 52’ onwards you participated in several. What was life like on the road as a Formula 1 Driver back then?
Sir Stirling Moss- Well it was different, of course there very little money around and you’d get paid starting money which you needed that so you could pay mechanics, and for the track and fuel and everything. So therefore the organizers would negotiate with you according to box office appeal in that area. I was lucky because I was very young so it gave me something to advertise, we did 50 or 60 races a year, driving around on the road from one place to another and staying in small hotels. Invariably going with John Heath and his car, he had a Citroen and we’d quite often go with him or sometimes we’d take another car.
Ron- Let’s talk a little bit about racing in Italy.
Sir Stirling Moss- Race car drivers in Italy are fairly looked up to by the public and they always have been looked up to.
Ron- Right. Let’s talk the Mille Miglia and life before, during, and after the race.
Sir Stirling Moss– We used to stay at the Count Maggi who was very pro-English an Italian Count. Count Maggi was an official but also he was behind the race and organized it. The English drivers which were usually about 50 or 60 would usually stay with him in his castle. (About practicing beforehand for the Mille Miglia) you see to do one lap in the Mille Miglia in normal running would take at least two days you know because it was 500 miles in a day and you start at 6 in the morning and go right through the day and it was pretty hard work. And I’d only do shall we say 5 laps in the year. Practicing and making road notes and things.
Ron- During the actual race around Italy, you would drive along secondary roads, no Autostrada.
Sir Stirling Moss– We didn’t use them and instead used ordinary roads. The amazing thing about them was that they were a 1000 miles long and the roads weren’t closed and of course the Italians were so keen they kept on the roads as much as they could. And there were a lot of trucks on the road and such that they would come up to that were going either way and the Italians would flash their lights or blow their horns at them and such and they would pull over and let you go straight-away. It’s a way of life for the Italians, they have so much enthusiasm for going fast and people would get together and say let’s take part in this event. The first car waited at 9 o’clock at night at half intervals. By the time you’d get to midnight you’d have about 180-360 cars. And then I went at 7:22 in the morning and cars had been leaving at one minute intervals so I’d be the last car you know after 400 or 600 cars. Your confidence as a drive was pretty limited so you were used to racing around in his Fiat. On the road there were no flag marshals at all, because when you pass them you’re not going to see them so there’s no point in that.
Ron- I didn’t know that there was truck traffic, or regular traffic on the roads during the Mille Miglia I thought that they were closed off.
Sir Stirling Moss- No, No. The roads were not closed off. People would get off them but they were not closed. You couldn’t close them. What you realize is that the Italian enthusiasm some of them would go to the top of the (?) and they’d have a cup of coffee or something up there and watch however many hours they wanted to watch because it took place over many hours. It took me over 10 hours to do it and some of those cars were taking 23 or 24 hours.
Ron- Now leaving at 7:22 in the morning and all those cars in front of you, you must have passed 3, 4, 500 hundred cars.
Sir Stirling Moss- Oh yes, plus there were cars off the road and some even burning. It got pretty wild.
Ron- Plus your truck traffic, goats, cows, I mean what else was there, what other obstacles were there?
Sir Stirling Moss- Well there was all sorts of different things. You’ve got refrigerated trucks, and then you’ve got people who live locally and want to go from… let’s say that live in a town you’d go from one position and then after 2 or 3 hours you’d move on to another position because the roads were still open but obviously the Italians would get on and they would get out of the way. So I mean it was just an incredible thing, and the Italians are like them so to have a race like that which took so long was just quite extraordinary really.
Ron- Now I read a story after the Mille Miglia that you drove to Munich for breakfast, Stuttgart for lunch and then slept in Cologne?
Sir Stirling Moss- Yeah, we went back to the factory in Stuttgart and after the race, Fangio before the race gave me a little white pill, I had no idea what it was and then I took it and then this pill suddenly kept me awake you know because it was a long race about over 10 hours. And then you’ve got an hour of (serve racing?) and all that stuff. So then after I got in my personal car not my racing car and drove back up to Stuttgart to see the directors and everything for the next day. You know and obviously you’ve got a lot of press around and have to read to them and talk to them about everything.
