The dangerous reality of racing in ‘Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks’

Brian Redman is a British racing driver who won the 12 Hours of Sebring twice. He also won the Targa Florio (in Sicily) and the American SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 Championship three years in a row, 1974-76. But his victories tell us a lot less than a successful contemporary, like Mario Andretti, sharing personal insights in the introduction to Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks:

Brian Redman has been both my teammate and my competitor. Surprisingly, over 30 years of racing, our careers overlapped just twice, leaving us more peers than pals. Still, I know a lot about Brian. When you’re part of a factory team, you learn if drivers can work together to make everyone faster. And when you’re late braking at 170 for a one-car corner in a tight championship, you find out about the other guy’s car control, and his grit.

In 1972, Brian and I were paired with Jacky Ickx in Ferrari 312PBs, not bad yardsticks for measuring quickness. Neither Ferrari nor Jacky suffered slow teammates gracefully. That year, Jacky and I took four wins with Brian and Jacky notching another two. Essentially, we three drivers ensured that Ferrari won the World Sports Car Championship.

When I raced against Brian in Formula 5000, I discovered something else about him. He fought hard but he fought fair. I felt safe around Brian, knowing his will to win was never more important than his life, or mine. I think we brought out the best in each other, and that made our racing sharper and more fun. We each won a lot of races, and championships; his were in Formula 5000 and sports racers, mine in Formula 1 and Indy cars. No driver can do everything but, as an Italian, I sure wish I had a Targa Florio trophy and I bet Brian wouldn’t mind having his name on one in Indianapolis.

Now it turns out that Brian writes like he drove, right to the point and always with passion. He has managed to cap a pretty terrific racing career with a pretty terrific racing memoir. Buckle up, readers, you’re in for a great ride.

Redman’s book, co-authored by Jim Mullen, is a memoir of one of the most dangerous periods in motor racing, 1965-1975, which happened to correspond with most of Redman’s career.

Of course, the book includes the highs and lows of racing moments at tracks like Daytona, Le Mans and the Nurburgring, and his memories of long-gone greats like Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren and Jochen Rindt. But aside from the racing stage’s drama, the book’s most relatable passage follows. It came on the heels of a testing accident in the small Québec town of St. Jovite when his Lola T333 became airborne, and flipped end-over-end, after a small aerodynamic tweak. When his car landed upside-down and still carrying considerable speed, Redman’s helmet helped slow the car by grinding into the asphalt. “By the time the medics arrived, my heart had stopped but (as is self-evident) they got it running again.”

Two weeks after the accident, the doctors removed the ‘halo’ that immobilised my broken neck, a space age-looking device attached by self-tapping screws to each side of my head, and braced against my shoulders. Finally, with just a collar I could move my neck, if only slightly. In my confused state, this now meant I was fully mobile. I woke at 1.00 a.m., worked my way down the bed, climbed over the bottom rail, pushed the table out of the way, and dropped my legs onto the floor. Triumphantly, I stumbled into the nurses’ room having no idea why I thought this might be prudent. The medical staff went totally berserk and decided I was self-destructive. To prevent further break-outs, they strapped me to the bed with knotted cloths around my legs and waist as if I were a disruptive mental patient. Once again, I had rendered myself helpless until, lesson learned, I became the model patient and the restraints were loosened.

Companionship in this bizarre setting was equally surreal. There was another patient who had sustained spinal injuries and the staff decided that he should be my hospital buddy. Every morning they’d push him to the foot of my bed in a wheelchair so he and I could silently commune. The fact that neither of us ever spoke makes me suspicious that he was as heavily drugged as I was, but stare at each other we did, uncomplainingly for long hours. Out of frustration one day, my new best friend got a gleam in his eye and, with a conspiratorial glance at me, laboured strenuously to free his urine bottle. In what I can only imagine was a statement of befuddled defiance, he hurled it onto the floor. I mention this distasteful prank only to note that it was the single most entertaining thing that happened during my entire hospital convalescence. Life on the ward had come to that.

I recall being quite happy over these weeks but now realise that I was probably just stoned. After more than a month in a narcotic-induced reverie, I was released from the hospital and flew home to England by myself, thankfully in first class. I was oblivious to the fact that there were almost eight months of rehabilitation ahead of me and no visible means of income. In my mentally decoupled way, I really didn’t care.

Retrospective considerations about those days suggest that, even though I was off the drugs, they continued to exercise a negative influence on my mood. All I could do, or chose to do, was lie around Taira House in an uncommunicative silence, expecting to be served by Marion [Redman’s wife] while oblivious to her needs. I couldn’t think clearly, had a hard time paying attention to conversations, and exhibited no interest in anything, including getting well.

It’s also possible that I was suffering a head trauma from being dragged upside-down on the road. There was evidence that I did bruise my brain – giving Marion every opportunity since to insist it was an injury from which I have never recovered. More likely I had received serious concussion, the effects of which were unknown in those days. Slowly my physical health began to return, as did the feeling I had lost between my chest and toes. By November, I was able to take walks in the village of Gargrave, sort of shambling along until, finally, I could even jog a little. The curious thing was that I didn’t feel capable of any sort of driving, even our family car. As a result, Marion was required to add the role of chauffeuse to her multiple obligations.

Bless her, she ferried this morose passenger through the countryside daily, hoping the simple therapy of sunlight and beautiful byways might encourage my return to normality. Astonishingly, Marion’s wish came precisely true, in a most unexpected way…

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, which won the 2016 British Royal Automobile Club Motoring Book of the Year Award, click here.

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