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Motorsport Memorial site: Tribute or death pornography?

This is purely a personal opinion, and it is not necessarily the opinion of my friends and colleagues, one of whom contributes information to the site in question from time to time.  Does anybody agree with me? Does anybody disagree with me? I would be interested to hear opinions either way.

Many motorsport followers will be familiar with the following website:

http://www.motorsportmemorial.org
This site purports to be a memorial to all those who have lost their lives while competing in motorsport or as a consequence of motorsport, for example the deaths of spectators. There is nothing wrong with that if this is really the purpose of the site, but a closer examination of the contents of the site reveals a rather different story. Is it not rather creepy the way these deaths are collected and catalogued so earnestly, like schoolboys collecting stamps or cigarette cards? Motorsport is by its nature a dangerous activity, and anyone wth a good knowledge of the subject would be expected to know something about the many tragedies which have occurred over the years, particularly those which have altered the course of history, but it is my opinion that an interest in the deaths of competitors, to the extent that it overrides any interest in other aspects of the sport, is inherantly sick.

When the individual entries on this site are examined often they give few or no details of the competitor`s achievements, and yet until recently we were treated to unnecessarily detailed accounts of the competitor`s fatal injuries, to the extent that they often read like an autopsy report. Belatedly they have gone some way towards cleaning up their act on this point, but some unpleasant details remain on the site. Why is it necessary to publish any details of fatal injuries? How must the family and friends of the victims feel after reading these details? This is the sort of information only a coroner needs to know. Until recently the site featured a category `Unusual cases`. They have now changed it to `Related cases` but the content of the category remains the same. This category can only have been compiled for the purpose of `entertaining` the reader. Note also how all the deaths recorded on the site are carefully catalogued according to various criterea; circuit, event, vehicle type, vehicle sub-type, vehicle brand, etc, even if the victims were not competitors. For example two children aged 7 and 4 were killed at Skofje Loka in 1973 when they were struck by Emanuele Maugliani`s machine. To catalogue the deaths of these children according to circuit, event, vehicle type, vehicle sub-type, vehicle brand, etc is at best pointless and tasteless, and in my opinion it tells us all we need to know about the sort of people who run this site.

In my opinion the owners of this site need to take it offline and have a serious rethink about how they present it. At present they are leaving themselves wide open to the allegation that they are death pornographers, and that the objective of their site is to titillate the reader in some disturbing and macabre way.

Laurence Hammond

6 June 2009

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20 comments

  1. I am one of the main contributors to MM, primarily covering American automobile and aircraft racing.

    The owner of this site is of the delusional opinion that providing details of injuries leading to fatalities might produce an important pattern that could lead to reduction of future fatalities.

    I disagree with this delusion.

    In fact, an existing committee of the FIA uses MM as a resource in their effort to make racing safer for all concerned.

    Unlike you, I find it offensive that the memories of people killed in this sport should be tossed into oblivion because it might offend a relative, friend or fan of the subject.

    Hemingway once made the statement that racing, bull fighting and mountain climbing are true sports – all else are merely games.

    As far as I know I am the only member of MM who can make entries who has actually raced cars and/or has had a pilots license.

    In my first formal training session I witnessed a roll-over in which the driver was killed. This fact brought home to me that this is definitely a dangerous sport, and caused me to be careful, and make use of all safety equipment.

    Le Mans also brought home to me the fact that spectator safety must be the top priority at races. Any information that causes spectator injuries needs to be widely circulated, so that newer precautions need to be considered in the future.

    At Hagerstown, MD, I witnessed a MB-300-SL slide on wet grass into the rear of the pit area. A Bentley was badly damaged, and one person was hit by the SL, breaking his leg (or legs?). Less than a year later I saw the same possibility at a race near Shreveport. I alerted the stewards to the danger, and they immediately took extra efforts to keep spectators out of the possible slide area.

    At another race where I was the “chief observer” I witnessed some of what I would call incompetence (or ignorance) by a driver who insisted on maintaining racing speed through a turn with a waving yellow flag condition.

    Both of the corner’s flagmen had been broadsided by a Lotus 7, and were on the ground. The driver wasn’t injured, so I told him to keep the injured flagmen on the ground until medics could arrive. That was when I realized that there were no flagmen, and cars were still racing through the turn. I didn’t know why the Lotus went sideways (oil? mechanical failure? dumb driver?) but I did know that everyone on the corner was in danger. I grabbed the yellow flag and waved it as the racing cars approached the corner. One driver decided he could gain time by maintaining speed through the corner. I was tempted to hit him in the face with the flag stick the third time he ignored the waving yellow flag, but radioed the chief steward to black flag the offending car. The cause of the accident was that the Lotus got its left side tires on the sandy surface next to the pavement, thus causing his right side tires to lock up while sharply braking for the right turn corner. The car was thrown sideways, taking down the flagmen before they could move out of danger.

    Racing is dangerous. Accidents happen. But I agree with you – there is no place for descriptions of injuries beyond a general statement of the fatal result.

    Motor Sport Memorial has had contact with many of the immediate relatives or close friends of racing victims, and all have expressed appreciation for our site and our hard work.

    As for providing more extensive biographical information, we try – with limited success. Some of our foreign workers have poor enough command of the English language that they all too often produce what I feel are insulting, at worst, and incompetent at best, results. I avoid any usage of “superlatives” and “adverbs” because they are too often trite or phony tributes. One of our contributors writes “biographies” that read as if the writer was selling a can of beans or some other product, instead of focusing on information that is relevant and accurate regarding the subject.

    I do find it understandable, but unacceptable, that focusing on fatalities in racing is in bad taste or “pornographic”.

    Your complaint is justified about a few of MM’s entries. one was a description of injuries that got into MM that angered me. It was an overly detailed description of the injuries of a specific. I badgered the offending author enough about the poor taste of the notes that he eventually produced such a detailed biography of the subject that the offending passage, which remains, got buried so deeply in the notes that I doubt that many readers will ever get deeply enough into the article to find it. The flaw in his biography was that he used considerable information about a make of car that only a factory engineer would understand what the hell he was writing about. The rest of the readers would probably give up on the article long before reaching the offensive injury description.

    Unfortunately, little is known about the majority of MM’s racing fatalities. And with the number of entries rapidly approaching the 10,000 mark internationally, there is limited time to do justice with a biography other than a few hundred of the subjects.

    We try to get accurate and basic information and spell the names correctly. I recently discovered that the surname of the first fatality at a British track was possibly spelled incorrectly – deeper research by our British collaborators proved my hunch to be correct.

    Another case, based on false rumors, wrote that a woman was a widow three times to three (different) drivers. I proved that the third driver was married only one time, and he was never married to the woman named in the original entry of the rumor that was assumed to be true.

    These are small victories over rumors (lies) that need to be put to rest.

    As for the entire site of Motorsport Memorial, if you find something within a specific page that is offensive or “death pornography”, I suggest that you should contact the website and raise hell about it.

    On the other hand, I suggest that there are many interesting discoveries to be found in the pages of Motorsport Memorial.

    Given the speeds and the large number of events held by the NHRA, for example, they have an excellent safety record. Perhaps knowledge of the twelve spectators killed at a lawful drag race (not affiliated with any known drag racing association) in Georgia made them aware of the need to take special attention to the safety of spectators.

    One thing you will never find in MM’s pages – photos of accident scenes. We have a section that is off-line where these photos are stored, especially when they may have informational value – such as the number on the car, the make of car, or other factual information that can prove a report to be true or false.

    For example, one entry indicated that a riding mechanic was killed in a pre-WW-II formula race. A starting line photo proved that the report was false, because none of the cars had riding mechanics.

    There are many surprises to be found while researching the fatalities in racing.

    I got started in this project more than six years ago when I retired and began to look for information about the drivers I used to compete with. I knew of one, mentioned above, and discovered a dozen or more that I had not known had been killed in racing. Within a short period I felt that there ought to be some kind of a memorial for this special group of people. While communicating with a researcher in Holland who was working on a silmilar project, I eventually learned of MM. What I thought might be a few thousand names now appears headed for at least 16,000 or more.

    If you enjoy auto (and boats, motorcycles, aircraft and other kinds of motor) racing, then you will appreciate this site.

    If, on the other hand, you are against racing as a sport, then I suggest that you look for another cause to champion.

    For example, did you know that there are more than three “911” attacks against the United States every year deliberately perpetrated by “domestic terrorists”?

    They have a common method of operation – driving while drunk.

    Go get them Laurence! The life you same might be you, or someone dear to you!

    E. R. Kelly
    Oklahoma City


    • At least Mr Kelly agrees that I have a point concerming a few of the Motorsport Memorial entries, but my objection to the way this site is presented runs deeper than that. The way deaths are catalogued, according to machine type even if the victims were spectators. What exactly is the point of this? I noticed recently that the site has produced statistics on the unluckiest racing numbers, a purely random statistic with no safety implications whatsoever. It is at best stupid to produce such statistics. As for the suggestion that I am against racing as a sport of course I am not. I would not be writing this book if I was against racing. My interest is in the sport of motorcycle road racing in its many facets. The contributors to the Motorsport Memorial site give the impression that they are only interested in one aspect of the sport, namely the deaths of competitors. If that is not the case they are doing themselves no favours in the way they present the site. Mr Kelly even states that the owner of the site he contributes to holds a delusional opinion. I suggest that this opinion may be disingenuous rather than delusional.

      I object to the final three paragraphs of Mr Kelly`s comment. I do not quite understand the point he is making, but he seems to be suggesting that I would find terrorism or drink driving better than motorsport. If that is what he is suggesting it is ridiculous and I invite him to withdraw it.

      Laurence Hammond
      12.3 2010


  2. My “loyalty” in Motorsport Memorial is first, to the victim, second to the family of the victim, and third to the friends and fans of the victim.

    As a fan of racing, I give equal importance to all victims, be they competitors, crew, spectators or by-passers. The competitors know the risks they are taking, but spectators too often do not realize the potential danger to which they are exposed.

    As for the last three sentences you object to – if not you, who; if not now, when?

    Drunk drivers are a far more serious issue than than even the worst racing fatalities.

    Any time a previously convicted driver is found guilty of a second offense, the vehicle should be confiscated, as in many drug offenses.

    You have the right to object to our site. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.

    If you have constructive criticism, some of which I agree with, bring it to our attention.

    If you don’t like reminders of the loss of people to accidents and other causes, rant about the obituaries in newspapers, and call for graveyards to be plowed under so that the land can be put to better use.

    Recently someone made a comment that “death has replaced sex as a taboo subject”.

    You may not have noticed that MM also has a chapter called “Lest We Forget”. It has a similar purpose – to remember people connected to racing who have died from “natural causes”. There are many whose contributions to racing are dwarfed by other achievements not connected to racing.

    The eventual goal of Motorsport Memorial is to produce a site that celebrates racing as a sport. Consigning the people who have died while racing to silent oblivion is far more insulting to them and their family, friends and fans than our honest attempt to remember them in good taste, accurately and factually.

    If you can identify errors, or specific items that are in poor taste, we welcome the opportunity to make corrections or adjustments.

    I can empathize with those who don’t like to think about death, but that is their problem, not mine.

    None of us is going to get out of this world alive.

    E. R. Kelly
    Oklahoma City


  3. Mr Kelly seems to misunderstand my position. I do not object to the recording of racing fatalities. My objections to the Motorsport Memorial site in its present form are that the contributors give the impression that they are only interested in motorsport from the perspective of the deaths of competitors, too many unnecessary details of fatal injuries are listed, and the information is catalogued in such a crass way (for example compiling statistics on the unluckiest racing numbers) that it seems to confirm that the contributors are enjoying the macabre for its own sake. Unless Mr Kelly has any new points of substance that is all I have to say to him on the subject. What does anyone else think?

    Laurence Hammond
    12.3.10


  4. My final points:

    1) “Pornographic” is a poor choice of an adjective to describe what MM does.

    2) To see who has contributed information to MM click on:

    http://www.motorsportmemorial.org/acknowledgements.php?db=ct.

    On this list there are scores of direct relatives of many of MM’s subjects who have appreciated the efforts of MM as a memorial site.

    E. R. Kelly
    Oklahoma City


  5. My `last word` on the subject. Some of the entries seem to be written with a view to `entertaining` the reader, particularly in the section previously titled `Unusual cases`, later retitled as `Related cases`. A true Memorial site would not feature a section such as this.

