Monday, October 17, 2011

Wheldon, Reno and Levegh

Between last month's air race tragedy in Reno and yesterday's terrible news about Dan Wheldon, I can't help but think about Pierre Levegh and what was arguably the worst sporting disaster of all time.

On June 11, 1955, Levegh drove a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in the 24 hours of Le Mans. The car was constructed with a magnesium alloy frame, chosen for it's extraordinary strength and lightness. After a series of clips and miscalculations, Levegh hit an earth embankment and the Mercedes became airborne, decapitating a number of people in the crowd. The car's highly flammable frame ignited into a fireball, burning a number of other spectators to death. Although tallies vary, conservative accounts reported 84 people killed, 76 maimed and dozens more injured.

Now then, dear reader, consider this:

On that day more than 56 years ago, in an aftermath coated in blood and death and gore, the race organizers demanded that the track be cleaned up and the race restarted.

Mike Hawthorn, driving for the Jaguar team, went on to take the win.

* * *


Anonymous said...

Very, very sad. While not a passionate racing fan, I, like many sports fans, kinda keep up with the sport and particularly the Indy 500. Had seen a piece on Dan and his family there this year.

For some reason I imagine Philbilly helping get that '55 race back underway while saying something like "Hey, we're the guys that smacked Hitler in the mouth. We came here to race now lets go race, and pass me that Allen wrench."


P.S. Scenario above offered with tongue firmly planted in cheek lest PB think I am being disrespectful.

philbilly said...

Mercedes finished the 1955 season and then left auto racing for forty years.

The catch fence into which Dan Wheldon crashed is a direct result of the aftermath of 1955.

I've worked as a professional open-wheel crew mechanic, the drivers are a separate breed. Close kin of fighter pilots.

I do believe open wheel racing should return to road courses only like Cleveland Burke Lakefront. City street venues like Long Beach also generate big revenue and civic pride, but cramming them on ovals is easier for the promoters. As yesterday showed, this ain't NASCAR.

Bad day.

DogsDontPurr said...

I think racing should come to an end. Think of the nasty carbon footprint. The drivers in this race were actually complaining of the smog from the exhaust from the race cars themselves. And that doesn't even count the carbon footprint of all the motorhomes, the cars and miles driven by the spectators, etc.

And then there is the extreme risk of life. 225 mph in an open car is insane. 33 years old is wayyy too young to die.

I used to be a huge race fan. I've met Mario Andretti. But this was just too much. This crash put me over the edge. It just seems so wrong in so many ways.

Kirk said...

Dig the announcer with what sounds like an upper-crust British accent say "Rightly so, the race must go on!"

Not a sport for weak stomachs, by jove.

As for the carbon footprint, all the races in a given year probably doesn't equal a commute to and from downtown Cleveland in a given week. That's not to say racing is good for the environment, only to keep it in perspective.

Bill said...

DDP, I'm assuming you're being facetious. Right? Except for the part that 33 is way to young to die.

Kirk said...

I just reread my comment. Just so there's no misunderstanding, I meant the total number of people going to and from downtown Cleveland in a single week. Obviously, one driver going back and forth won't have a bigger impact than an auto race.

DogsDontPurr said...

@Bill~ No, not facetious at all.

@Kirk~ Every bit of unnecessary carbon footprint that we can eliminate, the better. In my humble opinion.

Maybe they should start racing hybrids or Smart Cars...wouldn't *that* be cute?! (Bill, you can decide if this last sentence was facetious or not.)

Erin O'Brien said...

Oh man, Indy cars.

Although I don't follow the circuit anymore, my history goes back so so far mainly because Dad was such an enthusiast. I commented on another thread about the stunning D-type at the 28 second mark in the embedded vid. Old habits die hard.

You're damn right DDP, but I can't help myself. I miss all the old car guys and always love it when Phil drops in nostalgic because goddamn if I don't remember.

Regarding the shocking restart, someone over at YouTube made this comment:

All these people in this video were within strong living memory of the 2nd world war. Many had seen death and lost loved ones in the war that ended in 1945. So only ten years later (1955) It does not suprise me that the authorities and the fans would continue on with the race despite the deaths. They had a completely different mind set in comparison to the people of today in Europe.

yeah, yeah.

I miss the old car guys. The old car guys aren't coming back. Goddamn those old guys.

Look at that goddamn D-type, would you? Just look at that goddamn D-type.

twinkly sparkles said...

Not my cup of tea, but very interesting, Erin. I, of course, had never known about this racing incident. I appreciate this blog entry about it.
As far as commuter pollution, yes, I agree. Unsustainable is the word. One lone person in 95% of the cars I see every day, day in, day out, mine included. It's all wrong. I love carpooling, but our cars are becoming like everything else we crave. Me me me. Comfort at every moment. Personal listening devices. Shit. I was gonna say "don't get me started," but already done did it.

Don't idle your cars, peeps. It's a huge and unnecessary gas-waster. You are not in your living room! Deal with it!
I was gonna say "thanks," but perhaps an apology is in order...I'll try not to rant again for a while. I think the last time I did was when you posted about the Florida man who hit a guy over the head with a frying pan. I'll have to look that up.

Bill said...

twinkly. It's called human progress. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. Don't feel guilty about it. People with a small carbon footprint live to be about 50. We need to help them get bigger carbon footprints so they can live more comfortable longer lives.

Erin O'Brien said...

Nope, Bill, not anymore. Maybe once it was but now it's just a bunch of overfed slobs who can't deal with the problems before them.

