Roger Diez: Stirling Moss dies at 90
Racing lost one of its legends last week, as Sir Stirling Moss took his last checkered flag at the age of 90 after a long illness. Considering the era in which he raced, it is amazing that he lived as long as he did. Moss was an absolute wizard in a race car, driving in the era of open cockpit cars with skinny tires, no seat belts or roll bars, minimal helmets, and too many fatalities. Indeed, Moss’s career was cut short by an accident at Goodwood in 1962 that almost killed him and left him in a coma for nearly a month. In his autobiography, “All But My Life” Moss said that he had taken a lot out of motor racing but in return he had given it all but his life.
Moss’s Formula 1 career spanned 10 years and 66 Grand Prix races. He won 16 of them, a 24% win average, impressive in any era. He also scored 16 poles and 24 podium finishes. He is known as the best driver never to win a Formula 1 championship, largely due to his loyalty to British machinery. Despite retiring from top-level racing at age 32 due to his near-fatal accident, he continued to compete until age 81, compiling a lifetime record of 212 wins in 529 races. I recall him racing at the Laguna Seca Historic Races a number of years ago, when a steward friend of mine had him black-flagged and put on the trailer for overaggressive driving.
Moss had racing in his genes. His father Arthur, a dentist and amateur racing driver, finished 14th in the Indy 500 in 1924, five years before Stirling’s birth. Sadly, Moss’s 1962 accident prevented him from joining fellow UK drivers like Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and Jim Clark from competing in the iconic race.
Moss had iconic stories of his own, however. His 1955 Mille Miglia win in a Mercedes 300SLR was the stuff of legend. Moss bested 534 other starters including factory entries from Ferrari, Maserati, and Aston Martin, as well as three other factory Mercedes. Moss averaged 97.96 mph, covering nearly 1,000 miles of open Italian roads in 10 hours, 7 minutes, and 48 seconds. And he lost the 1958 Formula 1 championship by a single point to Mike Hawthorne after Moss protested Hawthorne’s disqualification from the Portuguese Grand Prix and had it overturned. Moss later said, “I had no hesitation in doing it… the fact that he was my only rival in the championship didn’t come into my thinking. Absolutely not.” Personally, I would like to see that kind of sportsmanship in racing today.
In the latter half of the 1960s Johnson Wax sponsored the Can-Am series and hired Moss as the series commissioner to gain more visibility in the sport. He also occasionally drove the pace car for the series. My only claim to kinship with Moss was waving to him from my flag station at Laguna Seca’s turn 3 as he went by on the pace lap. But he was, and will always be, one of my heroes of the sport. Godspeed, Sir Stirling.