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The Donington Grand Prix - 1937

Volume 4


by Rodney Walkerley

Rosemeyer, carefree as usual, chatted until the last moment but Brauchitsch seemed strung-up, nervy and sullen.

With 30 seconds to go the German engines started up, the drivers holding them at an even 1,500 r.p.m., not revving up and down in the manner usual with smaller cars, and as the flag went up, the revs mounted to a steady shattering, thunderous roar and then they surged away with tyre treads belching smoke, leaving long black lines to show where they had stood. That fantastic start in an inferno of suddenly unleashed sound was something that left the packed crowds awe-struck, open-mouthed, silent.

Away they went in the usual insane traffic jam, round Red Gate, stringing out, and away through the woods, and behind them trailed the E.R.A.s, outmatched already.

The vibrant thunder died gradually away in the distance and we waited, hushed our stopwatches in hand.

One minute . . . one minute thirty seconds . . . and then, far away, came the droning as if of distant aeroplanes. The drone rose to a roar, and there, twinkling silver in the sun, they came, down Starkey's Straight in full view, one behind the other at 170 m.p.h., a speed never before seen in Britain.

The seven German cars, nose to tail, the rest nowhere at all, tore past the back of the pits and fled downhill into Melbourne's 15 m.p.h. hairpin. Round they swirled and then they were upon us. At 100 m.p.h. they shot over the crest of the ridge, all four wheels clear of the ground with the impetus of that phenomenal acceleration. The Mercedes came with front wheels a foot off, the Auto Unions with similar daylight under their rear wheels.

In a crash of sound they went past, cut, braked and cornered into Red Gate again - Lang in the lead, Caracciola, from the second rank, 4 sec. behind him, Brauchitsch third, Seaman fourth, Rosemeyer fifth, Muller and Hasse sixth and seventh. Then, after a long pause, Bira (Maserati), Martin and Mays and Howe on the E.R.A.s.

And as once again the thunder dwindled into silence, a great audible gasp went up from the enclosure. Men took off their caps and wiped their brows and turned to stare at each other in amazement. This was the sort of racing they had read about. Now they saw it, for the first time. And they were thunderstruck.

von Brauchitsch at Melbourne HillI think what etched that moment on the memory was the scene of those thousands of people, silent in the enclosures, craning forward as the faraway droning began again beyond Coppice Farm and deepened into the thunderous roar which seemed to shake the very air and the sight of those unattended bookmakers' stands with their absurd odds still chalked and unchanged. We did not know then, as the seven German cars once again tore past us in line ahead and the British "light brigade" fell farther and farther back in a forlorn, hopeless contest, that all but two of the bookies and their clerks were quietly detaching themselves from the scene, abandoning their stands and, stealing silently away, first at a walk, and then at a run. (This last statement was modified to reflect current sensibilities ed.)