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Peter Giddings Racing


by Peter Darnall in Veloce Today



I first met Peter Giddings in the paddock of a California track then known as Sears Point. My directions to Peter’s spot in the paddock were unique: “look for a Great Dane with a vintage Alfa Romeo.” That track has been renamed several times; it’s Sonoma Raceway today. The Giddings entourage, however, always featured a Great Dane and rare vintage racing machinery.

Some things never change...

Recently, in the paddock of Thunderhill Raceway, an elegant Great Dane named Havoc was competing with an extremely rare Lancia D24 for the spectators’ attention. Peter’s enthusiastic wife Judy, always a blur of activity, alternated between attending to the Lancia and treating Havoc to his morning constitutional. Peter stood nearby patiently answering questions about the Lancia and posing for pictures.

"That's the way it's always been," agreed Mike Sims. Mike has traveled to racing venues with Peter for many years providing mechanical backup for the cars. "We raised eyebrows everywhere we went. It was just the car and us -- no team of uniformed mechanics or elaborate catered meals .. and that's just the way Peter wanted it."

Mike Sims manages Peter's website these days. The site is a fine source of technical material pertaining to cars Peter has campaigned as well as a treasury of colorful anecdotes on the cars and the men who raced them.

Peter traced his fascination with motor racing back to his surreptitious visits to the Goodwood race track in Sussex, England. He would ride his bicycle -- his only means of transportation -- from his Eastbourne home to the racing facility. He was apprehended for sneaking in so often that he was eventually appointed an official timekeeper to legitimize his presence. Among his memories of those halcyon days was the thrill of watching Tony Gaze at speed in the ex-Prince Bira/Whitney Straight Maserati #3011. Forty years later, Peter would own this magnificent Maserati and add his contributions to the iconic ca'.s long history.

Peter’s first car was a 1932 BSA Cyclecar three-wheeler, which he managed to qualify as a “motorcycle combination,” since he was not old enough to apply for a driver’s license. His racing adventures began in 1959 with a modified 1928 Frazer Nash, known as the Union Special. According to his personal records, “the car cost around $500 dollars, developed 115 bhp, weighed 1100 pounds, had no differential, and provided neck-snapping performance.” Peter became a regular competitor at Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Goodwood, Crystal Palace, Oulton Park, Firle, Bodiam, and Wiscombe. Read Peter’s memories of the Frazer Nash in VeloceToday.

Let me add another Frazer Nash story. It’s a tale of a feisty race car and a young Peter Giddings who was determined to go motor racing despite parental opposition . . .
Peter’s mother was a music teacher and hoped that Peter would become a professional musician. Unfortunately, a motor racing crash injured his shoulder and he was no longer able to hold his bass viol. [This may have been Peter’s excuse-per Mike Sims]. Understandably, Peter’s mother was saddened by this incident and opposed his clandestine automotive activities.

During the Christmas holidays, Peter planned to run the Frazer Nash in a race some distance from his home. The sponsor of the event was a distillery and a magnum of whiskey was promised to each competitor as an inducement to attract a proper field. To mask this forbidden venture, he’d concocted a cock and bull story to explain both his absence at the Christmas festivities and the need for the Frazer Nash, which was his sole means of automotive transportation.
His mother seemed skeptical, Peter said, but agreed to celebrate Christmas without him. The weather was cold with intermittent rains showers as Peter’s group took their green flag. The Frazer Nash had a unique chain drive system which linked sprockets to a rear axle without the need for a differential. This system was simple and was key to the successes of these cars on the race track. Coping with the strong oversteering tendency--particularly in wet conditions—wasn’t for the faint of heart!

“I was putting on a fine display of ‘sideways motoring’ and running well up in the pack when a radiator hose burst.” Peter’s recalled. The car suddenly disappeared in a cloud of steam and spun off the track. “Fire,” the excited announcer shouted. “Giddings’ car is on fire!”

Fortunately, the damage to the car was minor, but P. Giddings’ race was over. He planned to quietly return to Eastbourne, but his surreptitious racing activity had attracted attention. Unbeknownst to Peter, the event was being televised and the cameras had been following his flamboyant diving style closely. Although the Giddings family didn’t own a television, Peter’s mother was enjoying a Christmas visit with a neighbor, who happened to have a television. The broadcast of the race was on and Peter’s chicanery embarrassingly exposed.

“My mother nearly fainted when the car disappeared in a cloud of steam, Peter recalled. “She was in quite a mood when she left the neighbor’s house,” he added with a sardonic smile. Her mood hadn’t improved at all when Peter retuned later that night. As soon as he opened the door, she confronted him with the television program evidence. His cover story was gone, but that unopened magnum turned out to be a belated Christmas blessing. After the histrionics, they both had a bit of the whiskey and even joked about his peccadillos. Years later, he claimed, she would remember this holiday as her most enjoyable Christmas of them all.

Sadly, it’s over now. No reason to roam the paddocks looking for “a Great Dane with a vintage Alfa Romeo.” The Giddings entourage won’t be there. Peter was more than an internationally recognized authority on vintage grand prix cars and the men who drove them. He was also a first-rate driver. Nobody ever made those marvelous race cars come alive the way Peter could.

Godspeed, my friend.

Monza at Sonoma


Havoc at Races