If you win a Formula One World Drivers' Championship for Ferrari, you are a hero in Italy forever.
Phil Hill, who passed away today from complications of Parkinson's Disease, was every bit that.
He was the first American (and only American-born) driver to win the title, in 1961. He also had numerous other racing successes, notably at Le Mans and Sebring.
I had the great honour to co-host with Mr. Hill a "Fantasy Tour" of Canadian and American car enthusiasts to Italy in 1997. Despite it having been three and a half decades since he won his title, he was recognized everywhere he went.
One of my lasting memories of that event is seeing him spot some litter on a street in Monza near the Formula One circuit. He picked it up and marched it straight to the garbage can. Must have been a bit of Canadian in the man somewhere.
On another occasion a few years earlier, he was a guest of Pontiac at a press event. They had set up a dual slalom course - two Firebird Trans-Ams would be sent off simultaneously, following identical but mirror-image courses through bewildering sets of pylons. I grabbed a spot in the back seat behind him - you don't often get the chance to ride with a World Champion.
Just before we got the "go" signal, he leaned over his shoulder and asked, "So, what is this, then?"
I replied, "Just follow the course through the cones."
It appeared he had not done this sort of thing much, if ever.
He set fastest time of the day.
One of the finest gentlemen you'd ever want to meet, Phil Hill will be missed and remembered not just in Italy, but everywhere people love cars, and the people who race them.