MMR Blog

An Interview with David Hobbs

Posted on September 17, 2014 Comments (0)

By Adrianne Ross, Editor, PCA-NER The Nor’Easter Magazine

David Hobbs

I was so honored to meet David Hobbs. I’ve been a fan for a few years now, and enjoy his commentary on racing and racers.

David was born in June 1939 in Royal Leamington Spa, England. In 1969 he was included in the FIA list of graded drivers—an élite group of 27 drivers who, by their achievements, were rated the best in the world—and he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2009. Originally employed as a commentator for the Speed Channel, he currently works as a commentator for NBC and NBC Sports Network.

David Hobbs

David currently lives in Milwaukee with his wife, Margaret. They “putter” around the garden in their spare time, and enjoy winter in Florida. David has two sons, Gregory and Guy. His youngest son, Guy, worked for Speed as a pit reporter on their sports car coverage.

David was kind and patient with me, even though he had been running a bit behind, and had the Hockenheim race the next day. I dragged him into the basement of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, and what follows is our conversation. I’ve left it largely unedited, so that you can get a sense of the man himself.

AR: Take me from 0 to your first race.

DH: My dad was always into cars, but at the beginning of WWII petrol was heavily rationed. He was from Australia and the English government asked him to stay to develop his transmissions, and help with technical innovations in the automotive business.

I wasn't good at school so I went to Jaguar cars as an apprentice. They had a great system; a great apprenticeship scheme in England. It was a full-scale apprenticeship, where you essentially earned a technical degree.

David Hobbs

While there, I got keen on cars and there was a Jaguar apprentice’s motor club which I joined. I would take my Mum’s car, a Morris Oxford, and would rally cross and the like. But I drove like a mad man on the road and so I decided I should race. Back then it was cheap to get a license. You would join a motor club, any car club, and then pay the entry fees; the whole thing would have been about £15.
It was my Mum’s car with my dad's automatic gearbox. I raced a few times and then I finally won a sprint in it. The following year I convinced my dad to let me race his Jaguar XK140, it also had his gearbox (David’s father designed transmissions and automotive technology). Unfortunately I rolled it in the very first race, and did a little damage. (David smiled broadly at this, indicating that he’d damaged the car quite badly.)

He said I had to fix it, so it didn't get fixed very well. Then he got a big injection of capital from BSA, and we decided that a good form of advertising would be for me to race in a proper car. We bought a Lotus Elite, which I campaigned in 1961 very successfully. Won 14 out of 18 starts at the small tracks, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, the ‘Ring.

AR: Who inspired you?

Sir Stirling Moss

DH: My hero was Sir Stirling Moss. But it wasn't like it is today with videos and TV. You had to go to races, read the papers and magazines to keep up, or follow a driver.

I did go to the very first Grand Prix, the British Grand Prix with my mom and dad, and my brother. But even then it wasn't like a bolt of lightning, you know, it was not what I wanted to do. But I did drive fast on the road. I did like going fast and I was good at it.

AR: What do you drive now?

DH: I don't have any exotic cars, I don't have any car at all, and I never seem to have enough cash to get one (laughing).

AR: And when you're not racing, what does a typical day look like for David Hobbs?

David Hobbs Honda Dealership

DH: I go to the dealership most days, although my son Greg really runs it now. We have quite a few customers who don't believe I really come in every day.

AR: What do you do for fun?

DH: We like to putter around the garden and we have a house in Florida, because I don't like the winter. We go back to England two to three times a year. But not in the summer because it's racing season. I like soccer and tennis. I used to play when I was a kid, until I discovered Motorsport.

AR: You’ve had 20 Le Mans starts, what are the best and worst parts of that race?

DH: The worst is the rain, and night can be tricky. It's a long circuit, eight miles. It's not like Daytona, when you're there for hours running around a fishbowl. In my day, there weren't all those chicanes, which is very hard on the car, and hard on the drivers. In my day we did the race with just two drivers. Now they use three or sometimes four.

AR: …about [your] grandson, and his working his way into a racing career…

DH: It's so expensive to start racing unless you find a fairy godfather. Four or five of the F1 drivers pay to be there. In my day there was a lot of stepping into a dead man’s shoes. That seems grizzly, but it was really how it worked.

But I've never raced anywhere when I didn't get paid for it. Even NASCAR.

AR: How was NASCAR?

DH: It's harder than it looks. Massively talented drivers come into NASCAR and they can't do it. Juan Pablo was a good example of that.

AR: What do you think of Senna, and RUSH (the movies)?

DH: I thought Senna was very good. Well put together. To be a world champion you have to be selfish, and greedy, and solely, solely concerned with yourself. He was the epitome of that for sure. RUSH was a good story of human conflict. But the drama and partying was a bit overblown. Grand Prix and Le Mans are my favorites. They did a great job considering the time and standards.

AR: Who's the funniest person in F1 ever?

