To Finish First
In this month’s increasingly popular Flashback column, Michael Clark says farewell to a truly influential figure within both local and international motor sport — Phil Kerr. The partnership Phil forged with his friend, Bruce Mclaren, would lead to total domination of the CanAm racing series and, of course, the team’s increasing success within Formula 1.
I’ll leave Michael to map out Phil’s motor-sport career, as my own brief but personal involvement with Phil Kerr came very late in the game — around this time in 2007, to be exact. At that time I was lucky enough to get the chance to check through the printer’s proofs for Phil’s excellent book, To Finish First — the tale of his early friendship with Bruce Mclaren, his role in the setting up of the Brabham racing organization, and, of course, his later involvement with the Mclaren team in both F1 and Can-am racing. As an added bonus — for a British-born bloke like me — To Finish First included a terrific overview of the now iconic Kiwi motor-sport clique that gathered around Bruce Mclaren during the Swinging Sixties in Britain.
To Finish First was scheduled for release on November 16, 2007, and we worked with local author, Todd Niall, and Phil to put together a preview — this being duly printed in the December 2007 edition of
As the event gradually wound down and the guests slowly ebbed away, I took the opportunity to buttonhole Phil in order to present him with a few copies of the magazine containing our To Finish First preview, and of course to get him to sign my copy of the book. Although we’d never met before, he greeted me like a long-lost friend, and we happily chatted away for a further 20 minutes or so. Finally, with the bookshop owners wanting to close up, Phil signed my copy of his book, and also put his signature across the pages of the New Zealand Classic Car preview feature.
I wouldn’t catch up with Phil again until the Bruce Mclaren Festival at Hampton Downs in 2010 but, alas, that would be last time I’d ever get the chance to share a few words with him.
When I received the news of Phil’s death last month, I pulled out that signed copy of To Finish First and read it all over again, as a final tribute to a man who played such an important part in lifting Kiwis to the very pinnacle of international motor-sport achievement.