Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

No Room At The Inn

Tony Rudlin and Mike Hailwood

Tony Rudlin & Mike Hailwood

Some of the circuits that used to be raced on in the fifties and sixties wouldn't be considered as a car park by the present day drivers. Most of the tracks had grown organically from grass fields for motor bikes, through concrete strips for hotted up saloon cars and graduated to a coat of tarmac to make them look professional. Brands Hatch is a prime example. The track was rough and dangerous and safety barriers none existent. It was considered that it was up to the expertise of the driver to keep his car on the circuit and not try experimental lunges into the boondocks. And the Paddock! That was on a one in ten gradient and the only shelter was half a dozen miserable oblongs with poles supporting a corrugated roof for those lucky enough to get there early. Paddock Bend, with its notorious negative camber, had no run off area and if you lost it on the corner you went straight into the embankment.

Most countries retained tracks of this calibre right up until Jackie Stewart cried enough and banded together The Grand Prix Drivers Association to make tracks safer. An interesting point is that up until the end of the sixties motor racing was, officially, an amateur sport. Which meant that other than what they got from trade sponsors in kind and what the kind benefactors liked to donate, (there was no advertising) the racers got nothing for their efforts. Since the tracks have been cleaned up and regulations have made the cars so safe that serious injuries rarely happen, all the top drivers have become multi millionaires and refuse to race if they don't like the look of the surface or their motor home isn't parked in the right place. Back then the rate of attrition regularly exceeded ten drivers killed a year. Polish driver Robert Kubica's crash in the Canadian Grand Prix illustrates the point nicely. The configuration of the wall where he went in was the sort of structure you would have expected to find forty years ago. The way the car took the impact is pure 21st century.

Osterreichring in Zeltweg, Austria, was one circuit which might be described as 'rural'. Nestling in the valley between the tree covered slopes of the hills surrounding the village, it was picturesque and dangerous. So was the local accommodation. There was only one decent hotel as far as I can remember and you had to book from year to year to get in. One year I arrived to find there had been a glitch and there was no room at the inn. After a heated argument the desk clerk agreed to ring round and see what he could find for me. He found a farm on the outskirts of the village. Very rural! When I was shown to my room I was in for a surprise. On the wall above the head of the bed was a Swastika flag. On the bedside cabinet a photograph of a young man in SS uniform. I pretended not to notice. It seemed like bad manners to comment. A bed is a bed is a bed. Dinner wasn't part of the board and when I returned later that evening the flag had disappeared and the photograph replaced by a vase of flowers.

The following day I was recounting the incident to Mike Hailwood and he told me about the ski lodge he was staying in. He was sure there would be plenty of room there so I collected my bags and bellied up to the reception desk. It wasn't quite as empty as Mike had claimed but I was offered a bunk in a room with a newspaper reporter named Julian. I think he was from the Times. He wasn't best pleased when I told him I was his new cell mate. Later I found out why. That evening a lot of us gathered for dinner in a cantina type place half way up the mountain on the far side of the village. It was a smallish room and was stuffed full of people from the motor racing circus. It all got a bit out of hand and food and objects which could be used as missiles, began to fly around. Denny Hulme, not the most even tempered bloke you were likely to come across, got smacked in the eye by a baked potato and didn't take it too kindly. With a roar he picked up a sauce bottle and hurled in across the room. As a driver he was hard to beat. As a chucker of sauce bottles he was crap. It hit the wife of the only civilian in the room slap between the eyes. The husband wasn't too pleased and started screaming and striking out at everyone around. It was time to go. Amazing how quickly the room cleared when the wronged husband started yelling for the police.

Which left a little band of drivers, mechanics and press men with an evening to fill. Hailwood, a committed insomniac, knew all the best places and directed us to a Night Club half way up a mountain. Well 'Night Club' might be adding too much tinsel. It was a large barn-like room. There were tables and chairs around the periphery of a dance floor and a bar running the length of one side of the building. There were very few locals having a night out and after the incident in our last port of call it was a good sign. As soon as we sat down huge steiners of frothy beer were placed in front of us. Evidently, out of season, you got what you got - no arguments.

There were a few be-dirndl-ed local women around who seemed quite friendly and some of the blokes dropped smoothly into chatting mode. Graham Hill went to the bar and leered at the buxom barmaid and tried to keep out of the argument that was developing between his mechanic, Beaky Simmonds, and one of the locals. MIke had manage to get one of the girls to come and sit with him and was doing a bit of fervent eye gazing and the rest of us were trying to work out a strategy. Suddenly there was a lot of whooping and slapping of thighs and a group of muscular, ledenhosened, Tyrollean hatted foresters skipped gaily onto the dance floor carrying a tree trunk. They tossed the trunk around a bit then put it on the floor and started leaping around slapping their thighs. There was something so incongruous about these butch men skipping around like girls in a nunnery playground that I'm afraid our attitude was less than appreciative. It was also, at this moment, that Beaky grabbed the bloke he was arguing with by the throat and hauled him across the bar. The dancers were not amused.

