Journal: Phil Hill Exemplifies An Era When Racers Just Wanted to Race

Phil Hill Exemplifies An Era When Racers Just Wanted to Race

By Petrolicious Productions
May 1, 2014

Graphic design by Becca Clason for Petrolicious / Vintage photographs courtesy of Ferrari North America and Mr. Roy Spencer

Everybody knows that Mr. Phil Hill is the only American-born Formula One World Champion, but less known is how conflicted he felt about racing, once commenting that “I’m in the wrong business. I don’t want to beat anybody, I don’t want to be the big hero.” Fortunately, he stuck with it despite his misgivings and enjoyed great success.

But, in sharp contrast with today’s F1 stars, Phil wasn’t just a Formula One driver. If you can imagine, back then, racers actually seemed to enjoy racing! And so they did it often and in different classes, jumping from Grand Prix car to Sports GT to Prototype so that they could race frequently (and get paid). Obviously, there was less of an emphasis on safety back in that era and to some degree talent was viewed as replaceable. But the majority of racers relished the opportunity to mix it up and win. Regardless, Phil didn’t only win the 1961 Formula One World Drivers’ Championship driving for Ferrari; he also won the 24 hours of Le Mans three times (with Mr. Olivier Gendebien each time) in addition to multiple wins at Sebring, the Nurburgring, and Buenos Aires (in Ferraris and others).

Phil may have exposed himself to greater risk by climbing into more race cars than a modern driver would, but as a result he left a larger legacy too. We honor him and that legacy.

The photo immediately below is courtesy of Mr. Roy Spencer, taken by his father, and is from his just-released book, Motorbinder (click here to check it out). We’ll have a full review soon, but it features gallery-quality photos of the cars and heroes of the 1950s and ’60s. If this photo is any indication, it should be amazing!

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Giuseppe Fraschini
Giuseppe Fraschini(@giuseppe)
7 years ago

Not a single word about Ayrton Senna, on the day he past away 20 years ago,what a shame…

Ray Beltran
Ray Beltran(@raybee27)
7 years ago

AKA “Feel Heel.”

Vincent Kemp
Vincent Kemp(@vkemp)
7 years ago

I found [url=”″]this book[/url] on the 1961 season quite interesting. I wouldn’t call it a good book but it sure contains some information on Phil Hill and von Trips.

Matt McFaden
Matt McFaden
7 years ago

Seems like you are insinuating that todays F1 drivers don’t enjoy racing because they don’t race in other series. Many of them do still dabble in other races, Alonso in karting from time to time and Kimi likes to sneak in snowmobile racing much to his managers dismay. But the reason why most of them don’t do it is because modern racing schedules don’t allow the time for it. Between travel, training and countless hours in simulators training for the next race, there just isn’t time. The drivers of the past tried to race as much as possible, in any car, to get the practice behind the wheel. As I said, this is largely replaced by simulator time today. I’d say todays drivers enjoy racing just as much as Phil Hill did, wether they are in contention for a world championship or not. Just my 2¢.

7 years ago
Reply to  Matt McFaden

Well said. Amen

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt McFaden

I agree with you that I can’t imagine current racing drivers would race if they didn’t enjoy it. Having said that it is sometime hard to tell as their interviews can often sound like they are just reading out their PR’s press release. Also in Phil Hill’s day sportscar racing held a status almost as high as F1 (and Le Mans possibly higher than any individual F1 race). Nowadays I doubt you would find a European of South American racing driver starting out on his or her career saying their ultimate goal is anything other than F1?

Yoav Gilad
Yoav Gilad(@yoav)
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt McFaden

Hey Matt,

What was meant was that back then, racing was a much more straightforward affair for the top-tier drivers: if you wanted to get paid, you raced. There were no insurance limitations on your activities and fewer exclusivity limitations, hence the comment about safety… But yes, I’m sure that today’s drivers enjoy it just as much.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
7 years ago

Phil Hill what a great American driver but also a great soul as well. I respect drivers from all eras of racing and all the different styles of racing as well. There is just something about drivers from the 1950’s and 60’s that just seems to stand out for me. Fearlessly driving beautiful cars at speeds almost unthinkable at the time in cars that had very primitive safety standards when compared to today’s race cars.