Gauld, Sitz, Sharp and Vanhoolandt Remember John Surtees
I have known John Surtees since he first started car racing in 1960. He was always a good and helpful friend who would answer your questions probably more honestly than most racing drivers.
I first met him with Jim Clark, when Jim and John were racing in Formula Junior and Formula 1 in 1960. It was John’s first racing season and, remember, he was still racing motorcycles. Indeed thanks to John, Jim Clark had his first Formula 1 Grand Prix drive with Lotus at the Dutch Grand Prix of 1960, when Surtees was away racing his MV Agusta.
In 1962 Surtees married Pat Burke, who was daughter of a Porsche enthusiast in England, and Jim Clark was his best man. However, the marriage ended in divorce.
However, John then met his second wife, Jane, when he was recuperating from one of his racing accidents. It was a very happy marriage and Jane brought a sense of balance and family life to him. I remember visiting him at his home to talk about the great racing driver Reg Parnell, whose biography I was writing. We were in his study when the door was pushed open and his toddler son Henry crawled into the room. John smiled and gently lifted Henry and took him back to his mother then came back and restarted the story.
At the time it demonstrated the calm that had come into his life. It was a calm shattered some years later when Henry, at the age of 18, was killed in a freak accident at Brands Hatch. It was a Formula 2 race and another competitor hit the banking. A wheel was torn off the car which bounced back on to the track and hit young Henry and he died on arrival at hospital. John then set up the Henry Surtees Foundation.
Back in the 1980s after John had retired from active racing I was helping a group in Scotland setting up a small racing car show in Glasgow. They were looking for a personality to open it so I rang John and he immediately agreed to come to Scotland and open the show. It was a typical gesture of John and, if I remember correctly, he accepted just his hotel accommodation and an air fare for he knew that having a racing car show in Scotland at that time was a labor of love rather than a commercial adventure.
Last year the Grand Prix Drivers Club held their Annual General Meeting in Maranello, and many of the members of the club who had driven for Ferrari or had raced Ferraris were there. On the afternoon we arrived there was the sound of a Ferrari approaching and John and his wife Jane arrived having driven close on 1000 miles from his home at Edenbridge to Maranello at the age of 82. That was the kind of man John Surtees was. He could be prickly at times but was essentially a kind and honest man and those of us who had the privilege of knowing him will never forget him.
In the paddock at Dutch Grand Prix in 1970 I encountered John Surtees, whose motorcycle career I had admired years before. Told him that I had been exchanging letters with his secretary Gloria Dollar in reference the new Surtees Grand Prix car. John then told me that I was most welcome to come by their shop in Edenbridge, Kent, when I pleased to.
A few days later I was winding my way through the country lanes in my freshly restored MG TC and arrived to find a keen crew who were busy getting the Surtees TS7 ready for debut. Their business man had worked at RAC, and had color samples of red paint to consider for the Grand Prix car’s final coat. He actually came over to me and politely asked my opinion. I chose one the shade of my beloved red MG. Just imagine British Racing RED.!
Everyone was very nice and it was evident Surtees was that same hands-on man that I had seen during his Can-Am racing. They asked if I was living and working in the UK, but I told them I was flying home and had to get going to crate the MG TC up for safe voyage on the ship. For this Yank it was some vacation in England, and that day with Surtees and crew was very special to me.
A bit about the Henry Surtees Foundation:
In the first twelve months of the new HSF-supported service, Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance have performed 69 emergency blood transfusions. Please help HSF to save more lives, by working with the Air Ambulance service across England and Wales.
Henry Surtees was killed in a freak accident, through no fault of his own, at Brands Hatch on 19 July 2009. He was just 18, and one of the best young drivers of his era.
Inspired by Henry, his experience, and in celebration of his life; with your support HSF will:
– support accident care, with particular emphasis on head injuries
– assist people with brain or physical injuries caused by accident to return to community living through the provision of equipment and facilities;
– provide opportunity to be involved in education and training programmes for young people to help them find a career path and to participate in society as independent, mature and responsible individuals
Donate to the Henry Surtees Foundation