June 2015

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Forgotten Hero

There have been many words written about Formula One drivers. Comparisons are made, which herald further stories: Hunt and Lauda, Prost and Senna…. This piece is about a driver who raced in only one Grand Prix and came nowhere due to transmission failure. He did however win 71 Sports Car races in seven years, regularly beating the best of the best. In those days, F1 drivers also raced Sports Cars. Unless you wear an anorak you may not have heard of Archie Scott Brown (1927-1958).

Archie Scott BrownSome time ago I read the book Archie and the Listers by Robert Edwards, with Foreword by Brian Lister, and I can’t get it out of my head. Regular blog readers will know that I have an interest in Lister cars, but this is about the marque’s most amazing driver. Archie Scott Brown was born in Paisley, Scotland. His mother contracted German measles whilst pregnant, and as a result Archie was born with serious deformities. His legs had no bones below the knees (no tibias or fibulas). He had feet but they pointed backwards, not forwards like yours and mine. His right arm stopped at the elbow, and terminated with something that resembled a thumb. After some operations, his feet were broken and rotated to point forwards.

His first race was in his own MG and he was quickly spotted by Brian Lister who signed him up. Due to his obvious disabilities, Archie had trouble obtaining and keeping his race licence. Indeed he was often turned away from foreign races where they would not honour his UK race licence. At the 1956 Italian Grand Prix he qualified his car on pole position but was not allowed to start the race. So how could such a man compete against – and beat – the greatest racing drivers of his era?

Today’s sports coaches will tell you that it is all about self-efficacy, which is the total belief in one’s own ability to the point where someone with lesser ability can still beat someone with greater skill. While I understand the theory, I still find Archie’s achievements amazing. He is a role model for success, and an example to us all. Boxing coaches will tell you, “It is not the size of the man in the fight; but the size of the fight in the man”.

Archie was killed at Spa in May 1958. Race drivers know about Spa’s booby-trap weather; that halfway round a corner the surface can suddenly switch from dry to wet. This happened to Archie when he was leading a race in a Lister-Jaguar and he ran slightly wide at the hauntingly fast Blanchimont section. His right hand front wheel just caught a road sign and broke the steering. The car overturned and burst into flames. Archie died the next day aged just 31. His epitaph reads, “He represented everything that was best in the sport”.

The next time you feel low, or that something is difficult to achieve, think of Archie.