Number 276: The Heroes V Issue

It was only when we’d assembled our cast of heroes for RACER’s 24th anniversary issue that we noticed an obvious link: given their natural modesty and self-effacing style, none of these guys would regard themselves as heroes. In fact, they may even be embarrassed by the attention – so apologies to Rick Mears, David Pearson and our cover star, the late, great Phil Hill...

All are worthy subjects, and all have a fascinating story. Mears, the desert racer with an incredible affinity for The Brickyard. Pearson, the NASCAR winning machine who didn’t much care for the grind of contending for championships.

And Hill, a cultured trailblazer who delivered America its first Formula 1 World Championship, despite Enzo Ferrari’s reluctance to cast him into the cauldron of grand prix racing.

Hill’s relationship with Ferrari is in stark contrast to the productive and enduring alliances forged by Mears with Roger Penske and Pearson with the Wood Brothers. Where “The Rocket” and “The Silver Fox” thrived in an environment that provided them the support structure and the tools to do what they did best, Phil Hill prospered despite the court politics and dysfunctionality at the Scuderia.

Il Commendatore saw his American hire as one of the guys to burnish Ferrari’s sports car racing legacy – and hence sell Ferrari road cars... But Hill wanted more, and it says much for his character and determination that he eventually got (albeit grudgingly) what he desired.

Henri Toivonen eventually got what he desired, too. In his case, a state-of-the-art Lancia Delta S4 – a Group B rally rocketship that would finally allow the ultimate flying Finn to deliver on his promise. Tragically, 30 years ago, May 2, 1986, the dream ended in a shocking pyre on the French island of Corsica.

Toivonen, like Hill, Mears and Pearson, was an unassuming hero. RACER salutes all of them and feels privileged that our sport contains such extraordinary individuals.

Watch The Heroes V Issue Video