Ghosts of motorsport's past

Vaishali Dinakaran  | Updated: August 31, 2015, 01:41 PM IST

I wonder where old racecars go when they die. And where the souls of old racetracks lie. Is there some alternate dimension where they still manage to exist? Can it be that somewhere in this Universe there's that Stromlinien Wagon that's still hugging the old banked AVUS track? Or is it that the souls of old racecars still prowl around what once was their favorite corner. That some nights when heading down the highway, people catch glimpses of silver going past them with a whoosh. They think it's their eyes playing tricks on them but it isn't. It's metal, tarmac and almost tangible memories. It is the ghosts of motor racing's past and they've come a hauntin'.

It was four years ago, after much persuasion, that I managed to convince a wizened racer from those glorious days of Indian motorsport that I'm so often told about, to get one of his old racecars up and running once again. The car was a two-seater. A low slung machine that was something of an homage to the LMP cars that were raced over at Sarthe back in the day. Several years had gone by since it had last been raced, and in that time dust and grime and rust, that most dreadful affliction that can plague a race machine, had wreaked considerable havoc. But it wasn't something that we needed to worry about, we were told. The car would be up and running in no time, with the help of some very canny mechanics, and we'd be able to take it out on track and shoot away to our heart's content. True to his word, it all happened. The car looked and ran beautifully and the photographs turned out well. We were pleased. We were still more pleased when we heard him tell us how glad he was that we'd come by to shoot the car after all, and that it had been exactly what the doctor ordered. The car was once again in racing nick, which was terrific and put him in high spirits as well. That we'd indirectly brought about some motorsport magic delighted us and we went back home happy.

Less than a year went by before the delight was replaced with dismay. A colleague had spotted that same racecar at the same racetrack, lying out in the rain, the rust getting to her once again. Unloved and forlorn, I was told she looked. It was a fact I was able to confirm a few weeks later with my own two eyes. The tyres were flat, there was grass growing around the car, like she'd been abandoned for good, and there was no sign of a tarpaulin cover to protect her from the elements. The paint had already faded and peeled. The words 'crumbling' 'rust' 'heap' floated into my mind in no particular order, but were applicable no matter which way you twisted things around. I felt a tear threatening to escape my eyes, and before it could, I did.

And since then, every time I'm shown a photograph of the way things used to be, I feel a twinge of sorrow. Not because of the fact that we once had a past that was glorious, nor because the present that we have is anything but. However, every time I hear of how racetracks would be jam packed with people, every time I see those photos of crowds bursting out of the grandstands, and racetracks with hay bales stacked on either side, and an old Formula One or Formula Two car making its way down the start-finish straight I start to wonder...

...Where are they now? The machines, if they do still exist at all, are more often than not in a state of disrepair. The tracks? Why, they don't exist at all! The old airstrips have long since been reclaimed and put to other, some will try and insist better, use. The people? Well, the puppet masters of time and fate work together. And so what we have left, if we're lucky, are a few fading photographs, and memories that are fading just as quickly.

And the truth is I just wish we could do something about it. I'm certainly not saying we should live in the past. No indeed, we should celebrate the racing that we've got today and strive towards a better motorsport future, but with due deference to the days that have gone by. Old memories must be documented, old photographs must be preserved, old racecars must be rounded up and put not outdoors to suffer the vagaries of nature but indoors, if only in a museum, far, far away from moisture that will rust them. And old racetracks? Imagine driving down a backroad somewhere in India and seeing a sign pointing left saying 'Sholavaram Revival'.

How do we do this? Two ways. I suppose on the one hand it could be the Government that steps in and comes up with a Motorsport Heritage Society of some sort. Or there's that other option – the Good Samaritan – like that gentleman over in South Africa who felt so bad that the Kyalami track would forever be lost that he just went out and bought it.

I sometimes also wonder where old racecars would go if they didn't have to die. And where the souls of old racetracks would lie. Maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't need that alternate dimension for them to exist after all.

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Tags: opinion  |  Vaishali's opinion  |  motorsport  |  automonitor  |  Sholavaram  |  Kyalami  |  AVUS  |  Stromlinien Wagon

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