George Harrison loved cars for music. He watched sports car races and the British Grand Prix at Aintree. The future Beatle even wrote to the British Racing Motors team, who sent him photos of the latest models.
In the 1960s, George befriended all internationally renowned racing drivers. He later became close friends with Jackie Stewart, who took him behind the scenes of the racing car world.
But when George got the chance to finally get behind the wheel and race alongside his idols, he didn’t have the best experience. Anyway, it was all for a good cause.
George Harrison wrote ‘Faster’ for his race car drivers
According to rolling stoneGeorge saw Liverpool’s first British Grand Prix at Aintree when he was 12. The following year, however, rock and roll caught George’s attention. He didn’t see another race until he was in The Beatles.
In the late 1970s, George developed a close relationship with Jackie Stewart, the retired three-time Formula 1 World Champion driver. “It was really because of him that I came backstage, and it’s much more interesting there,” George explained.
George later wrote “Faster” in tribute to Stewart and all the other boys in Formula 1. In his 1980 memoir me me myGeorge said he wrote the song as a challenge. Many people asked him if he wanted to write a song about car racing.
‘I was first given the title – I took it from Jackie Stewart’s book! I then wrote the chorus “faster than a bullet from a gun, etc.” and later fleshed out the rest of the song in a way that doesn’t just limit it to cars. Once I’ve turned on the sound effects, it’s obviously about racing, but if you take that away, the only thing in the song that has anything to do with cars is the word ‘machines’.
“The story could relate to me or you or someone in any profession who becomes successful and puts pressure on them caused by the usual jealousy, fears, hopes, etc. I have a lot of fun with a lot of Formula 1 drivers and their crews. — and they’ve allowed me to see things from a completely different angle than the music business I’m normally involved in.
George donated the proceeds from the single to a cancer research fund founded by Swedish racing driver Gunnar Nilsson. It also celebrated Ronnie Peterson, who died of injuries sustained during the 1978 Italian Grand Prix.
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George didn’t have the best time racing a Formula 1 car
In a 1992 interview with Goldmine, George said he drove a Formula 1 car during a charity demonstration.
“I’ve never raced seriously myself, but I’ve tried it in a Formula 1 car, with a pretty old car with a 3-litre engine,” explained George. “I’d drive around Brand’s Hatch in one. And I drove in a charity for Gunnar Nilsson, a Swedish driver who died of cancer because I gave the money from the ‘Faster’ single from ‘George Harrison’ to Gunnar’s cancer fund.
“Anyway, they had this day for the Gunnar Nilsson campaign at the track in England and they asked me to drive this 1960 Lotus, which had won a race in Monte Carlo when it was driven by the great English driver Sterling moss. This car had no seat belts and because it had been in a museum for 20 years, the tires were hard and didn’t grip, but still the car was quite fast!
“But they assured me it was just a demonstration, five laps in formation and then five laps at your own pace. So I said I would. I got there, and it’s Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell that he won in his ’73 world championship in; James Hunt in the McLaren; Phil Hill in his famous Ferrari.
“I walk to my car as I talk to driver John Watson about the joy of the drive we are about to take, and he says, ‘You are just kidding. There is no driver going in formation! Once they drop that flag, they’re all gone like crazy!’
“Yeah, as soon as the checkered flag fell, the other cars left whoosh while mine went along in a haze of smoke! By the time I got to my first lap they were already chasing me for their second lap, screaming away! Scare me to death! But at least I did better than James Hunt, who gave up on the first pass.”
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The former Beatle and Stewart bonded over their shared love of heightened experiences
There are similarities between racing cars and playing in a rock band. They both live fast and can give you a heightened experience.
Stewart says his friendship with George was based on their love for the heightened experience of driving fast cars.
“When you drive a race car to the limit of its ability, and your own, it’s a very unique emotion and experience,” Stewart explains in Martin Scorsese’s documentary. George Harrison: Living in the Material World.
“When that happens, your senses are so strong. That’s what I think George saw in racing. We’ve talked a lot about things like that: heightened feel, your feel and your touch and your feet… If you listen to a really top guitarist, or a top musician, and how they can make that guitar talk, or that keyboard talk, or the skins talk, that is another elevation of the senses beyond the reach, the knowledge of a normal man or woman.”
George was not having the best time racing a Formula 1 car. However, he never fell in love with his first hobby.
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