The movie character Michael Corleone once famously said of being in the mob, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Brian Redman has had similar feelings about auto racing. Numerous times over the years, Redman told himself that he was retired from the sport, particularly after each of his three serious racing accidents.
And every time, the lure of fast driving pulled him back in.
“It was the only thing I ever did that I could do reasonably well,” Redman said.
Redman raced reasonably well – if not great – nearly everywhere he went, regardless of the track, racing series or type of car. He competed in Formula racing, open-wheelers, Can-Am, IMSA and FIA, driving for a wide variety of famous factory teams such as Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar and Porsche.
Though he often found himself bouncing from team to team and series to series, Redman stayed in one place long enough to win the Formula 5000 championship three consecutive times from 1974-76. He also won the 1981 IMSA Camel GT title, and was part of four World Manufacturer championship teams.
Even now, at age 74, Redman still competes approximately a half-dozen times a year in various Vintage Series events. After more than 50 years of racing, the sport continues to pull him in.
“It wasn’t really something I aspired to do as a young boy, or even as a young man,” Redman said of having a racing career. “But I loved cars and I was driving like a maniac on the road. So I thought I had better get off the road and get on the track.”
Brian Redman was born on March 9, 1937 in Lancashire, England. In the early 1960s he had a job making and delivering mop heads. He made the deliveries in the same cars – a Mini Minor-Austin, a Jaguar XK 120 Roadster, a Morgan Plus 4 – that he took to area tracks to race on the weekend.
“Back then, drivers drove whatever they could get their hands on,” Redman said.
By the mid-1960s, Redman was competing in a mixture of open-wheeled international races and local club races. He ran well enough and won often enough that he began attracting the attention of some of the top teams from several racing series.
But then the sport took its first big bite out of Redman with a horrific wreck in the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix.
“The suspension in the car broke and I went over the barrier,” Redman recalled. “My car lost three of its four wheels, and as it rolled over the barrier my right arm got caught between the car and the barrier and I had a very bad compound fracture of the forearm.”
His first serious accident left Redman shaken but not scared. He was back on the track early in 1969 for the 24 Hours of Daytona (an event he eventually won three times), then he teamed with Swiss driver Jo Sifferet to capture the first World Manufacturer championship for Porsche.
Still, open-wheel racing remained extremely dangerous and Redman lost several friends – including Siffert – to on-track accidents. So he briefly retired to take over a BMW dealership in South Africa.
“I hated it,” Redman said of working a real job. “By March of ’71 I was back racing.”
His comeback didn’t last long. Redman was driving in an open-road endurance race in the mountains of Sicily (950 turns over 44 miles equaled one lap) when his steering failed and his car hit a concrete post and caught fire. Redman suffered extensive burns to his face, neck, legs and hands, and because of the remote nature of the race he had to wait 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
“I had another long recuperation, and I figured, ‘This is it. I’m finished,’ ” Redman said.
But late in 1971 Redman was given a one-race deal to drive for Ferrari. He won the race, and the next thing he knew he was being offered a full-time ride for 1972. He accepted, and Ferrari won the World Manufacturer title that year.
That was followed by Redman’s three consecutive Formula 5000 championships, during which he beat out the likes of Mario Andretti and Al Unser. Unfortunately, that was followed once again by a terrible wreck, this time in Montreal, where he suffered a broken neck, sternum, ribs and shoulder.
“It took me a year to recover from that,” Redman said. “I really didn’t know whether I could or even wanted to drive again. I was living a great life raising cattle, horses and sheep. But I was running out of money.”
So naturally, Redman got back on the track. And naturally, he started winning again, picking up five victories on his way to the 1981 IMSA Camel GT championship.
After that, Redman split time between racing and operating a Porsche dealership in Jacksonville, Fla., until he final retired from the professional circuit for good in 1987.
Despite all the physical hardships and emotional tragedies associated with his racing career, Redman said it was fun while it lasted. Even though it lasted much longer than he ever expected.
“Looking back on all that, it was a romantic era, but the cars were very dangerous,” Redman said. “There was very much a feeling among the drivers of eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. After every race, no matter where you were in the world, there was an enormous party because everybody was just so happy to still be alive.
“We had some really great parties.”
Tickets available for the 2011 International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, scheduled for April 14, 2011, at the SPEED Channel Dome in Talladega, Ala. This black-tie ceremony consists of a reception, banquet and awards ceremony. (Tuxedo Required Event) Individual tickets are $125 and a table for eight may be purchased for $1000 by calling 256-315-4631 or 256-315-4528. Visa, MasterCard and Discover are accepted.