Le Mans 1955: 84 people killed, 120 injured.
As a society, we’ve traded public health and safety for many of our individual freedoms. Children are vaccinated, water is chlorinated, pollution is regulated, and housing conditions are required to meet a minimum standard. Overall, it’s safe to say that these have benefited mankind and were generally bright ideas for a civilized nation like ours.
But one health and safety advancement draws the ire of petrolheads like no other. It’s a profound indignation that can compare only to that one Thanksgiving at my parents’ house when I brought over the hottest, skankiest girl I could find. It is, of course, the type of purity and driver interaction that petrolheads like to bore their unimpressed girlfriends with. That je ne sais quoi, the X Factor, “it”. We like to think that cars today don’t have it, so they’re nothing more than boring whitegoods and appliances. Unlike the good ol’ days, when cars were alive, men were men, and you could smoke on an airplane. Or so the petrolhead maxim goes.
We collectively look back on the cars of our parents’ generation and of yesteryear with unadulterated envy at the simplicity and uncompromising focus. We imagine ourselves along a winding, empty California blacktop that hugs the edges of the unimaginably vast azure ocean, and as the last remnants of the orange summer sun tuck below the horizon, the crisp Pacific air fills our lungs, giving us the alacrity and drive necessary to test the limits of adhesion and of our own skill with the narrow-tired, wooden-rimmed, open-top roadster that we find ourselves in. The scene is so delicious that you want to thank the chef.
But sometimes, we, as petrolheads, need a short history lesson. We talk about purity, driver interaction, and uncompromising focus as if they are available in isolation and available without trade-offs. It’s almost as if we imagine this coastal driving scene to be the only way that cars are used, as if that’s the route to work. We imagine the world of driving not as a means of transportation, but as a means of enlightenment. And for those of us lucky enough to understand that cars are more than the sum of their parts, cars are enlightenment, but that doesn’t mean that every trip to the mall is hairpins, decreasing radius turns, and driving at ten tenths.
This video, though not for the faint of heart, is a reminder for all petrolheads about the reality that lurks beneath the thin veneer of our idealized nostalgia. Although government regulators of passenger cars are often uselessly reactionary in their decisions and easily persuaded by lobbyists with alternative agendas, and regulating bodies of motorsport are numb to the real risks of racing, the end result is that we are all more likely to survive a crash, to see our families again, to enjoy a summer day with friends again, and to drive that idyllic California highway even just once.
I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.