Life and Death on the Grand Prix Circuit

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Back in high school I used to run track and cross-country with a guy who threw up before every race. It was a simple stress reaction that he’s hopefully outgrown.

That was just running. Odds of death or injury were pretty slim. Which makes me wonder why race car drivers aren’t puking all over the place before the green flag falls.
The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit

I just finished reading Michael Cannell’s book, The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit. It’s the story of how Phil Hill became the first American Formula One champion. A critical part of that story is how Hill battled his nerves. Not only did he often vomit before a race he also faced “…a debilitating sinus condition, muscle spasms, heart palpitations and an ulcerous inability to digest solid food. In the company of daredevils he was reduced to eating jars of baby food.”

1961 Monaco Grand Prix Start (Sportscardigest.com)

Part of Hill’s internal struggles were self-doubt, but part was also the reality of racing during that era. Cannell points out that at one point, grand prix drivers had a 33% survival rate. That means only one out of every three drivers survived their sport.

One of those victims was Hill’s main competition for the 1961 title, Count Wolfgang von Tripps. While the Count was born with a title, he didn’t get the silver spoon. Von Tripps earned his way through the ranks to become a Ferrari team driver. Of course, Cannell explains that part of the reason was because many of the potential front-runners died.

The book also gives great insight into Enzo Ferrari. Detailing quirks and oddities that created the enigmatic legend.

The book is great read and even people who know nothing about the sport will enjoy Cannell’s story telling. In fact, Cannell not only didn’t know anything about racing, he doesn’t even own a car.

Anyone involved with modern racing knows the dangers. No matter how long we go between tragedies, we always know the possibility exists. This book is a reminder of how far we’ve come and the bravery of those who paved the way.

You can watch a video trailer of the book here.

Here is a great video of the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix showing all the players from the book.

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