    Laurence Hammond


  6. My personal and carefully considered opinion:
    Much of the details of accidents are only to be found on this site, which strives for accuracy and updates inaccuracies as they become known.
    Any included accurate detail, no matter how trifling it may appear to some, will at some point be of great historical significance to someone else, yes even the deaths of spectators, and the details of the circuit, event etc are then very relevant to a researcher who’s subject the critics cannot even begin to imagine.
    Just because these facts are outside the sphere of interest of some, does not justify the suppression of these facts.
    I would actually like further access to some crash scene images, because structural and construction details, contemporary moifications and developments are much more visible in crash images than in images of the pristine machine.
    I do not particularly want to look at blood and guts, but would be fully prepared to, in order to study particular vehicle details. Many photos of which are simply not available and the original vehicles are long gone, or held inaccessibly by museums or private collectors and possibly in later modified form than a researcher’s particular interest.
    If I find something to be pornographic, or to too macabre for my personal taste, I execise my appropriate keyboard button.
    Altering history and denying valid research into history is the worst kind of censorship, that in itself is a far greater obscenity than making some unpleasant facts available to all.
    True, some persons may have done a better job of presenting and categorising this site. But they did not step up to the plate and create this valuable historical resource. The objectors for the most part do not appear to offer their critisism in a constructive and helpful way.
    True, there no doubt exists a minority who have only a ghoulish interest in the details of death. But censoring this site will not prevent or reduce their numbers. Censoring this site will only appease another minority who believe it should be censored for their own limited interest reasons.
    While I deplore the ghoul, I fear the zealot more.

    Neale Gentner


  7. I have had past contact with Mr Gentner, and I know he has a genuine interest in vehicle construction. However I fail to see how cataloguing the deaths of child spectators according to circuit, event, vehicle type, vehicle sub-type, vehicle brand, etc, serves any useful purpose at all. The category now titled `Related cases` but previously titled `Unusual cases` may only have been compiled to titilate the reader in a rather sick and macabre way. I am not seeking to suppress information about motor sport fatalities at all, it is simply that the people who run the Motorsport Memorial site appear to be interested in the deaths of competitors to the exclusion of all other aspects of the sport. I find that attitude sick, twisted and indefensible.

    Laurence Hammond


  8. Hello
    my father was killed in a motor racing accident when i was a boy, a long time ago.
    when i found this site, I was pleased to see his entry there.
    Long may this site continue, it helped me at a time when i needed to be helped.
    I am grateful to the creators of this site

    thank you

    Michael


  9. Fair enough, but I still think the site could be better written and most of all nobody should be interested in motorsport purely because of the fatal accidents.

    That is my objection to the Motorsport Memorial site in its present form.

    Laurence


  10. Details of any death are not necessary. All the family and friends want to know is the fact that the death occurred and possibly what caused it. Spare families the details for their sake. I lost a brother in a motor sports accidens when he was only 21 years old. Knowing the details won’t bring him back or make the grief any less real.
    Thanks for reading. Bob Hancock


    • I think this reader is agreeing with my point. The Motorsport Memorial people don`t seem to quite get it that it is unhealthy to be interested in motorsport purely from the perspective of logging fatal accidents. It gives motorsport enthusiasts in general a bad name, as if this is all any motorsports follower is interested in. They don`t even get all the details correct. Why are they libelling Vesa Bienek? He was Pentti Niinivaara`s innocent passenger in Jock Taylor`s fatal accident at Imatra in 1982, and they have written it up as if he was the driver who caused the accident. Disgraceful and I hope Bienek sues them.


  11. Hello Lawrence,
    In the past I was collaborating with information to the site (my name appears on the acknowledgements page) and along with a couple of other similar sites it has been a HUGE HELP when searching for events or races from before the time I was born or even from more than 60 years ago…
    I DISAGREE with you. I think you couldn’t understand the purpose of the site, which certainly isn’t to make a catalogue of injuries or a ranking of deaths as you pretend to see it.
    Like I said, for me it has been a great help when searching racing events from past moments and other times, it offers an extensive bibliography and well documented racing FACTS… the interpretation of these FACTS it’s up to the reader. Don’t kill the messenger if you can’t handle the message.

    I find much more sadistic your comment about the killed boys… I imagine you spend a while searching the site to find that specific detailed event, just to try to “prove” your twisted point of view. That’s exactly the opposite purpose of the site. Like I said I guess you just can’t handle the FACTS collected there.


    • If this is the sort of person who contributes to the Motorsport Memorial site no wonder it is like it is. It purports to have honourable motives when it`s real purpose is to titillate the reader with news of motorsport deaths to the exclusion of all other aspects of motorsport. If the contributors have a more general interest in motorsport it is not reflected in the content of this website.

