On December 5th, 1975, racing driver Graham Hill was due to appear at a ceremony at which the British Racing Drivers Club was going to honor his achievements as a racing driver.
Hill had won the Grand Prix Championship, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours race during his racing career.
But instead, over two thousand of his friends and colleagues attended his funeral. He had retired from racing just five months previously. Graham was yet another racing driver who had braved the dangerous world of motorsport and the circuits of the world, only to be killed tragically young away from the track.
During his career at least a dozen of his close colleagues had lost their lives on the track.
He was piloting his own aircraft in foggy conditions. He was flying from France back to England accompanied by up-and-coming racing driver Tony Brise and four other members of his fledgling racing team. None survived the crash.
Tony Brise was twenty three years old. Just two days before, in France, had survived horrific crash whilst testing the racing car. The car had been completely totalled Brise was unhurt but two days later boarded the fatal aircraft.
Lord Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret and brother-in-law of the queen was also supposed to be on the flight. He had changed his plans at the last moment.
The air-traffic controller at the airport near London said that he had given Hill permission to land but for reasons unknown to him, went down two miles short of the runway.
The other passengers were team manager Ray Brimble, designer Andy Smallman and two mechanics, Terry Richards and Tony Alcock.
Graham Hill typified Britishness. With his pencil moustache and good looks, he had a David Niven type appeal. Racing driver Jackie Stewart, who was a pallbearer at the funeral, said ‘I think he projected the image of Britain that was correct – of the typical Britisher, cool, calm and collected, never getting ruffled.’
The accident was also a shock to the people of Monaco where Hill had won the Grand Prix five times – three in succession. The ruler of the principality, Prince Rainier, said ‘It is a great loss to the automobile sport as Hill was an excellent technician and equally a leader in the sports world.’
Graham’s son Damon was fourteen when his father died. He too went onto become a Formula One champion, making Graham and Damon the only father-and-son Grand Prix champions. (This record remained until Nico Rosberg won the championship in 2016. His father Keke had been world champion in 1982).
After his retirement from racing he became the president of the British Racing Drivers Club – the organisation that had been intending to honour his father on the day of his funeral. His predecessor was Jackie Stewart. What a tight community the racing world can be.
Damon used the same helmet design as his father. It showed eight white rowing blades on a deep blue background, representing the London Rowing Club for which Graham Hill rowed prior to his racing career.
A partial list of racing drivers who died in air crashes. In many cases, they were piloting the aircraft themselves.
Ron Flockhart (1962)
Curtis Turner (1970)
Lance Reventow (1972)
Jose Carlos Pace (1977)
Harald Ertl (1982)
Richie Panch (1985)
Al Holbert (1988)
Al Loquasto (1991)
Alan Kulwicki (1993)
Davey Allison (1993)
Silvio Oltra (1995)
Ricky Hendrick IV (2004)
David Leslie (2008)
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