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F1 Champ, Phil Hill Dies

Phil Hill, the only American born Formula One World Champion passed away this afternoon at the age of 81. Known as the gentleman racer, Hill possessed great talent and was an ambassador to the sport of auto racing that will be lamented.

Raised in Santa Monica , California , Hill emerged in the sports car growth that occurred after World War II. Hill was a winner from start, winning many stateside sports car races in the golden age of the sport. Hill drew the attention of famed builder, Enzo Ferrari. Ferrari hired Hill in 1956, unlike today, Hill drove both sports cars and Formula One machinery. Hill would win the prestigious 24 Hours of LeMans three times as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring three times. It was in 1961, after an epic season long battle with Ferrari teammate Wolfgang von Trips, Hill won the World Championship at the ill-fated Italian Grand Prix. In that race, Trips was killed in a crash after touching wheels with Jimmy Clark. In that incident, 14 spectators were killed along with Trips. As a result, Ferrari did not participate in the season’s final race at Hill?s home race at Watkins Glen. Thus, Hill was unable to celebrate his championship in his home country.

In 1962, Hill moved on from Ferrari and formed the ATS team with Giancarlo Baghetti, however success did not follow the duo. Moving on to Ford and Jim Hall?s Chaparral team, Hill once again was in victory lane. Retiring after the 1967 season at the age of 30, Hill pursued vintage car restoration as well as writing and television commentating.

Hill was quite the racing historian, his knowledge of cars and tracks was seen in his elegant writings in his Road & Track columns as well as judging at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where he was a judge 38 times, the last being in 2006.

I met Hill several times, he was always a gentleman. I had the opportunity to participate with Hill and former driver David Hobbs page through a Formula One history book, listening to Hill discuss in detail the idiosyncrasies of particular turns at Reims and Syracuse were unforgettable. His knowledge of the cars, espicially Ferrari was immense. His appearances at the Brian Redman International Challenge at Road America were a great opportunity for the fan to meet and greet an international celebrity. Hill could walk in most restaurants in the U.S. and perhaps be recognized by some. However in Italy he was viewed as a hero and would be mobbed by the worshipping tifosi. Racing lost a stately figure today.

Hill was survived by his wife Alma, his son Derek and daughters Vanessa and Jennifer.

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