It may be over 60 years since the man last competed in a race car, but Italian racer Tazio Nuvolari is not forgotten, especially by Joe Tierno of Honeoye Falls, NY. Mr. Tierno spoke about the racer at length on Saturday as the most recent of this year's "Conversation" presenters hosted by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) of Watkins Glen.
Waiting in the auditiorium for the talk to begin, the audience was serenaded by recordings of songs inspired by the racing legend. The recordings set a certain Italian mood and dramatized Nuvolari's notoriety among long-time fans. Selections included "Nuvolari" by Lucio Dalla; "Arriva Tazio" by Trio Lescano; and "il Montovano Volante" by Sergio Bassi.
Following introductions by IMRRC Director, Glenda Gephart and President, J. C. Argetsinger, Mr. Tierno gave a multi-media presentation titled "Tazio Nuvolari: His Life and Times" to an audience of about 100. Clearly passionate about his subject, Tierno spoke for over 2-1/2 hours, all the while sharing archival photographs, film footage, and audio clips he had garnered from years of interest in this sportsman.
Tazio Nuvolari, he said, was called "the best of his era" by Enzo Ferrari and "the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future" by Ferdinand Porsche. After he died in 1953, the racer's pall bearers, Tierno said, included racing greats Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Enzo Ferrari.
Born in the Italian town of Castel d'Ario in 1892, Nuvolari was always "small for his age," according to Tierno. The racer's father wanted him to be a jockey. In adulthood, Nuvolari grew to 5' 1" and weighed 130 pounds.
In the early 1900s, racing was still evolving in technology and in popularity from bicycles to motorcycles to automobiles. Nuvolari's interest in racing began with motorcycles; however, his racing career was postponed just after he received his racing license when he was drafted to serve in WWI. Fearless, and always known to be a "crazed" driver, according to Tierno, Nuvolari became a chauffeur in the military and was once told by an officer, "Nuvolari, you will never be a driver."
Once his motorsports career began, Nuvolari's greatest success in motorcycles, said Tierno, came from racing a Bianchi 350cc in 1926 and 1927. In his time, he also rode a Harley Davidson 1000cc, among many other machines. Nuvolari won the European Championship in the sport in 1925.
Nuvolari soon moved from motorcycles to racing cars for Alfa Romeo (Alfa Corse). During his auto racing career, he also drove for Maserati and the Auto Union of Germany. Some of Nuvolari's notable wins comprised several Grands Prix; the Targo Florio in 1931 and 1932; the Mille Miglia in 1930 and 1933; and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1933. Nuvolari also won the Vanderbilt Cup in the United States in 1936.
Of particular interest as a feature of Tierno's talk was the archival footage he brought to share with the audience. This included footage from Nuvolari's win of the 1932 Monaco Grand Prix. Watching it along with the delighted audience, Tierno remarked that Nuvolari was just "insanely good" as a driver.
Much of Tierno's talk turned from the life and career of Nuvolari to the times leading up and and including Nazi Germany and other people involved with the sport in that era. The increasingly severe look to the posters of 1930s-era German Grands Prix that Tierno shared, for example, illustrated the Nazi control and influence of the time. Figures he spoke about included married racers Bernd Rosemeyer and Elly Beinhorn; Maria d'Avanzo; and a fascinating glimpse at Grand Prix racers who were said to be secretly involved in spying.
As his presentation came to a close, Mr. Tierno showed photographs taken by Tazio Nuvolari himself. The racer enjoyed photography, Tierno said, and many of the photos he was showing were of one of the racer's two sons. Nuvolari lost both of his sons to "natural causes" when they were in their teens. It was poignant, Tierno said, that after he lost his first son, the racer realized he had taken too few photographs of him and this caused him to take more photos of his surviving son, only to also tragically lose him at a young age as well.
Following the afternoon presentation, the audience partook in refreshments and conversation at the IMRRC. Of note was the fact that Otto Linton, the only surviving racer from Watkins Glen's original sanctioned road race in 1948, was in attendance. The presence of this 2013 inductee to Legends of the Glen was a treat for many that afternoon.
For more information about the IMRRC, its mission or future programs, call the Center at (607) 535-9044 or visit the Center's website at www.racingarchives.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk holds a Ph.D. in English and is the author of several books. She is working on a new book about the sport with a historic racer. Check out her ponderings about racers and racing at her blog, Motor Sport Muse.