Thursday, August 28, 2008

World Champion racer, Phil Hill, dies at 81

Autoweek Article

Shortly after 10 a.m. PST, America's first World Champion, Phil Hill, passed away in a Monterey County, Calif., hospital as a result of respiratory problems complicated by Parkinson's disease. Hill was 81.

Born in Miami, Florida, Hill was raised in Santa Monica, California, where he lived until his death. He studied business administration at the University of Southern California in 1945-47 but left early to pursue auto racing, working as a mechanic on other drivers' cars. Hill began racing cars at an early age, going to England as a Jaguar trainee in 1949 and signing with Enzo Ferrari's team in 1956. He made his debut in the French Grand Prix at Reims France in 1958 driving a Maserati. That same year, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Belgian team mate Olivier Gendebien, driving for most of the night in horrific rainy conditions. He and Gendebien would go on to win the famous endurance race two more times.

In 1961, Hill won the 24 Hours of Le Mans again and the Formula One driving championship for the Ferrari team. He secured the championship when he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that year. His closest rival, teammate Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, crashed and died in the same race. Earlier that year, during a practice session at the German Grand Prix, Hill became the first man to lap the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring in less than nine minutes. Unlike Mario Andretti, Hill was born in the USA, and is still the only US-born F1 champion. 

After leaving Ferrari at the end of 1962 in the the great walkout of engineers, he and fellow driver Giancarlo Baghetti started for their new team ATS. Hill continued in Formula One for a few more years until he switched to sports car racing with Ford Motor Company and the Chaparral Cars of Jim Hall.

Phil Hill has the distinction of having won the first (a 3 lap event at Carrell Speedway in a MG TC on July 24 1949) and last races of his driving career, the final victory driving for Chaparral in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch in England in 1967. 

Following his retirement, Hill built up an award winning classic car restoration business in the 1970s called Hill & Vaughn with business partner Ken Vaughn, until they sold the business off and Vaughn went on run a separate business on his own in 1984. Hill also worked as a television commentator for ABC's Wide World of Sports.

Hill had a long and distinguished association with Road & Track magazine. He wrote several articles for them, including road tests and retrospective articles on historic cars and races. He shared his "grand old man" status at R&T with '60s racing rival Paul Frère, who also died in 2008.

Hill, in his last years, devoted his time to his vintage car collection and judged at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance more often than any other individuals; 2006 was the 38th time he had judged the event.

Hill was married to Alma, and had three children: Derek, Vanessa and Jennifer. Derek raced in International Formula 3000 in 2001, 2002 and 2003, but was forced to retire when Phil became ill with Parkinson's Disease.

After traveling to the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, Phil was taken to a hospital, where he died after a short illness from complications of Parkinson's Disease in Salinas, California on August 28th.