DH: I wouldn't say anyone in F1 is really funny; it’s not a funny place, the paddock of Formula 1. Everyone is just focused on the race and the cars but Graham Hill was an amazing storyteller. Very good at making jokes at other peoples expense but not good when the shoe was on the other foot. Jackie and Jimmy Clark were not particularly jokey guys. The guy that's really pretty funny, and probably pretty good fun to be with is Daniel Ricciardo. He likes to sort of dance in front of his mechanics.

AR: What’s your favorite track?

DH: The ‘Ring, the Glen, Road America, Phillipston; I've never found a track I don't like, really.

DAvid Hobbs at Indy

Responses to Last Week’s Editorial

Posted on October 3, 2013 Comments (1)

We had a significant number of responses to last week's commentary about Driving over the Age Limit. Most agreed that some sort of testing or other qualifier was needed. Several people felt that racing was a dangerous game and that everybody involved, including photographers, knew that going in and had no right to complain if they were killed, or even just maimed.

Let me be perfectly clear. I have no issue with people going fast, rich or poor. But when a driver is going door to door at high speeds with strangers, he has a right to expect that whoever let him out there knew they both could handle it. Physically and mentally.


We have the same problem in vintage motorcycle racing. In the day, if you weren’t good enough you couldn’t get a fast ride…now the only pre-requisite is a checkbook. The sanctioning bodies need to establish a licensing program (like regular professional racing) and stick to it. The “strong medicine” is that it is better to lose one rich cry-baby, than to kill someone. Most owners of fast vintage equipment would rather see competent drivers realize the potential of their machines than to putt around in the way. See attached pic of me (#6A) coming of the line with Three-time AMA Grand National Champ Jay Springsteen (#9) at a vintage race last month in Indy. He was way faster (and riding one of my bikes) but at least I wasn’t a moving chicane!

~Ken McGuire

Ken Springer

Dear Peter ..... old crocks racing powerful cars and coming to grief is nothing new. Experience is actually more important than age in my opinion. Surtees, Moss and many other serious drivers from the past were well up to the task in their early seventies. There were some very near misses and a few actual coming togethers at the Revival this year from young drivers who haven’t yet worked out that F1 scouts do not abound at vintage races. There is no need to carve up a slower car that’s entering the chicane and risk damage for the .1 of a second it will cost you. There’s no need to dart inside a car turning on to the apex of Fordwater flat out and risk pushing him off onto the grass and thence into the immovable barriers.

Apart from the risk to life and limb that sort of behaviour may cause an entrant to no longer want to enter a great original car with a very high value if it’s going to get punted off by a virtual replica with a goon behind the wheel.

I know what I’m talking about. It happened to me this year as indeed it seems to happen most years. Slowly but surely these goons are getting weeded out by race organisers. It’s never going to be too late to do it either. There are plenty of formulae for rock-apes to strut their stuff in cheap cars. Imagine a bunch of oldies in combat with young Kamikaze drivers in Formula Fords. Great sport and the best way possible to prove as the older guy that you can still hack it.

~Alain de Cadenet

I have to comment on your vintage racing article. After driving some faster cars with different clubs, I decided to return to the VSCCA. While I’ve driven race cars since I was 19, I recognized during my first Skip Barber race school that I was not in it to someday start at the Indy 500. Now that I am in my 60s and semi-retired, I have “downsized” to a very original Formcar Formula Vee (the first iteration). There are two other old Formula Vees in the club driven by guys my age or older who have also had much faster cars “back in the day.”

Vintage racing, at least as I’ve experienced in the VSCCA, is a place where the cars are the stars. We get to drive them fast, which is what they were built for. However, the attitude of the drivers is pretty consistent; we don’t think we’re in Formula 1 and we believe it’s way more important to bring the cars home from the event in one piece than to bring home some misplaced bragging rights about how we beat the field.

I remember walking through the paddock at an SVRA race a few years ago at the Glen and spotting more than one “retired” Formula One car. At the time I thought, “Affording it isn’t the same as being able to handle it.” I think it was at the same event I remember having a “dive bomb” pass executed upon me at a very dicey spot with a bad mix of faster and slower cars. What was the point, I thought? Well, it was about winning the race, regardless of the “cost/benefit” or “risk/benefit.”

Your point is well made, but there are options out there for anyone who is willing to honestly consider what their ability and commitment is and to act accordingly. Luckily, there are some really great clubs and options today.

~Tom Monti

You are right.

How do you tell an 80 year old that it’s time to retire? Especially when he just won a monster race at Road America running a sportsracer over 170mph to beat the “young studs” in their Lister Chevys or their Lola MkII coupes?

If there are no preconceived age restrictions, we need enforced annual physicals, stress tests, EKGs and up to date medical histories with the governing bodies not afraid to lose an entry or two.

But the real test is organizers (like Earl) with the backbone to tell bad drivers they can’t race.

