Another great Scot
When I started writing the feature on Jim Clark in this issue - a man I prize as the greatest F1 driver of all time – I never dreamed I would end it paying tribute to another great Scot. A man who was godfather to my son Sam, and to whose elder son Graham I fulfill a similar role. This is personal, so if that makes you squeamish, read something else. Friendship doesn’t get closer than that.
Sunday had started with the prospect of flight to Bahrain, become chaotic with the News of the World allegations about Max Mosley, and ended in the frustration of irregular internet access in Dubai. I saw a story on aol about a plane crash, but kept losing the line and didn’t access it.
Hours later, in Bahrain, I received the sort of phone call that leaves you numb. The news that David Leslie had been among those who perished when their Cessna Citation had lost an engine on take-off from Biggin Hill on Sunday afternoon.
‘DL’ was not a Formula One driver, though he did drive the Durex Chevron B41 in the Aurora F1 series in 1979. But he could have been. He had the speed in Formula Three to lead races despite his Hope Scott Racing team’s tiny budget in 1981, and he put the pretty little Magnum 833 on the pole for the opening race of 1983 at Silverstone. Martin Brundle was one of the guys behind him that day, and so was an upcoming Brazilian called Ayrton Senna da Silva, who was so miffed he could only assume that David was cheating.
But David was never the sort of guy who had to resort to underhand behaviour. Sure, he ribbed the hell out of me the time I wrote a Karting magazine column erroneously describing him as Tom’s godfather, and he never let me live that down. But he was as honest as he was Scottish. The Leslies lived in Carlisle for a long time after he moved down from his native Dumfriesshire, before they settled near Banbury. When he and Jane, the niece of Lola founder Eric Broadley, first got together, one of his earliest comments to her was: “Racing comes first.”
Man, we used to tease him about that. And his habitually taciturn, “Aye, how do?” greeting. How many times did we drive home from dinner with them, or from the occasional holiday, and for Trish to say to me, “Did you know DL is driving at so and so…?” And she would know far more about his plans than I, the so-called pro journalist, had ever been able to winkle out of him.
At Cadwell Park one year somebody parked a motorcycle right in the Jedi team’s camp. Just as I was about to go into my usual crass sort of ‘Which idiot left that there?’ routine, up popped DL with that bearded grin of his, having ridden over from Banbury specifically to watch Tom race. I can still see the doubt on his face as we watched him overtaking Adam Saward going into the Mountain, something neither of us had ever seen done previously, before Adam negated the bold and successful move by simply pushing Tom on to the grass on the exit. David rarely gave much away, but I think he was impressed that day. I certainly was.
A champion in Formula Ford and a star in sports and touring cars, DL was also a great guy, a devoted family man, and a racer to the core. He and his Dad, ‘Father David,’ discovered David Coulthard in 1989 when he drove for their Formula Ford team, and nurtured the careers of Le Mans winner Allan McNish and Indianapolis 500 victor Dario Franchitti.
I’ve never had to write quite this sort of valediction before. It hurts terribly. As a racer, David Leslie was great; but as a mate he was even greater. As a family, we are eviscerated by his loss. This weekend, as everyone else talks of the Bahrain GP or scandals involving other motorsport figures, I want the world to know how fiercely, fiercely proud we are of a man who was truly worth knowing.
Taken from Bahrain GP issue, Grand Prix + ezine