Ron- Now when the race was finished, someone would win, would there be big driver celebrations or would everyone just pack up their stuff and leave and go to the next place?
Sir Stirling Moss- Well obviously there would be a celebration when someone crossed the line and do a lap and sort of thing and then you would go back to pits and obviously do autographs and that sort of thing but then we’d go back to the hotel, sleep the night and then go on to the next race meeting wherever that might be, another country, the following day. Meanwhile all the mechanics of course would get all the cars all into the trucks and depending on what sort of facilities they had because they would go to different garages you see? Quite often you’d go to see a garage and another garage and you’d see and usually the mechanics would be some boy around that would help fix and carry. And so they’d prepare or repair the car for the following event.
Ron- Alright I understand, thank you very much! Those are all of my questions unless you have any added stories or antidotes about anything else about your racing career or what happened before or after the race.
Sir Stirling Moss- Well after the race, I guess chased girls I guess, and then you’d usually move on to the next race because the race was usually over by Sunday night and then on Monday morning depending on where you were and how far you’d get to go. I mean Lance Macklin who we both drove on the same team would go see his mother because she had a house in the south of France and go down there for a couple of days. That sort of thing, but I’d say it was a very nice life. I enjoyed it very much.
Ron- Now when you would reach the other races and there would be all the other race car drivers, what was the atmosphere like among all the drivers? It seems like today it’s a little stand-offish and a little too competitive.
Sir Stirling Moss- Really then the restriction was of course that anyone who couldn’t speak English or German or anything. Luckily I can’t speak many languages; I can make myself known in Italian and in French and English otherwise. But the drivers, if there were able to speak the same language we’d go out together and have a meal together and go shopping together; all in all it was pretty social.
Ron- Did you have any particular favorite hangouts around Spa or Silverstone or the Nurburgring, that you would frequent, you and the other drivers?
Sir Stirling Moss- Usually it would relate I guess to the value. Nurburgring had a hotel actually in the grandstand sort of thing, which wasn’t very good but it was fairly cheap but not very good insulation. I remember in the heat of summer it was tremendously hot. But then you’d go to Spa and quite a few hotels and then you’d get to know the owners and you’d stay there during the race.
Ron-Tell me a little bit about the fan interactions. I mean today formula 1 drivers they are all but untouchable, back then how close could the fans get?
Sir Stirling Moss- Oh very close! I mean sometimes they were a bloody nuisance but they were an importance for us. I soon found out if I’m the last left round waiting on the public and way back, and I thought if I wait then people will think I’m fairly popular here and they’d pay me more start money the following year.
Ron- Of all the race circuits that you’ve been to, is there one particular bar or restaurant that was your favorite that you would always frequent?
Sir Stirling Moss- I would say the old Nurburgring was the greatest change of all and Spa was a lovely place too and the hotels weren’t too expensive. Obviously what mattered first of all was, what have I find that they were going to pay us to, not me as a driver, because John Heath would give me 25% of starting money. Then after a year or two he put me up to 33 or a third, and then we’d go 50/50.
Ron- Now that you’ve finished racing and you’re retired, you now live in London Mayfair full time. What’s your favorite weekend get-away when you’ve got a chance to take the car out and drive somewhere. Where do you go and what do you do?
Sir Stirling Moss- Well, I mean mostly you know if there’s a race going on somewhere, we’ll probably bring that up on television and watch how that goes but mostly the same as other people, what they do on a Sunday.
Ron- Do you have a favorite drive somewhere outside of London, Cornwall, Scotland?
Sir Stirling Moss- Well the point is that the roads are pretty crowded here in England actually so if you can get up to Scotland that’s much less crowded and there’s some really good roads. But I don’t really do that because I’m fairly busy with everything else.
Ron- Thank you so much for your time!