We are used to great champions who have retired but are still recognised wherever they go. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, however.
For example a few years ago my partner Jane and I had reason to be in Modena which meant, of course, we covered all the usual haunts. We bumped into the late Jean Sage who was an enthusiastic honorary member of the Grand Prix Drivers Club and at the time was working with Ferrari on their archives.
In conversation it was mentioned that my birthday was taking place the following day and Jean immediately said something would have to be done about it. It so happened that our late President Phil Hill, the 1961 World Champion, was in town with famed journalist Peter Egan and photographer John Lamm from Road and Track magazine. It was arranged that the following evening we would all meet at a small restaurant on the edge of the village of San Donnino.
It was a village etched on my memory for on my first visit to Modena in 1957, on a hot day that started to melt the tar on the road, I swept into San Donnino in an MGA Coupe at a pace the local police thought was too fast. I was stopped and given a 1,000 lire fine on the spot. I think it must be one of the few occasions anyone back then was ever fined for speeding anywhere near Modena.I kept the speeding ticket for years but it got lost in the divorce!
However, we arrived at the restaurant and the head waiter swept us to the table that Phil Hill had booked. I noticed the hand-written reservation card and picked it up. Once we had sat down I said to Phil that as a former World Champion for Ferrari he must be very well known and a hero in Modena. He modestly gave a slight nod and then I showed him the reservation card for our table. On it, in bold letters ,was the name of the person who had booked the table; it said “Fil Pill “. Either he had not been recognised or the waiter had a speech impediment. He laughed and kept the card as a souvenir.
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