Everyone shifted their attention to Beaky and were urging him on. The chaos around him went unnoticed by Mike as he chatted amiably to the generously bustenhaltered charmer. This drew the attention of one of the dancers. He clearly wasn't amused. He stopped hopping around in mid thigh-slap and grabbed hold of Mike. Taken by surprise, Mike didn't react at first and only blenched slightly when he got the full strength of his accosters breath. When the man continued to shout and shake Hailwood's shoulder, he suddenly stood up. Unfortunately the man's face got in the way of Mike's head and received a heavy blow. What happened after that was solid Buster Keaton. Graham looked around, decided there was somewhere else he needed to be, urgently, and made a dart for the door. Luckily the heaving foresters were more interested in Mike and the rest of us edged nervously towards the exit. A couple of Mike's mechanics grabbed him and dragged him out the door. By now everyone was in the open and belting down the hill towards the shelter of the ski lodge.

The race next day was a bit of an anticlimax. I think Emerson Fittipaldi won, Denny Hulme and Mike Hailwood did quite well, in the top six anyway, and Graham Hill retired. Not sure what the locals attitude might be, most of us stayed in the hotel to eat that evening. And I found out why Julian was not so keen on my sharing his room. Just as I was about to go to bed he came in and asked me if I would mind sleeping next door in Colin Dryden's room. Colin was the Telegraph's representative. I didn't mind particularly but thought it a bit thick. Julian explained. He had pulled a local girl and wanted somewhere private to explain the more esoteric details of Grand Prix racing. As I left the room he picked up a bottle of deodorant and squirted it down his throat. I looked at him in surprise as he gasped and retched. "Breath" he croaked. I left. The rooms we had were minimalist. One toilet servicing a whole corridor. OK for the burly skiers, I suppose, but a little beneath us racing types. Just as I was about to go to sleep I heard the door of Julian's room open. The slap of bare feet in the corridor and then the choke and splatter of someone attacking the plumbing. This happened two or three times. Eventually I was able to drift off only to be awakened by shouting. It didn't concern me so I went back to sleep.

Early in the morning Julian came into the room. He looked awful. To try and get some sympathy he explained that under arm deodorant isn't the best cure for bad breath. He followed this up by asking if I intended to drive to the airport early. Evidently the shouting I had heard in the night was coming from the owner of the hotel. The lady Julian was entertaining with projectile vomiting was our host's daughter. Our host had promised that when he told her brothers what he had been up to he, Julian, would be treated to something less congenial than a little thigh slapping. So Julian wanted out. Hopefully before the brothers got into gear. I wasn't too keen on the idea of bailing him out. I was up there with the best hurling rude comments at the foresters from the protection of a crowd but the thought of mixing with the tree hackers in their natural habitat brought on an imminent attack of hives. Julian persuaded me that if I parked the car at the side of the lodge he could slide out with his bags and hide in the back. I reluctantly agreed.

I had a nervous breakfast, paid the bill, got my bags and sneaked out to the car. Just as I thought I had got away a voice called my name. It was Mike Hailwood. His car hadn't turned up and he wanted to hitch a ride to the airport. I thought it wise not to apprise him of our hidden passenger while still in the hotel. As we passed the hotel the door open and one of the foresters from the previous evening came out and stood by the side of the road. 'Watch it." I said sotto voce. Julian popped his head up to see what was going on. The fiery foresters caught sight of him and banged on the roof of the car as we passed. I didn't see how I could hand the stowaway over without putting my fragile body in harm's way so I hit the throttled and we careered off down the mountain towards the airport. Two or three times Mike said he could see our pursuers hot on our tail but I think that was just for the benefit of Julian, still cowering in the back.

At the airport I tossed the keys to the girl on the Avis desk and we all bundled through customs. Julian talked the tale up a bit consequently and came out a bit of an heroic figure. But that wasn't the end of it. A week or so later I was going to have lunch with Julian in Wheelers just off Piccadilly. A friend of mine, Fiona Richmond, was appearing in a play in the Whitehall Theatre. Probably Pyjama Tops. I had told her what had happened in Austria and she was amused. She told me she was rehearsing the day I was lunching and suggested we dropped into the theatre afterwards. We were sitting in the auditorium when the stage door keeper came up and asked for Julian. When Julian acknowledged him the door man said there were a couple of Austrian gentlemen at the door asking for him. For a moment I thought he was going to faint. Fiona always did have a wicked sense of humour.

AUSTRIA : WEINER SCHNITZEL

If it's Austria it's got to be Weiner Schnitzel. I'm sure they must have other dishes but I've just never come across them. Goulash is quite common but technically that is a Hungarian dish. There are plenty of desserts to be had but they tend to come with an overwhelming sugar count. I assume that the ideal meal for a night out on the town in Vienna is Weiner Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel washed down with steiners of beer,

INGREDIENTS

4 Large veal fillets
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Black pepper
2 oz Plain flour
2 eggs
3 oz bread crumbs
2 oz lard
1/2 chilli

WHAT TO DO

Gently batter the fillets with a rolling pin until they are tender. Mix the salt and pepper into the flour and coat the veal. Beat the eggs. Carefully dip the fillets into the beaten eggs and then cover in bread crumbs. Dissect the chilli, remove the seeds, chop finely. Heat the frying pan and melt the lard. Place the bread crumbed veal into the hot fat and turn the heat down so that the bread crumbs do not burn. After about 2 minutes flip the fillet over and cook for a further minute. The results, ideally, should be golden brown with no sign of burning. Sprinkle the finely chopped chilli over the fillets.

A simple dish to prepare but it can be ruined by over cooking. It also needs to be served immediately. Best accompaniment: sautéed potatoes and buttered roast marrow.

What you drink with it is up to you. Lager, white wine or, my favourite, water.

Posted 14/7/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing