One of my racing heroes of the ‘60s and ‘70s was the Belgian Jacky Ickx.
(If you see a name with many more consonants than vowels, and one or more of which is an ‘x’, chances are it’s Belgian.)
He won 11 races in Formula One cars, for Ferrari, Brabham and Lotus, placing second to Jackie Stewart in the 1970 drivers’ championship.
He won Le Mans 6 times, and several other sports car endurance events.
He also won the Paris-Dakar off-road rally in 1983.
You just don’t see that kind of versatility any more.
Ickx’s appeal was his flat-out driving style, which also made him an outstanding wet-weather driver.
That, plus his boyish, tragedy-in-the-making good looks (he could have been a star in French ‘Nouvelle Vague’ cinema), made me fear that he’d never see the far side of 40 years of age, so common was sudden death in car racing in those days.
Steady careful drivers like Bruce McLaren - sure; they’d lead long, happy lives.
Guys like Ickx and Stirling Moss - well, not much hope.
But at last weekend’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring Touring Car Race, there was Jacky Ickx, most definitely alive and well, a still-youthful-looking 66 years old.
(BTW, for those of you who don't follow racing that closely, Bruce McLaren died at age 32 in a testing crash in 1970. Stirling Moss, like Ickx, remains alive and well - as well as you can be after falling down an elevator shaft at age 80, as Sir Stirling did last year. He recently announced his retirement from racing, just prior to a vintage race that was part of the Le Mans 24 hr Hour event a couple of weeks ago.).
Ickx was in the Volkswagen Pit Lane Suite, at least partially by virtue of the fact that his daughter Vanina has taken up the family trade as a driver for the VW factory team in a Scirocco.
I commented on his hell-bent-for-election driving style, and how much credit guys like himself and Jackie Stewart deserved (a) just for surviving, and (b) for standing up for safer cars, safer circuits.
“Jackie and me, we were very lucky,” said Ickx. “We lost so many drivers.”
Racing will always be dangerous, he added, but improvements in every facet of the sport - cars, race tracks, helmets, emergency response facilities - have meant that, among other things, the last driver to die in a Formula One race was Ayrton Senna, away back in 1994.
Drivers today can survive horrendous crashes like the one Robert Kubica had in Montreal in 2007, and, metaphorically anyway, walk away from them, albeit with a bad limp.
In Ickx’s time, a crash like that would most assuredly have been fatal.
And this probably makes it only slightly less nerve-wracking for him to see his daughter follow in his footsteps.
It was a genuine thrill for me to meet him.