MY FIRST LE MANS
I am just coming up to my 38th Le Mans at least that is what I think it is! I have been with my Parents, my Friends, on my Own, with my Wife, with my Daughter and the last few years with my Son. I have written about Le Mans and sportscar racing but just the other day I was asked what made you first go. Well the strange thing was I had not thought about it for years! I just go! I really had to give this some thought as memories can be quite misleading. Here is the story how I remember it.
As a weekly subscriber to Motoring News when I was aged ten! I just loved the Sports Racing Cars. I am sure a lot of the fascination was due to the beauty of the Martini Livery on the all dominating Porches which seemed to be on the front of every other issue. When I was eleven years old in 1976 for Christmas I received the stunning automobile year book. I was completely loopy about F1 racing as well, especially Niki Lauda. Well as I poured over the wonderful Edita photographs in my book I eventually got to the Le Mans section. I am not sure if it was the incredible pictures of the pit straight with the enormous crowds or again a certain Martini Liveried Porsche beside the bright yellow Renault A442 that got me hooked on Le Mans racing. But that book changed everything. I just had to go to the great race! I was not from a rich family and the idea of going to the greatest of sports car races at Le Mans seemed a very unlikely prospect.
Living in Bournemouth I had a distinct advantage for securing my trip. Well at the very least I had something to play with. A local coach firm called Excelsior Travel used to mail shot my parents with the holiday brochure. We had been on some local trips with them before so over my cornflakes one morning I perused through the pages. I couldn't believe it there it was a trip to the 24 hours of Le Mans for £24 (I think). Oh my poor parents! I can't really remember too much but I knew I badgered them senseless until we had three seats booked for June.
It would be easy to say I remember loads but I don't. I have some very vivid memories that must have shaped my passion. I know that when we arrived the coach was parked at what is now the Tetre Rouge campsite beside what was the massive fair ground.It was parked up and left open for the duration of the race so we could come back and kip in our seats.Tartan seats and steamy windows with beads of rain at night. It must have been the first time i had heard different languages and been part of a huge crowd but it wasn't that that I remember first.It was I vividly recall that the Germans had drinking tables padlocked to the fence at the Esses corner. Fascinating stuff for a young boy!
The fair just the other side of the fence was truly amazing and so exotic compared to home. Let's face it in those days you did not have naked women on the front of strip shows in the UK. And I saw nowhere at home where you could pick up a rifle for a few Francs and shoot china plates out of the tall pine trees! Wow I loved it. Another sight that lived with me forever was the gargantuan big wheel that seemed to literally stretch to the clouds. It was so tall and although we did not have the money to go aboard it provided yet another extraordinary memory. When you are a child certain memories live with you for ever and some are very strange. I vividly remember peering quite a lot at the floor because I found more than one ten franc piece. With this marvelous free fund I was at last allowed to buy the most gorgeous looking apple buns come donuts. I can still recall standing in the rain with the lights of the fair all around, the sound of the cars and very importantly the smell of the new and exotic. All that and I cannot for the life of me remember if the pastries were even nice!
I have little memory of the racing but vaguely remember waiting lap after lap to see Jacky Ickx in the Martini Porsche 936. He went on to win with an amazing drive through the wet night. When we got home he became my all time hero but I think that was more down to reliving the events through every article ever printed on the race. I guess my feelings developed into a kind of pride, it was more about knowing I was there. The only other thing I remember clearly was that we were not able to walk around the full circuit. The trip provided a simple ticket to the Esses section which went from just inside the Dunlop Bridge to the corner at Tetre Rouge and the full entry tickets were much more expensive. Without this major set back I don't believe I would have returned so easily. Of course when I returned home and saw the pictures of the pits and straight again I realised I had missed out on something rather important! Back to badgering the parents. It then took two full years before my poor Mother gave in and took me on her own in 1979. We had a full ticket and boy it rained like you would never believe, but that's another story!
I guess I should also say thanks Mum & Thanks Dad
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