      The last paragraph by Marie Laura Curzi is a disgrace and she owes me an apology. There is no good reason, when reporting the deaths of spectators of any age, to go into elaborate detail about the vehicle which caused the deaths. Is it really necessary to describe the make, model, capacity, etc, of the motorcycle, or the configuration of the circuit? These details are at best pointless and would only be listed in this way by people who have got their priorities completely wrong. How dare she accuse me of being sadistic when the website she contributes to has given these pointless details and I have done nothing of the sort. How dare she accuse me of searching the site to find an event to prove my `twisted point of view`. I am well aware of this incident and I did not need to search the Motorsport Memorial site to find out about it. I did nothing more than a quick check to cross reference the facts I researched elsewhere. As for claiming that I cannot handle the facts she really does not know what she is talking about. All the fatal incidents in top level motorcycle road racing will be reported in my book when I have finished it, but they will all be reported within the wider context of a genuine interest in all aspects of the sport, unlike Marie Laura Curzi and her other contributors, who seem to only be interested in the deaths of competitors.

      Laurence Hammond

      I received three more comments from this person but I trashed them all. This is my blog and I do not see why it should be used as a platform for people to be rude and insulting towards me.


  12. I agree. This is a rather grizzly list and sometimes poorly researched, simply repeating the mythologies that a person’s death has accumulated over sometimes years of family silence. Ernst Degner (for example) died of a heart attack not the oft-quoted ‘mysterious circumstances’ implying suicide, Stasi assassination etc.


    • Hi. I am glad someone agrees with me about this, although it is fair to say that some people involved in this site accept that I have a point. I am not against pornography as anyone can see from one of my other pages, provided willing parties are involved. The central problem with Motorsport Memorial is that the contributors tend to show little or no interest in other aspects of motorsport. The book I am making painfully slow progress with will cover all the significant fatal accidents, but in the context of the full history of motorcycle racing at the top level. There is no need to describe fatal injuries in detail, but it is fair to say the site has removed some of these details since I first made this post.


  13. I am very upset at your comments. My father was killed in 1964 and I provided detailed info to the site and some photos. The site had a lot of information particularly race and car info of my father. They downloaded the family history I provided and I and my brothers found the information very comforting. It was originally set up to bring awareness to the risks in the early 60’s with track safety etc. I refer to Jackie Stewart’s video. Grand Prix the killer years so I am very disappointed in your comments it looks like the site has been taken down and I have lost the information it provided me


    • If the site has been taken down it is nothing to do with me. Jackie Stewart is not the best example to quote. He led his fellow Formula 1 drivers in demanding the installation of Armco barriers at Grand Prix circuits and many motorcycle racers suffered unnecessary and sometimes horrific deaths as a result. Stewart himself subsequently recognised his mistake and suggested that the permanent barriers should be replaced by removable barriers, but by then it was too late. Robin Fitton`s leg was severed when he hit an Armco barrier at the Nürburgring in 1970. So much for safety! Read what Jon Ekerold had to say about the selfishness of Formula 1 drivers.

      I never suggested that the Motorsport Memorial site should be taken down, but my objection was that it focused entirely on deaths in Motorsport and showed little interest in anything else. It had numerous contributors, some of whom were better than others. Possibly as a result of my comments some of the entries were toned down, but there is absolutely no need to describe fatal injuries in detail, or to give details of the machine, rider number, configuration of the circuit, etc, when spectators have been killed. It is gratuitous and absurd,

      As to why the site has disappeared, you would do better to contact the people you have previously dealt with than criticise me for it.


  14. i don t understand the statement from e.r.kelly.
    the assertation is absurd ,realy. i found a lot of information between drivers. circuit .
    how do you criticize everything?
    greetings from germany.


    • I am not sure who you are agreeing or disagreeing with. Certainly some of Mr Kelly`s points were absurd or expressed poorly. My own point of view remains the same as it always has been. The reporting of deaths in motorsport is perfectly legitimate as being integral to the history of the sports, but taking an interest in deaths for their own sake without a wider interest in the sport is certainly not. Listing details of fatal injuries is unpleasant and unnecessary and mentioning details such as rider number, etc is wholly irrelevant.



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