Qualities to Admire

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A Belated Movie Review

We lesser mortals look to others for inspiration, we call them heroes, but often, they just have extraordinary talent or a work ethic, and they happen to be in the right place at the right time. The movie by Ron Howard, “Rush” brought this idea of heroes a little closer to home for me.

I was a little late viewing the movie, Rush, it came out in 2013, (I watched on TV; since, I quit paying for movies at the theaters, years ago, because of the lack of quality and the pathetic attempts at political messaging, commonly known as propaganda.) but I saw Rush the other night, and consider it to be a classic. The movie allows a brief glimpse into the world’s ultimate sport of excess, Formula 1 Racing. Although the movie captures the excitement and visceral feelings of driving period cars at 180 mph, the contrast between two antithetical friends and competitors, Jim Hunt and Niki Lauda, defines the movie as a classic for me. These two best friends, with their polar opposite personalities, were playing the characters of Narcissus and Goldman in the Hess novel of the same name.

James Hunt was the ultimate irresponsible playboy and lived the hedonist role at full throttle, but in reality,Formula One Racecar Goes Airborn During the German Grand Prix his hedonist personality was probably a mask and a means to hide insecurities and fear. He was a fun-loving character, who was hard not to like or at least cause the casual observer to smile. He liked to show up for press conferences bare-footed, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The patch area over the right chest is usually leased out for serious advertising money, but Jim Hunt had his own team patch over this area, it read “Sex, Breakfast of Champions”; a logo he later cleaned-up to read, “Sex is a High Performance Thing”. He claimed to have slept with over 5,000 women, although he married twice. One of them a fashion model, Suzy Miller, left him for the actor Richard Burton after Burton ditched Elizabeth Taylor for the second time. The two men remained on amicable terms and Burton paid Suzy the one million settlement she was rewarded from Hunt in divorce court. Burton was surprised that Hunt was so reasonable about letting his beautiful wife leave, but Hunt told him, “Relax, Richard. You’ve done me a wonderful turn by taking on the most alarming expense account in the country.”

He retired early, admitting that he didn’t really enjoy racing (he was known for vomiting before races and qualifications and he sometimes shook so hard while driving he caused his cars to vibrate). Although, he worked as a commentator after his retirement from racing, providing spirited and in-depth knowledgeable commentary, he consumed two bottles of wine during his first race as a commentator. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and an outrageous personality helped keep him ahead of his demons, while he was racing, but a few hours after proposing to his latest 24 year-old girl friend, Jim Hunt died of a heart attack at 45.James Hunt 1975 Monaco with his Sex is a high performance thing patch

We have all known Jim Hunts; their supposed strengths are often their weaknesses and many of us have watched them like moths who fly too close to the flame, their lives often end too soon; although, few achieve the fame and excesses of the Jim Hunt of Formula 1.

Most people consider Jim Hunt to be the most interesting man of this duo, but for me, a frustrated car guy who has owned a long line of German cars since a 190 SL in the 60’s, and continues to enjoy keeping them tuned for mountain driving at just over the legal limits, while logging astronomical mileage on these overloaded and overworked vehicles, in pursuit of perfect lines (the fastest route around a curve) on the memorized mountain roads of several states and in two countries. Of course, it is done under the pretense of making a living, since it is always done on the way to another job, and all the expenses are tax deductible, but realizing the capabilities of a car against the technicalities of a particular turn is exhilarating for a few of us.images

Niki Lauda is the hero to the poor man’s road racer. The guys whose times are never recorded, except by the Highway Patrol, but who find satisfaction in choosing the right tires to grip the road or by analyzing the suspension requirements or by tracking down a minor horsepower robber. Niki personally did all these things and much more to make his extremely fast cars faster and more competitive, he was relentless in trying to improve his cars, but he maintained an offbeat humor that only a few of us can appreciate. Yet, his humor was often eclipsed by his Austrian frankness and brutal honesty; i.e. after hiring on with Ferrari in 1974, Niki told Enzo Ferrari, (the proud owner of Ferrari) after his first test drive of the Ferrari 312 on the owner’s private test track, that the car was a “piece of shit,” but promised that he, Niki, could make the car race worthy.

Ferrari had not had a championship since ’64 with John Surtees and fortunately, Enzo admired the work ethic of the young Austrian, and he was allowed to continue as a driver. Niki managed two victories in ’74, in Spain and Holland, and won the world’s championship in ’75 with victories in Monaco, Belgium, Sweden, France, and the United States.images

The glory and the cups meant almost nothing to Niki; he complained that his home was becoming cluttered and traded the trophies to a garage in his neighborhood in exchange for free car washes. To me, this is excellent humor and humility from the ultimate sporteman.

In 1976 by mid-summer, he had won five races and expected to repeat the previous year’s championship; however, on the second lap at Nurburgring, Lauda’s Ferrari flipped and burst into flames. Four drivers and a marshal withstood the flames and pulled Lauda from his car.

In the hospital, Lauda was determined to have sustained several broken bones, scorched lungs from inhaling the toxic fumes, and severe burns to his head and wrists. Lauda was barely alive and was given almost no chance for survival. Six weeks later, he finished fourth in the Italian Grand Prix. Jackie Stewart, another racing legend and personal hero of mine, said it was the most courageous comeback in the history of sport. Niki said the loss of half an ear made using the telephone much easier. He wore a signature red ball cap to hide much of the scarring and rented out the space on the front of the cap for a hefty price; a true businessman can see opportunity and will capitalize on a market niche. These are examples of Niki’s offbeat humor.