Twinks nails it. The idea of streetcars and public transportation was right--a collective solution that pooled needs with resources.

But no, no, no, we overfed slobs scream at the top of our lungs about Our Rights!, all the while failing to recognize the simple addiction that ails us.

We're about to welcome human #7 billion to the earth. If we're not careful--and I doubt we will be--we'll end up drowning in our own waste.

Bill said...

Erin: Challenging? Sure. But, humankind has always learned how to solve probalems and move forward. Jeffrey Sachs is one of the biggest lefties I've ever watched/listened to. He's a regular guest on MSNBC. He has opinions. Here's one from the article you post:
"When poor families have six or eight children, many or most of them are virtually condemned to a lifetime of poverty. Too often, parents lack the wherewithal to provide decent nutrition, health care and education to most of them. Illiteracy and ill health end up being passed from generation to generation. Governments in poor countries are unable to keep up, their budgets overmatched by the need for new schools, roads and other infrastructure."

I love it when he says, "many or most of them" Is it many? Or, is it most? He doesn't have a clue. What's many?

I really don't like the "woe is me" crap.

Judy said...

1955 seems callous but I believe people thought differently about death at that the intervening years, we have tried to make people invincible...tried to make people immortal rather than realizing we all die sooner or later...

It's always sad though when a loved one is lost...

Bill said...

Erin, I've found the solution to the earth's problems. The Solution

TC said...

Sporting disaster? What sport?

Watching that crash, I could hear Dr. Death licking his chops, and taste the aerosol spray of loose spittle... he's one of those sporting types.

Human progress? Give us a break, please. Driving a piece of metal into the walls of the Stone Age and going out in a ball of fire, that's pure regression, another small step for mankind in the race to prove chimpanzees were far superior in intelligence.

Nostalgia for Termination may be popular with a lot of people. But so were the Miami Chill.

The first comment by DogsDontPurr nails all this forever. And there's a witness who's owned three Porsches, and wants a Ferrari.

Erin O'Brien said...

Bill, I watched the clip and couldn't tell you for the life of me what the point of it was. Satire? The hate/media people laughing at it?


Hi TC.

TC said...

Good morning, Erin.

Double huh on that video. Always lovely to have one's time wasted.

Last vehicle I owned was a powder blue 1953 Chevy pickup truck.

Coming over a mountain road I clipped a "fellow motorist".

Dude turned out to be the son of a CHP officer, who was waiting at my door when I got home.

Left that truck by the side of a road and walked away from it. (Old Indian trick.)

Have never once missed that patriotic feeling of foot on gas pedal.

Bury the cars, bury the cell phones, wake up to the first day of the rest of your life.

Bill said...

Erin, TC, the clip addresses your concern that we are a dying world and that big banks, big oil, big pharm, etc. are the problems. And it implies some miraculous resolution that is supported by the likes of Deepak. Of course it's laughable. At least, I thought it was funny.

TC said...


Now it IS getting funny.

The air is thick with miraculous resolutions, these nights.

Last night at the intensely bleak and forlorn Occupy site in Our Town, an elderly Japanese-American woman in a wheelchair, child of WWII internment camps, explained that she had been miraculously healed, after a serious knee injury, by a sort of Mage, who had channeled a sort of column of white light into her body, and lo, she was once again whole.

However she was not able to rise from her wheelchair to prove this point.

When I told her I wouldn't mind siphoning-off a bit of that energy for my own personal use, she explained that it's free of charge, but that it must be summoned twice daily, at nine in the morning and nine in the evening.

This conversation was occurring at about ten p.m. So naturally I asked if she had just received her lucid columnar dose.

She then explained that, No, her practise involves a time-translation, as the healer himself had been European, and what with the nine-hour time difference, she said, that means midnight our time.

I asked if the healer delivers these energy blasts personally, albeit from that great distance.

"Oh no," she said. "He has passed away."


You, me, Erin, Dan Wheldon, may light come to each of us in her/his time of need.

Erin O'Brien said...

~~light shine on me~~

Bill said...

TC, Yes! Now is a good time and, it's almost 9.

TC said...

Close eyes.

Fasten seatbelts.

Thirty seconds to go.

Concentrate hard.

Open unto the Light.

Let us all be beamed up together.

philbilly said...

I spoke today with an associate who knows racing. Indy car owners pushed for technology that lowered the costs and financial risks by evening out the fields, forcing single-specification engines, chassis and tires, etc. With this bland equalization the field bunches up in a pack and waits out attrition.
Add in small banked ovals where it is not required to lift the throttle and the flat out racing creates a draft that means front runners can't outrun the pack. So much so, that the promoters have been touting the closeness of the field, carnival barking the impending danger because true competition was weeded out. The old road courses and flat banked ovals of yore where skill and innovation created the edge have indirectly contributed to highway safety for decades; disc brakes, fuel tank placement, etc. Dan Wheldon was in fact a test driver for a new safer design to debut next year.

All for securing profit. It is okay for the drivers to risk it all, and face competition, but not the owners, they manipulated the rules to avoid exposure. Sound familiar? The owners created this hazard deliberately, and they have blood on their hands. Fuck every single one of them.

The audience for this venue is 10% of the numbers viewing when Indy Car was a competitive brand, so well done, greedy bastards. Literally killing the geese that lay the golden eggs.

The next hot venues will incorporate alternative fuels and technologies like algal and cellulosic ethanol, kinetic energy regeneration(KERS) and hybridization.

Anonymous said...

"Fuck every single one of them."-PB