This past year was a particularly rough year in terms of icons the world lost not only within the automotive industry, but across the whole spectrum of creative pursuits.
Maria Teresa de Filippis
The first female driver in Formula One competition and true automotive pioneer, Maria Teresa de Filippis, died in January at the age of 89. At 22, she entered a Fiat 500 in a road race and won, and from there went onto compete in various sports car hill climb and endurance races as a factory driver for Maserati. Though she failed to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix in 1958, Maria Teresa went on to place 10th in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa the same year. While she never managed to score any championship points before retiring, Maria Teresa raced extensively and was always remembered as a fearless and exciting racer to watch. She remains one of only a handful of women that raced in F1.
Art Chrisman was a name well known amongst drag racing enthusiasts. One of the originators of the scene in the 1950s, Chrisman helped found NHRA Drag Racing and became the first drag racer to break the 140-mph barrier. He later hit 180 mph, and became one of the first five to join the storied Bonneville 200 MPH Club when he broke that barrier behind the wheel of Chet Herbert’s Beast streamliner. Chrisman continued racing through the early 1960s before moving on to work for Ford’s Autolite Spark Plug Division. He also continued to make appearances at events through the remainder of his life. Today, the cars that carried him to legendary status—the #25 dragster and Hustler I—can be seen at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, CA.
In October, the legendary automotive journalist and founder of the notorious Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash passed away at the age of 82. Even for those not as familiar with automotive history and heritage, the name Brock Yates was synonymous with cars and racing. For years, Yates served as the editor for Car and Driver, while also acting as a televised race commentator and, perhaps most memorably, creator of the Cannonball Run. The latter led to a veritable institution of automotive speed and flaunting of the increasing number of rules and regulations that arose in the wake of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s establishment in 1970. A decade after the first running of the notorious event, Yates took on a role as screenwriter for the 1981 Burt Reynolds’ film, Cannonball Run. More than anything, Yates’ passion for cars, speed and the thriving culture around each came through on the page better than nearly any other automotive journalist before or since. His passing marks the end of an era built on speed and the personal freedom afforded by the automobile.