On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, my wife walked into the kitchen to find me elbow deep in racing books, mumbling to myself. “Mumble, grumble, 128, mumble, mumble, 132…”
“What are you doing?” my wife asked, incredulously.
“Waaait a second,” came my distracted response, “162, 163, 164. I’m counting up all the drivers that competed in international motorsport whose last name starts with the letter ‘C’,” I grunt.
Not missing a beat, my wife replied, “You really need to get a life,” and turned and walked away.
I was close to the elusive answer that I sought but realized that she was absolutely right. I was slowly sliding into some train-spotter, heart of darkness–like madness. The Brits have a name for the kind of person I’m becoming, “anorak,” meaning the type of person that sits in the rain in an anorak, writing down the car numbers of every train that goes by. Obsession with minutiae, run amok. I think I might need help.
It all started innocently enough—just me trying to organize some photographs. See, over the years, I have amassed a pretty large archive of period photos. These include all manner of cars and events, but also represent a significant number of driver and personality shots. As time has gone by, the “folder” that I keep these in has grown and grown to the point that recently it took me the better part of an afternoon to sift through every shot to find the one driver portrait that I knew was buried somewhere in there. For literally years I have been meaning to go through this segment of my collection and separate the shots alphabetically but could never muster the wherewithal to do it. It’s—I’m sure—a lot like cleaning out the garage; you know you need to do it, but can always find some excuse not to do it. And of course, the more you put it off, the worse it gets, which makes you want to tackle the job even less—a vicious circle.
So recently, I was finally inconvenienced enough to sit down and organize these old driver portraits in alphabetic order. Strangely, the results really surprised me. I made a separate folder for every letter in the alphabet and simply started filing the shots by last name. Andretti in the A’s, Surtees in the S’s, Bandini in the B’s, Stuck in the S’s, Moss with the M’s, Sanesi, Stewart and Salvadori in the S’s. See a pattern forming? By the time I finished sorting, I had a few folders that were larger than the others, but one folder that was massively bigger than the rest…the “S” folder. Huh? That doesn’t seem right. Why would there be more famous drivers with a last name that started with “S” than any other? As crazy as it sounds, is there statistically something about last names that start with an “S” that predisposes a driver to greatness? It seemed such an innocent question at the time…(cue spine-tingling mad scientist laugh).
So, I figured that this should be a fairly straightforward question to sort out. I would just consult a list of all the Formula One World Champions. Let’s see, Surtees, Stewart, Senna, Schmuacher, hmm, since 1950, 15 World Championships have been claimed by drivers with last names that start with “S”—the next runner-up was “B” with a meager 3 championships. Likewise, “S” drivers have also racked up more pole positions than any others. Pretty supportive of this crazy notion, but then again, Senna and Schumacher account for nearly half of those so maybe this wasn’t the most scientific of tests. The scientist in me cried out for better data…and to think they laughed at me at the institute!
Maybe, I need to broaden the scope of my research, I thought. What about Le Mans? So I pulled out an Automobile Club De L’Ouest listing of every driver to have competed at Le Mans from 1949 to 1973 and started counting. 90 drivers with the letter “S” starting their last name, 88 with the letter “M,” 86 with the letter “C,” and—what!?!? 109 “B”s. Hmm, maybe the “S” drivers aren’t the top dogs after all? Or maybe it’s an open-wheel vs. closed-wheel thing? I need broader data…Igor!!! More numbers! I need more numbers!!!
And so it was, a day later, that my wife found me, hunched over my books, squinting at the tiny type like some light-averse troglodyte counting all of the 2,000 drivers listed in the most recent edition of the “International Motor Racing Guide.” So, what was the final score you ask? Well, the doctors say that I’m getting better…and that I’m not supposed to talk about it anymore or they’ll have to start the “treatments” again, but since you asked…the C’s had 164 drivers, the M’s had 224, the B’s—heh, heh—had 238 and the S’s—hah, hah, ahem—233! Crazy they said?! Fools! I’ll destroy them all, ha, ha!!!
Like I said, I really need to get a life. The problem is that my little trip into madness seems to have revealed what I am now calling the “Q Curse.” In the last 100 years of motorsport, I can only find one successful driver whose last name started with the letter “Q”…help me please, before I count again!!!