We face a growing problem of aging drivers regardless of whether they drive an MGTC or a 312pb Ferrari.

The VSCCA is woefully behind in dealing with this issue.

~OOTAD (one of the aging drivers)

Hi Peter

Interesting comments about Vintage Racing. As you know I participated in both SVRA and SCCA with my GT1 X Trans Am Vette. Both series have their share of “More Money” than “Ability”. Your comments on the increased age of the drivers in both series is very true. Even more so in the big bore very fast formula, vintage and GT1 cars. I have been wrecked twice. Once at the Glen at the entrance to the bus stop in practice no less by cup car in the hands of a bone head. Second time at NHIS with an attempt to pass me on the inside of the south chicane. Very fast GT1 Mustang in hands of less than capable guy who had the “Red Mist” in his eyes. He had two wheels in the dirt on the inside just as I was turning left onto the back straight. Nearly put me into the wall at the exit, Porsche slammed into my nose and Sunbeam Tiger into the rear of the Porsche. 3 Cars with significant damage and done for the weekend. Both SCCA and SVRA are trying to control both ability and equally the Red Mist but it is difficult. Ultimately it is the driver who must recognize he is not Paul Newman and there is a time to hang up the helmet. I did last year even though I likely never put The Red Car past 85% of what it was capable of doing. Result was a wonderful 10 years of racing with only 3 DNF’s including the two wrecks noted. As a side note one does not see much on this subject and end of the day money and ego are tough to overcome! Nice piece by the way!

~Fred Myers

Please respond and have your say in the comments section below.

Andrey and Fitch

Posted on November 14, 2012 Comments (1)

The recent passing of Gaston Andrey and John Fitch has me thinking about them as racers and people and some of the things they had in common.

As racers, they were both very talented, both winners, and, unlike many men of youthful achievement, they had moved on. Neither dwelled much on the past.

Gus Andrey was one of the most charming people I ever met. Attractive, with curly unruly hair, quick bright blue eyes and a movie star smile, he always seemed in motion and was the center of attention in any crowd. He had what people call “presence”. He appeared physically fit, neither tall nor short, never fat, he always “looked” the part of a racing driver.

Gus was a pragmatist and notoriously careful with a buck. He once received a call from a major manufacturer to drive a car at Sebring. This was an opportunity any driver of the day would have sacrificed anything to get. Gus said to the caller, “How much do you pay?” The answer wasn’t to his liking and he replied, “I have a wife and two kids here, and I have to feed them and that is not enough”. He didn’t drive for them. He also told me that at some point he shared a car with a young man he had heard about but never met, Dan Gurney. They had agreed upon a maximum rpm they would use and Gus was angry when he saw his partner’s time was much quicker. He confronted the younger man who swore he hadn’t exceeded their agreed upon limit. Gus said he knew at this point that “this young guy was very special”. I also sensed that this was the moment he learned he wasn’t very special any longer, and perhaps never was quite that special. It happens to every driver.

Gus was a successful business and family man. He parlayed his personal charm, aided in no small part by his beautiful and charming wife Mary Ann, from a foreign car repair garage into a series of foreign car dealerships culminating in his ownership of the Ferrari franchise in New England. As one of his contemporaries said, on learning of his passing, “he loved his racing”. And he was bloody good at it.

In his day, John Fitch was a top sports car driver for the then all conquering Mercedes factory racing team. At a time when the safety of drivers and spectators was never a consideration, he won many important races. High speed road races like the Pan-Americana in Mexico, the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia in Italy, and LeMans were exceptionally dangerous. Fitch was there and he won a lot of them. He also raced for American sportsman Briggs Cunningham and helped technically prepare a Chevrolet assault on Le Mans and Sebring. In his seventies, car failure foiled his attempt to break the speed record for its class in a hotrodded Mercedes 300SL on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

On a visit to his home near Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, three years ago, I was struck by his amazing agility. Though slightly stooped, he still moved gracefully and reminded me of a tall bird. At one point I dropped a business card I was handing him and before I could bend down and retrieve it, he had it. At that point he was thirty years my senior.

Like Gus Andrey, he was much more than his racing resume. He was a family man, a WW2 fighter pilot, a writer, and a track designer. He built his own car, the Fitch Phoenix, and successfully marketed Chevrolet Corvair road and racing parts and accessories in the sixties. Once racing had moved from the streets to dedicated road courses, he was a sought after track designer and safety consultant. He designed Lime Rock Park and laid out Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant among many others. Both on and off the track, John Fitch was always a road safety advocate.

If you haven’t seen it, Chris Szwedo’s film “Gullwings at Twilight” is a remarkable picture of the ever-undeterred Fitch. The general public will probably know him more for the large yellow crash barriers that line highways across the country and have saved countless lives. Oddly, the man who knew no barriers will be best remembered for the Fitch Barrier.