London, England, Dec. 6
[Ed. Note: We were pleasantly surprised to receive this submission from our friend Andrew Marriott, the well-known veteran motorsports journalist and a regular on Speedvision’s endurance racing coverage. We enjoyed it, and think you will, too. Hopefully, Andrew will send us more like this.]
In the death of George Harrison, we lost not just a great musician and rock legend but also a motorsport fan. Not a Johnny-come-lately, Bernies-given-me-a-pit-pass-because-Im-famous sort of fan, but a genuine lover of motorsport. Not the kind of motorsport fan where it all begins and ends with Formula 1, but a guy who also knew his Le Mans from his Monterey and could tell you the names of drivers in the British Touring Car Championship. He also loved Grand Prix bike racing; indeed, Barry Sheene and I even persuaded him to sponsor a 500cc World Championship bike many years ago.
It all started before the Cavern Club, even before the Quarry Men became the Beatles, but it’s really not that surprising. George lived in nearby Wavertree, just a short bus ride away from the then-British Grand Prix venue of Aintree, which of course doubled as a major horse racing track.
He used to recount how his first Grand Prix was the 1955 British and how, as a 12-year-old schoolboy, he thrilled to the sight and sound of the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz W196s as Stirling Moss led home Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Piero Taruffi for a Silver Arrows one-through-four on a boiling hot summers day. Motor racing had a new fan.
He had to wait two years before his next Grand Prix at Aintree, and George was to witness another Stirling Moss win, but this time in a British Racing Green Vanwall he had taken over from Tony Brooks. George was 14, and along with motor racing he was also stirred by a new phenomenon rock and roll. One of the two interests was to propel him to the fame to which he never really became accustomed and, indeed, a huge fortune.
But he never forgot his love for motor racing, and occasionally was able to catch Grand Prix coverage in some far-off hotel room, often with commentary in a language he didnt really understand.
Then in the ’70s, no longer a Beatle but still a mega-star, he found a little more time to catch up with the world of motorsport. He had met Britains then-golden boy of motorcycle racing, the ‘76 and ‘77 500cc World Champion Barry Sheene, as well as James Hunt. The pair shared the management group CSS, and as a founder of that organization I spent considerable time writing the articles, books and columns appearing under the byline of the two British World Champions. Georges appearance on the scene gave me plenty to write about. I thought he might be suspicious of a journalist, but he wasnt in the slightest and wanted to hear about the heroes I had known and written about, such as Jim Clark and Jochen Rindt.
At the end of ‘77 Sheenes close friend and Suzuki teammate Steve “Stavros” Parrish lost his ride with the manufacturer, despite being the rookie of the year. We put our heads together; Parrish could acquire a customer Suzuki, and somehow or other I was able to engineer a sponsorship deal with a long-since-departed skateboard manufacturer. But the budget was not enough to mount a privateer Grand Prix effort. Barry said hed give George a call to see if he could make up the shortfall, and sure enough, a couple of weeks later we were able to unveil Team Makaha Skateboards with Harrisongs.
George came to quite a few bike Grands Prix that year, happy to stand in the pits and enjoy the atmosphere, sometimes completely unrecognized by the local fans. Here, too, was a kind and generous man. My secretary made some relatively small arrangements for one particular race, fixed the hotel room or something similar. The same day a huge bouquet of flowers was delivered personally by George.
The same year Sheenes thoughts turned to doing a John Surtees, and we were able to arrange for him to drive a Surtees TS19 in a secret session at Brands Hatch. George was really excited by this, and was just one of the handful of well-wishers who turned up on that fall day as Sheene came close to breaking the outright Indy circuit record.
For the next 20 years George attended races when his schedule allowed. He struck up a friendship with Gordon Murray, the then-Brabham designer, and was later to buy a McLaren F1 GT car designed by the South African. This was not a car to be parked in a collection; George used the car regularly, and absolutely loved it.
He liked to support British champions, and he became a firm friend of Damon Hill, the pair also sharing a love of the guitar. Quite how good a guitarist Damon was when he met George I am not sure, but the sessions he spent with George seem to have paid dividends, as the former World Champion is certainly a mean plucker of the plectrum these days. Damon talks in hushed tones of his trips to Georges baronial home, Friar Park near Henley-on-Thames, and being shown the guitar used in A Hard Days Night
and how he was allowed to play it.
At various times George would turn up in the paddocks of the world: Adelaide for the first Australian Grand Prix, Long Beach to cheer on Nigel Mansell during his CART affair or Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. The fans inside the Ecclestone compound would treat him with respect, and he knew most likely theyd want to talk about motor racing rather than his days with the Beatles. Often he went unrecognized as he stood at the back of the McLaren garage, soaking up the atmosphere. He expected no special favors, he had no minders or security men; he just enjoyed being there.
He sought me out in the paddock at the British Motorcycle Grand Prix at Donington Park some eight years ago. My wife Beth, a big Beatles fan, had died of cancer two months earlier. Somehow he had heard the news, and he wanted to say how sorry he was. I was astonished he knew, and that he had made the effort to find me. It lifted my spirits at a very difficult time.
Now he has been taken by the same pernicious disease. The world has lost the second member of the “Fab Four,” a brilliant musician and songwriter. And motorsport has lost a lifelong fan. [x]