Car racing seems, on casual review, to be among the simplest of sports. Drive around a course repeatedly, be first at the end. In reality, many factors combine to make it difficult. There’s the jockeying for position and knowing the tendencies of your opponents, who will back away from a potential crash and who won’t; there’s the speed at which simple repairs and maintenance can be performed; there’s the concentration required to spend hours attentive to every thing around you.
Then there’s also math. Math is important, as Jack Brabham learned in 1959.
Brabham was in the running for the World Championship, but he needed to do well in the final race of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Sebring. Wanting an edge, he did everything he could to legally lighten his vehicle, thinking that the fractions of pounds involved could make the difference for the title he so wanted.
His efforts paid off. Brabham jumped to an early lead in the race and proceeded to be in the lead through the entire thing. Or at least, almost the entire thing. It seems that one of his weight-limiting ideas was to calculate out just exactly as much fuel that he was going to need to win the race.
This is where he learned that a fudge factor between real and ideal is often necessary. A few hundred yards from the finish lane, the vehicle coasted to a halt, out of gas.
Brabham wasn’t trying to win just the race, however. He was trying to win the World Championship, and that is determined by position in a series of races. Recognizing this fact, he unstrapped himself from the car, went to the back of the vehicle, and started pushing.
The unbraked vehicle, with its steering wheel set, was pushed the final four hundred yards with other vehicles passing him. In the end, he came in fourth in the race, even if he wasn’t traditionally “driving” for all of it… and that was enough to cement his first World Championship title.
Question of the night: What’s the fastest you’ve traveled without being airborne?