One high point of competing in an international event of the calibre of Mille Miglia is the association with celebrities who are drawn to the competition. For example, in my two Mille Miglias, I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Hill, Prince Hohenlohe, Prince Michael of Kent, Gendebien, Regazzoni, Forghieri (a Ferrari racing engineer for 25 years), Formula 1 drivers Alboreto and Nannini, as well as the record holder, the distinguished and still revered Stirling Moss.
We were privileged to have lunch and spend an afternoon with Moss and hear firsthand his recollections of winning the 1955 race with a record time of 10 hours, 7 minutes, nearly 100 miles an hour average! He was driving a factory-sponsored Mercedes Benz 300SLR with Denis Jenkinson as navigator. Jenkinson and Moss made a number of practice laps, with Jenkinson taking copious notes. As related in the now-classic tale, they worked out the 15 hand signals because speech was impossible over the noise of the race car. They categorized difficult corners as “saucy,” “dodgy,” and “very dangerous”! (Does this terminology provide insight into the workings of the English mind?) Jenkinson’s shorthand notes were held in an aluminum waterproof case with an 18-foot-long scroll. As navigator, he was also responsible for flashing the lights and blowing the horn with the controls located on his side. Jenkinson went for the ride of his life, for the 1955 race has been described as the most superb of Moss’ distinguished career!
As Moss told me at that lunch, “The 300SLR would top out at about 7600 rpm, which was a shade over 170 mph. There were spots where we would maintain this for miles on end.” Fellow car nuts, this kind of high-speed motoring demands courage and trust all around. Because it is impossible to corner anywhere near potential on a blind curve and many curves were made blind by the crowds, I wondered how Stirling drove these situations. “Carefully and scared" was his response.
Stirling Moss became an idol of mine when, as a teenager, I attended the 1953 Sebring he won in an OSCA. To spend a leisurely afternoon with him, surrounded by 20 dozen of the finest race cars ever assembled, was the fulfillment of a dream. When Moss discovered that I also held a road race record of sorts, the Cannonball, he began to barrage me with questions in turn. Needless to say, this fine session left my ego in the clouds. Stirling Moss admired my run! I could have done the 1,000 miles of the Mille Miglia as a Goodyear blimp!