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Buzz Aldrin

Steven Griffin and Giulietta 2.0

Caravaggio David and Goliath

Colin Chapman with Lotus 49. Just another work of genius..

Christiaan Neethling Barnard

Crick and Watson

Ernest Hemingway and Marlin

Heroes

by Steven Griffin


After interviewing Chuck Yeager Jeremy Clarkson suggested that you should never meet your heroes. He found the man boorish and disliked him intensely. I’m not so sure if the advice is correct and I would quite like to make up my own mind.

Like him or loathe him David Bowie has an influence on popular culture that seems to endure. In his song about Heroes he asks:-

We could steal time,
Just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’ya say?

Why not? Just for one day meet or be a hero, it doesn’t seem so much to ask. As a young boy growing up on a farm in the sixties I had a few heroes. Jim Clark being the first and greatest, he was a farmer’s son and a racing driver. There were magazine photographs of him sitting astride a grey Fergusson tractor on his family farm. The similarity with the tractor my father drove gave me a wholly unrealistic but pleasing sense of kinship with this brave and skilful Lotus driver.

My second hero was Buzz Aldrin, he seemed to have all the attributes a man could need. He was a brilliant engineer, a fearless and talented test pilot and he had walked on the surface of the moon.

The third was Dr Christiaan Barnard, a tall, dark and imposing heart surgeon who had taken the brave step of removing the heart from one man and stitched it into another.

Like so many dreams of childhood it is can seem impossible to live the lives of one’s heroes. I grew to be 6’4” (the maximum height for astronauts was 5’10”), short sighted and remained annoyingly un-American. So I was never going sit on top of a cryogenic firework masquerading as an orbital booster and be propelled into space. So that was out then…

For some years I had held an ambition to meet one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, eventually I did come across the wonderful and slightly bonkers Buzz Aldrin. I found him to be a spritely octogenarian with a quick wit and a sparkle in his eye. Who would have believed that the alcoholic risk-taking Aldrin would outlive the careful and calculated Armstrong? Sadly Armstrong died having heart surgery-am I glad I didn’t do that operation.

In the spring of 1968 I remember my Mum telling me that Jim Clark had died. The magic prospect of participating in motorsport left me in an instant. I became a fan but harboured no further ambitions to drive. That decision was just as well as I am not a very competent racing driver and I would have spent the rest of my life poor and hungry had I attempted that career.

So there was nothing left for it. I had better become a heart surgeon. Unfortunately I have never lived up to the standards set by Dr Barnard but it was a proud moment when twenty two years ago I performed my first heart transplant. Even at the age of thirty two it was still a landmark that I felt compelled to telephone my parents about. I’ve moved on since then and don’t do transplants any longer, there is just too much night and weekend work for a family man. Nowadays I just potter about doing the bread and butter heart and lung surgery of bypasses, valve replacements and removing lung cancer. A while ago I did however get to meet the great man. Dr Barnard was not a disappointment, I found him a larger than life character who had struggled to get used to being the most famous man in the world. He was grateful to Neil Armstrong for taking up that role after the lunar landings. By the time I met Christiaan his hands were ravaged by arthritis and he was no longer operating. Like Beethoven’s deafness, nature can play the cruellest tricks.

When I hit the majestic age of forty Mrs Griffin bought me a day at a rally school as a birthday present. I didn’t care much for the mud and gravel but I loved the tarmac stages. There and then I decided that motorsport, like sex, was much more fun to be a participant in than to watch.

I had a patient who was a club racer and he got me started. I had done his bypass because he had failed his stress ECG and wanted a Historic International Licence. Seventeen years on my patient is still racing, so the operation must have worked.

I got involved with the Alfa Romeo owners club championship in an old Guilietta 2.0 litre. It was a viceless and quite slow racing car but I did okay in it and had lots of fun. It lead to another Guilietta then a fabulous but fragile GTV6. The turn of the century was a real heyday for saloon car club racing, over a hundred cars registered for the AROC championship, two grids and often another race usually in the formula libre style ‘AutoItalia’ event for anything built in Italy. Sadly for me Alfa 33s became the default car for the series. A great little racer, fast and easy to drive but so cheap and disposable the racing became like dodgem cars and I didn’t want to see my pristine GTV wrecked. Alfa racing is now just a shadow of its former self with single grids of twenty or so cars. I joined Monoposto in 2002 in a 16v Vauxhall Junior, then a Martini Formula Renault now a Van Diemen Formula Ireland. Eventually I sold the GTV and I’m racing a Cosworth Sierra on an occasional basis. Along the way I’ve raced a couple of Alfas at the Nurburgring 24 hours and a Crossle at Spa historic.

I have never been very good at it but most of the time I don’t make too much of an idiot of myself and I try to keep out of the way of the fast guys.

Obviously I never got to meet my first hero Jim Clark and I have had countless heroes and come across many villains since. The trouble for me is that I have too many heroes and passions. My head is full of Verdi and Puccini, Picasso and Caravaggio, Keats and Larkin, Barnes Wallis and Whittle, Crick and Watson, Hemmingway and Steinbeck, Cook and Knox Johnston., Chapman and Newey, Da Vinci and Newton and I suppose many more.

Sometimes I wonder if I took Mrs Griffin’s advice and actually concentrated on one interest other than my job for any length of time I might become more proficient at that endeavour. I’ll probably never know because I have severe wandering mind syndrome.

So. Heroes? Yes why not? The more the merrier.

Steven Griffin

Disclaimer: The above represents only the unofficial view of the writer and not of the Monoposto Racing Club in any way whatsover. Subheadlines and captions are not originated from the named author. We are unable to reproduce results due to copyright reasons. If any pictures are copyright and the owner wishes them removed please email us.

Asst ed note: Startline readers will note the similarity between poet Philip Larkin (left) and comedian Eric Morecambe (right), coincidentally the subject of a recent TV programme entitled "My Hero". Strangely, the show didn't mention the much-loved Mothers Day Special Morecambe and Wise Show when Philip Larkin came on at the end dressed as a Morecambe look-alike and sang his poem "This be the Verse" to the tune of "Bring Me Sunshine".

 

 

Jim Clark

Steven Griffin in Alfa 156 at Nurburgring

Philip Larkin

Put it back now!

Robin Knox Johnston aboard Suhali

Barnes Wallis 1949 Wild Goose design. (Yes, the internet says 1949, not 2013.)