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1914 French GP winning Mercedes and Peg

posted on Jul 01 2014 by Harvey Yates

1914 French GP winning Mercedes and Peg

It is one of life’s joys: being proved wrong about someone. There she was, this mature lady, just like you’d see in a library, awaiting Jeffrey Archer’s latest.

She was sitting in a golf trolley in a roped off area, right by the car that won the French GP in 1914. The centenary was celebrated by the three victorious Mercedes re-running the course, courtesy of French officialdom. It was featured in Classing and Sportscar.

The owner of the winning car, one George Wingard, an ex-Senator from Eugene in Oregon, USA, is well-known for his collection of vintage racing cars, many of which have graced the Goodwood Festival of Speed in his hands over the years.

He was setting up the car ready to start it and it was a complex, and time-consuming procedure. George is known to be approachable but I assumed he would prefer me to wait to interview him so I stood back, near the golf trolley. Peg smiled at me so we started chatting.

My first real question was straight to the point.

“What are you doing here?” 

Peg: “I’m the mechanic for the Mercedes.”

The car is a brute, it is flimsy, it is powerful, the drums look as if when they are applied the car goes faster.

Me: “Seriously?”

Peg: “Not like you think. I ride in the car and help George.”

Me: “I find it more unbelievable than that you change wheels and grind the valves. That must be one hell of a ride.”

Peg nodded. “It is exciting.”

Me: “What was it like the first time?”

Peg: “The fling wall frightened me. It was so close.” This was said in a tone of voice that seemed to be asking for understanding.

Me: “I can understand that. It must have been terrifying. So you’ve been up the hill before?”

Peg: “This will be my seventh year. George, well this must be nearly the 30th time for him.”

Me: “What cars have you been in?”

Peg: “Well, the GP cars, let’s see: there was the 1904 FIAT, the 1908 Mercedes and the 1911 FIAT.”

Me: “What do you do?”

Peg: “I pump the gas in this one. I have to keep the pressure up. It’s not hard I suppose. But I have to lean out on the corners as well, to keep balance. And I start the car.”

Me: “What, crank the handle?”

Peg laughed as if this was the first thing that was unbelievable: “No. I’m in the seat. I have to set the car up and then check it.”

Me: “Is it enjoyable?”

Peg: “It’s thrilling.” She sniggered a little and shrugged her shoulders, just as if she was admitting to reading 50 Shades of Grey and liking it.

She was then called over to help start the car, George pointing to a button on the floor and saying that she should step on it regularly to oil the camshafts. She nodded, then pointed to something else in the footwell: “What’s that?”

George: “That empties the sump of oil.”

So best not, one assumes, to get them mixed up.

A remarkable woman.