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Sportsmanship In Racing – The Mark Of A Champion

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Motor sport is something I am very passionate about but so often the poor sportsmanship in racing overshadows a lot of the racer’s skill. A lot of it has to do with the sheer amount of money at stake; there is a lot of pressure on a racer to perform because otherwise someone is going to be very out of pocket. The problem is that often this means racers are more interested in winning than the welfare of their fellow racers, which is a very sad thought.

This is not always the case though, sometimes we get to see some really wonderful sportsmanship which is what I am writing this for. I am going to highlight some of the most powerful and heart-warming acts of racing sportsmanship and camaraderie that I can think of.

I am going to start with what I think is one of the most harrowing and heart wrenching pieces of video I have ever seen. I am putting this one first because ultimately it is one of the best examples of not only sportsmanship, but friendship and humanity too, that you are likely to see on the internet. The other reason it is first is because it is so sad that I don’t want you to finish reading this piece feeling down so I am aiming for it to get more positive as you read on.

David Purley & Roger Williamson

The video shows an awful crash at the 1973 Holland Formula One Grand Prix. Roger Williamson’s car had suffered from a flat tyre, causing him to go straight into the barriers, which he bounced off turning his car upside down and scraping across the track. The petrol tank ignited, exploding into a fireball with Williamson still inside, the car came to a rest at the side of the track with Williamson very much alive trapped in the car.

His friend and fellow driver, David Purley, stopped quickly behind him and jumped out of his car, ran across the track and over to Williamson’s car and began trying to get him out. The video becomes very difficult to watch at this point, when Purley cannot get him out, despite spraying a whole fire extinguisher on the car the fire keeps going and none of the marshals can help. The officials are often called cowards for standing there doing nothing but what people fail to realise is that they were just civilians, in normal clothing. That fire would have been 700ºC and they simply could not get near it, where as David Purley had a fireproof suit on.

The one thing that has been heavily criticised was the fact that the race was not stopped. This meant the fire engine could not go at full speed to reach the accident and by the time it got there, eight minutes after the crash, Roger Williamson had suffocated in his suit. A heart breaking story and frankly a very hard video to watch, David Purley’s determination to rescue his friend and body language when he realises he can’t save him is enough to jerk a tear in even the most hardened person.

Although it is sad it does at least show the level of compassion he had for a fellow racer and his selfless nature. He instantly gave up his position in the race to jump out and help and after the accident he nursed his car back to the pits at 20mph, one can only imagine what he would have been going through as he returned.

Ayrton Senna & Erik Comas

This story is a tale of two halves that unfortunately does not end happily ever after. I said this list would get more positive, I didn’t say it would happen right away! The first bit is nice so don’t worry it’s safe to read on for now.

Many will already know the story of Ayrton Senna and Erik Comas, Senna is pretty much the biggest Formula One legend of all time but not just for his racing, for the way he acted too. This clip shows the point just after fellow racer Erik Comas has quite a nasty accident, during which he was knocked unconscious and left stranded in his car in the middle of the track. Senna was next round the corner, saw the wreckage and stopped, what you may not understand from the video is that Comas’ car was revving at full speed. Senna heard this, got out of his car and ran over to turn off Erik’s car; if he had not done this there is a strong chance the car would have exploded or at the very least started a fire. Senna almost certainly saved Comas’ life that day.

The sad part happens two years later at the 1994 San Marino Grand prix, a day that most Formula One fans will know. Senna was leading the race and ended up coming off the track and collided very hard with the concrete barrier which causes severe damage to the vehicle ultimately ending in Senna’s death. The front right wheel was forced up and into the cockpit where it struck the front of his head, pushing his head back against the headrest causing fatal skull fractures, even through his helmet.

The next part of the story is still misunderstood by many in the racing community, the part involving Comas. It was believed that there was a miscommunication in the pit lane that allowed Comas to leave the pits and start racing again around the red flagged race, the commentator at the time said it was one of the most ridiculous things he had ever seen. It was not revealed until later that as soon as Comas heard Senna had been in a terrible crash he shot out of pit lane at race speed and screamed round to where the accident was, in the hope that he would be able to help the man who had saved his life two years ago. Unfortunately by the time he reached the accident Senna was already being put into the helicopter and Comas was left, unable to help on the track. Another very heart breaking moment of one racer not being able to help another, it still shows that when things really go wrong, it is possible for racers to forget about the rules and simply want to help one another.

Oklahoma Sports Park Oct 1

The next example is not like the first two in that they were internationally renowned racers competing at top level with a large fan base. This example takes place during the Annual Stock Car Nationals at the Oklahoma Sports Park, a small event in comparison to the previous two but that does not make what happened any less courageous and heart warming. You don’t have to do something in front of a huge crowd to be a hero.

As you can see in the clip, there was quite a serious accident which resulted in that fatal combination of a flipped car leaking fuel which ignited, the situation looked dire.

Marshals arrive on the scene and begins attempting to put the fire out although none seem to be trying to get the driver free. This may be down to a similar situation at Roger Williams’ accident where the marshals for some reason do not have fireproof gear on. Kip Hughes jumps out of his car and arrives on the scene and immediately rushes to get driver Terry Muskrat, out of the vehicle.

Hughes can be seen literally ripping parts of the vehicle off in order to get to his fellow racer. At this point all worries about finishing the race have left Hughes, he clearly does not care about the race and simply wants to get Muskrat out! A real display of sportsmanship and care for another human being and the best part is that is does manage to get him out! A happy ending finally.

V8 Supercars Bathurst 1000

The final example of sportsmanship comes from the V8 Supercars again, clearly these racers are actually very nice people. Oddly enough though it is Craig Lowndes involved again but this time it is him that shows compassion for his fellow driver. This clip shows Warren Luff and Craig Lowndes colliding during a heated practice session with Warren Luff’s car ending up on its roof further up the track.

Craig Lowndes car took a nasty hit and the whole back of it was destroyed but he jumped out of his car unhurt and ran over to Luff’s car and started trying to get Lowndes out. It is really nice to see the pair hug it out at the end of the video too, glad that they are both safe.

Clearly this accident was not as immediately dangerous as the others have been so far in this list but it would only take a ruptured fuel tank to turn that situation into a much more serious one. It does show that even though these two were in the middle of a heated bit of driving, sportsmanship prevailed.  As many have said in the comments section of the YouTube video, if this had happened in Nascar there is no way they would be hugging it out afterward. Maybe Lowndes remembered how his fellow racers helped him out all those years ago and felt duty bound to do the same for another. That’s what I like to think anyway!

So there you have it, before you lose faith in motor sport completely just think about all of these examples. There are some good people out there and when it comes down to it I believe most racers would help out one another if they were in danger. Am i naive? Maybe, but these racers all showed that there can be camaraderie in motor sport.

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