When Autocar helped design the Dutch GP

sammy davis austin

How a multi-talented former staffer helped create this weekend’s Formula One circuit

What does the name Sydney Charles Houghton Davis mean to you? Not much? Fair enough. Let’s shorten it a little then. SCH Davis. Anything? Ok we’ll use the nickname by which he was known almost all his life. Sammy Davis. Or the pen name, ‘Casque’? If you’re still scratching your head fret not because Sammy not only died 40 years ago, he was 94 at the time. He did what he did a very long time ago. But he did rather a lot.

Why this now? Well I’ll get around to that in a moment. For now be advised that Sammy is best known today for winning Le Mans for Bentley in 1927, a considerable feat given the car he was driving was so badly damaged after being caught up in someone else’s accident early in the race it was presumed written off. But with a bent chassis, a single headlight and brakes better at turning the car that slowing it, he returned to the fray and with his co-driver Dr Dudley Benjafield not only won the world’s greatest race, but did so by a margin so great it has not been beaten to this day.

Other claims to fame include being instrumental in the formation of Bentley Motors, founding the Veteran Car Club and being president of what would become the British Racing and Sports Car Club. He was also good enough with oils and brushes to earn a living in later life as an artist and illustrator. Quite the polymath, then. But here’s the connection. He considered himself neither racing driver nor painter, but as a writer. And it was as none other than Autocar’s Sports Editor – writing as the aforementioned Casque – that he earned much of his living in the 1920s.

Yet even that is not the real reason for writing this now. Because yet another string to his bow was that he clearly dabbled in circuit design because in 1946 he was drafted in to help determine the layout of a new European race track. Constructed from the roads left by occupying forces when they were chased away in 1945, the track was located just to the north of the pretty seaside town at Zandvoort, to which the Formula 1 circus returns this weekend for the first time in 36 years.

Now it is true that a large part of the original circuit has been lost to development, but the main straight, the legendary Tarzan corner at its end and the sweeps that lead up to the still scary Scheivlak corner follow quite faithfully the layout of the original. So when the F1 mob blasts off on Sunday (weather willing), just remember there is a person who links the circuit directly to the title whose words you are reading now. SCH ‘Sammy’ Davis, a great writer, author, artist, driver, and, it seems, circuit designer too. He was also and by all accounts I’ve read, a top bloke too with a mischievous sense of humour. Thought you’d like to know.

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