On the edge of death. Auto racing in the first half of the last century was the closest flirtation between man and tragedy. Not only did heroes who wore a laurel wreath become heroes, the feat also encompassed those who were fortunate enough to finish some competition. The maximum expression of speed in the pre-war era was the European Grand Prix, the prologue to what was later formalized as Formula 1, where they basted stories loaded with courage and heroism.
Lucy Schell She was the daughter of an American industrialist who had decided to change the luxury and comfort she enjoyed thanks to family wealth to enlist as a nurse during the First World War. With peace again in Europe, Schell’s life continued to travel on no less dangerous and challenging roads: the young woman became a racing driver, competed in the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally and was also a pioneer in breaking with the conventions of those times and intervene in a purely masculine discipline.
They were times where Silver Arrows from Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union powered by Adolf Hitler They were on the rise and swept with increasing frequency in the great competitions of the continent. Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Bugatti it had given ground and they did not have as unbalanced support as that provided by the German Government. Precisely, the terrain of the competition was one preferred by the Führer to demonstrate the supremacy of the nation. In 1933, when he first came to power, Hitler clearly announced that the Third Reich was to dominate the Grand Prix. The objective was being achieved hand in hand with the developments of Ferdinand Porsche, the financial contributions to Mercedes and Auto Union, and the hiring of the best pilots of the time.
In motorsports, Hitler He had the advice of the experienced pilot Hans Stuck, whom he had met through his driver. In the seats of their Silver Arrows Rudi Caracciola and Bernd Rosemeyer, the fastest drivers of the 1930s, took turns and stood out, but also had Tazio Nuvolari and Hermann Lang. German power on track was practically unbeatable. Practically…
The chronicles of the time tell that the conductive abilities of a certain René Dreyfus they were on par with those of Caracciola or Rosemeyer, or perhaps even above. But that pilot’s promising career had been left in the shadows by his Jewish heritage. That condition had excluded Dreyfus from the most powerful teams. In 1938 the paths of Schell and Dreyfus crossed.
Schell, who had already earned his place in a talented world of men, had decided to face a challenging goal: to defeat the Nazis with his own team, financed with part of his fortune. The brand that he chose to supply the cars, a priori, was not the one that predicted the greatest success: French Delahaye. This was a small company mainly known for producing solid and powerful vehicles, mostly trucks. For the brand, one of the most humble then, the racing world could be transformed into its own salvation.
The one in charge of getting on those rough cars, just like Schell’s choice, was René Dreyfus. The young pilot came with confidence beaten after an accident on a Bugatti where he had been very close to death, and the loss of several friends on different circuits. Fascism, moreover, had already come down from the seats of Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes. Then a path of redemption began for him, for a brand that sought to avoid disappearance and for a small woman who defied limits.
The Pau French Grand Prix, at the beginning of the 1938 season, was then the setting for one of the most iconic and symbolic stories of the time. Both Nuvolari and Lang, two of the fastest drivers in the tests, were unable to start that day due to problems in their cars. Fate then left hand in hand the modern Mercedes W154 by Caracciola against the obsolete Delahaye 145 by Dreyfus. There were 100 laps in more than three agonizing hours of racing: Dreyfus’s Delahaye outscored the Germans of Mercedes by 1’51 ’’, and also his teammate, Gianfranco Comotti, finished in third position. Only six cars managed to finish the race. The Jewish pilot displaced by Nazism, champion of the feat, could on his knees the German empire and ridiculed him before all of Europe.
That was the last great victory of René Dreyfus, who died in 1993, but with a long history and presence in the world of Formula 1. He competed until the year 55 and attended numerous events until his old age, including talks with Juan Manuel Fangio. Lucy Schell continued her racing team, always loyal to Delehaye, and was tasked with getting Dreyfus American citizenship. Schell’s son Harry inherited his mother’s DNA and went on to compete in 56 Formula 1 Grand Prix where he won two podiums, but died in an accident during the UK Grand Prix at Silverstone.
“Faster” is a book by the American journalist Neal Bascomb that tells this epic story in detail. France against Germany. Delahaye against Mercedes. Dreyfus vs. Caracciola. And the feat of a woman who knew how to defeat Hitler’s “Cavalry of the Future”. Always on the edge of death.
I KEPT READING: