A History Lesson, Via A Race Programme!
In CD54, ESY told the story of the 1914 French GP which was won by Mercedes in the lead up to the First World War. Just 24 short years later, Europe was on the brink of another tragic conflict and a motor race in England featured in the lead-up in a rather odd way. Read on …
The International Donington Grand Prix Car Race (not the British GP, as such) was due to be held on 1 October, 1938. Run over 80 laps, as usual the favourites were the ‘Silver Arrows’ from Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union with 4 cars each. A pair of Delahayes and a single Maserati were accompanied by some English-entered also-rans, including a 1.3 litre supercharged MG. There were 17 cars listed in the programme, though 18 seem to have started on the day.
But the clouds of war were gathering and, at the last minute, the German teams were ordered home. Then, on September 30, British PM Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Adolf Hitler and made his famous “It is peace for our time” speech. The immediate danger seemed to have passed, though another world conflict was only postponed for a year. However, it did mean the German teams turned around and returned to Donington Park.
Short newsreel footage of the race can still be found on YouTube. Tazio Nuvolari won for Auto-Union with ex-team mechanic Hermann Lang and local hero Richard Seaman 2nd & 3rd for Mercedes-Benz (Seaman after a pretty hairylooking spin). These incredibly powerful cars looked a right handful on the old, narrow Donington circuit. ERAs finished 6, 7 & 8, with the best of them being seven laps behind the winner.
Why are you getting this history lesson, dear reader? I took a punt on a race programme I’d seen listed in an antiquarian book auction in Wellington recently and placed a successful absentee bid. Sure enough, there’s the original date overprinted on the cover so it became the programme for that very race, on 22 October ’38. No mention anywhere of the fact that the event had been postponed or why! But a lovely piece of motorsport and social history.