In November 1975 Graham Hill died when fog took over the skies of North London and his aeroplane crashed. The nation reeled at the loss of a hero.
Hill was not the first, nor tragically the last of the heroes of British Motor Sport to die off the track. In 1959, a few months after becoming Formula One World Champion, former Le Mans winner, Mike Hawthorn took the spirit of competition too far. On the A3 Guildford By-pass, in filthy weather, he put pedal to the metal in his Jag and raced to catch and overtake his one-time racing colleague Rob Walker's Merc. No-one really knows what happened, but the result was in no doubt. Mike Hawthorn had driven his last race.
An audaciously talented youngster, Mike Hailwood made his debut on the motor cycling stage in 1957 at Oulton Park. Great things were predicted and fulfilled. From the age of 17, he enjoyed huge success and won 4 World Championships in the premier class. Perhaps more astonishing is the fact that he also took 14 wins in the gruelling Isle of Man TT Road races, and then, incredibly moved to 4 wheels. Although he never won a Formula One race, he more than earned the right to fame when he saved the life of fellow driver Clay Regazzoni, dragging him from a burning wreck in the South African Grand Prix of 1973. Soon after, he retired from racing but came back to win a final TT race in 1978. It was hard to read of his fatal accident on a Warwickshire road in 1981.
A more recent lost hero was Steve Hislop. A bike rider for whom the words man-of-steel could have been coined. I followed his career with awe and fascination. He did what no current track rider can even dream of. He ruled the TT races and he ruled British Superbikes. After suffering a poor season start in 2003, defending his '02 title (he'd won it before in 1995), he was turning it around. We all knew that he had the talent and the hunger to triumph again. But fate had another card to play. At just 41 years old, 5 years younger than Graham Hill, an eerily similar accident claimed his life. In the skies above Hawick, not far from his home, in conditions of poor visibility, something caused his helicopter to crash. Hizzie died and everyone who had ever sat on a bike or watched a bike race mourned.
Motor-sport is dangerous and we watch, or compete, at all levels knowing the risks. There are horrendous crashes. Men are carried off on stretchers with broken, twisted limbs. Yet, across all levels, these competitors come back a week later, and ride to win.The tragedy of my four heroes is that they did not die in pursuit of their sporting ambition. They fell foul of the grim reaper because they loved thrills, excitement and chasing the adrenaline rush. They were the victims of chance, the weather or even the hand of God.