UNLESS I’M VERYRY MU MUCH MISTAKEN…
“Sylvester Stallone and a retinue of heavyset chaps in menacing shades were bearing down on me in Monaco…”
Sly didn’t seem to be anxious to be interviewed so I deferentially stepped aside. He was there to investigate F1 as a film subject, but it didn’t work out, allegedly because the teams didn’t want to play and because Bernie wanted too much money. So, instead, he produced US ChampCar-based Driven, which critics panned as one of the worst films ever. But there have been some brilliant productions about motorsport…
It’s tough to rank them but, for me, Closer to the Edge, a superb documentary about the 2010 Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, and Rush, Ron Howard’s exciting drama about the season-long fight for the 1976 F1 title between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, are the best of them all. But they’re only a whisker ahead of my other four.
You’ve probably seen Senna, the moving story of the great man’s life, but you’re less likely to have seen Bruce Brown’s epic On any Sunday, about the 1970s MotoCross, Desert Racing and Grand National motorcycle racing scene in America. It features Steve McQueen, who also starred in 1971’s Le Mans, another of my top six. And the sixth? It’s John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, from 1966, starring James Garner as Formula 1 driver Pete Arron, and featuring real-life drivers of the day such as Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Fangio, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham. Magic!
Like me you’ll love them all. But now there’s a seventh, a magnificent documentary, to swell my list. Its called The Green Hell, ‘The Green Hell’ being the nickname given by Jackie Stewart to the Nurbürgring Nordschleife. It’s the world’s greatest circuit, although I admit to being biased for several reasons. In 1927 my father, Graham Walker, won the first International Motor Cycle road race to be held there and repeated his victory in 1929. I did the commentary on the 1969 and 1974 Nürburgring F1 German GPs, won by Jacky Ickx (Brabham) and Clay Regazzoni (Ferrari), and, together with Sky F1’s David Croft, I narrated the film. All of which contribute to my respect for a superb production about the history of this amazing place.
Consider the legendary races that have been held there. Tazio Nuvolari’s defeat of the allconquering Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union teams in his outdated Alfa Romeo in 1935. Bernd Rosemeyer’s incredible drive through the fog to win in 1936. Juan Manuel Fangio’s epic Maserati drive to beat Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins’ Ferraris in 1957. Tony Brooks’ win for Vanwall in 1958 and Stirling Moss’s Lotus defeat of the Ferraris in 1961. Jackie Stewart’s four- minute victory in 1968 and the one that ended the Nordschleife’s hosting of F1, Niki Lauda’s terrible accident in 1976. But, thank heavens, it is still used for other motorsports, not least of which is a 24-Hour event for sportscars and touring cars.
Well, it’s all there in The Green Hell. The construction of the circuit to soak up the massive unemployment that used to blight the Eifel region. The early years from 1927. The 1930s glory days of Rudolf Caracciola, Bernd Rosemeyer, Hermann Lang, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Dick Seaman and Hans Stuck in their awesome Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union Silver Arrows. Altogether a superb effort by Austrian production company Moonlake Entertainment: I highly commend it to you.
The Nürburgring may well have been a Green Hell to Jackie Stewart but it was and is a green heaven to the rest of us.
“I did the BBC commentary on the 1969 Nürburgring F1
German Grand Prix, won by Jacky Ickx in a Brabham”