The final race in ’76 was under heavy rain in Japan; Lauda decided it was too dangerous and pulled out, and inadvertently giving the title to Jim Hunt. images

Enzo Ferrari had his doubts and was making plans to replace Niki, but this was the catalyst that drove Niki to clinch the championship in ’77 with two more races to be run that season. In a classic move of revenge, Niki quit Ferrari and joined Bernie Ecclestone’s, Brabham team. Enzo called Niki a traitor for leaving.

Nicki quit during the ’78 after the first practice session in Canada. He said he was “tired of driving around in circles” and would start his own airline.

Lauda Air was his new airline and he was one of the pilots. Eventually, he needed more capital and returned to racing to secure the money. In 1984, Niki won another championsnip and in ’85 he won one Grand Prix and retired from driving.

Niki continued to work in the sport as an advisor to Ferrari, a Jaguar principal, and as a TV commentator. Niki continued on to become Non-Executive Chairman of the Mercedes F1 team, board member of Mercedes AMG imagesPowertains and special advisor to the Board of Daimler AG.

Now, few of us will have the opportunities or the physical skills of Lauda or Hunt, but we can all use the courage, honesty, and relentless work ethic of Niki Lauda to serve as an inspiration, and even the wreck less hedonism of Jim Hunt serves as a role model for avoiding the weaknesses of our personalities.

I like both these men, but I admire Niki Lauda. He fought back when the doctors had given-up and competed in one of the most grueling forms of racing six weeks later. I wish I could vote for leaders with his intrepid courage and honesty.

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A professional horseman for over 40 years, Skook continues to work with horses. He is in an ongoing educational program, learning life's lessons from one of the world's greatest instructors, the horse. Skook has finished an historical novel that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The book Fifty-Thousand Years is awaiting me to finish a final proofread and it should be sent to the formatter in a matter of days. I am still working, so it is not easy to devote the time I need to finish the project. The cover is a beautiful wok of art. I would put it up here if I could figure out how to make it work.

9 Responses to “Qualities to Admire”

  1. 1

    Rich Wheeler

    Well done Skook. An excellent movie. I liked where Hunt beat down the reporter who questioned whether Lauda’s wife would leave him because of his badly burned face.

  2. 2

    James Raider

    author

    Great piece, Skook, and really well presented. Those of us who’ve loved racing can’t forget these two characters and I agree that Lauda was the better of the two as a model.

    Favourite course: The old Mount Tremblant course in the Laurentians North of Montreal. Nothing equalled a race on that track during the fall.

  3. 3

    Skook

    @Rich Wheeler: Yes, that was a moving scene. Friendship and loyalty is always tested during adversity. In reality, Hunt had a few endearing qualities. The quote by Lauda at the end of the movie was authentic. He stated that Hunt was the only driver he liked and respected.

  4. 6

    Skook

    @jhouse48: Thank you for the kind words of encouragement. I am reaching out in different areas to provide more variety, and hopefully to show the rest of the country and the world that we Conservatives aren’t really heartless baby killers. The Conservative philosophy can be a lifestyle of compassion and charity that is seen in articles that vary from the normal political prose, thanks again.

  5. 7

    joetote

    Skook,

    Another great read. I’ve always loved auto racing and Niki Lauda’s fight back is admirable for sure. Besides that though, the friendship between two polar opposites was marvelous and something MAN can learn from.

    I have to insert a horse note here, As I read this, I somehow thought of Red Pollard and Seabiscuit. Of course, one rarely sees any horse come back from Seabisquit’s injury as you well know, but the horrific injury Red Pollard came back for (admittedly he wasn’t going to die but wouldn’t have been a surprise if he lost his leg) shows the same fortitude in many instances as Lauda. And their was also the odd friendship between Red Pollard adf the great George Wolfe.

  6. 8

    Skookum

    @joetote: Ah, Seabiscuit and Pollard, now there’s a horse story. I suppose those of us who have worked the same tracks, albeit many years later, feel in some small way a part of the tradition. Those cold mornings were the same, but those trips by train must have really been something. Just getting the horses to the next track must have been a logistical nightmare. I’d imagine, if you could ride, you helped bring a mob of them through city streets in the early morning hours. Oh, we missed a lot Joe, but we are still here and the rest of them are gone. LOL

  7. 9

    joetote

    @Skookum:

    Amen. I still marvel at the stories my old man and the ancient grooms I grew up with told me. I actually think you and I are some of the lucky ones as to horse racing (and in turn life in general) my friend. We both came along at a time when the old classic guys were still alive and active. Hell, even Sunny Jim was still training when we came along. In turn, we were lucky enough (and in our own ways smart enough) to learn from them and their experiences. We were indeed lucky!

    And one should never forget the dedication and work ethic (today I think only those who really love horses and the sport really understand this and in turn take it upon themselves to work to that ethic.) it took to be successful in that field, again something imparted from our elders. In turn, can one really see that kind of thing in today’s business world?

    Here’s a question while we’re on that subject per say. Have you noticed the difference now as opposed to when we came up in the racing industry as an example as to “listening and learning from one’s elders” and in turn the willingness or lack of willingness of not only the younger folks to in fact listen and learn but also the elders themselves not stepping back from that role? It’s something I’ve noticed on the tote end of the industry where I am now and I think it is in fact out there in business in general.

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