March 5th 1977. A day that many motorsport fans wish they would erase out of their minds.
Although the tragic death of Wales’ only Formula One star is very well documented, we wanted to move away from that side of the story and celebrate the man who inspired generations with his determination and passion for the sport, a man who despite many setbacks, became a true Welsh icon, and one that should be remembered for eternity.
Born in North-East Wales in 1949, Pryce first got a taste of driving at just ten years old, when he drove a baker’s van around his local village. Despite wanting to be a pilot at first, Pryce pursued motorsport and started competing in Formula 5000 series at the age of 20.
He was put through his paces by Trevor Taylor, an ex-Team Lotus driver and old teammate of Pryce’s childhood hero Jim Clark. He later became a star in the Formula 5000 series, and showed true potential as each race went by. Pryce continued to make a name for himself during 1971, entering a new twin-seater Sportscar category called Formula F100, which he won with what was described by motorsports author David Tremayne as “embarrassing ease”. He then moved up to Formula Super Vee, driving the then-choice Royale RP9, for Team Rumsey Investments, and soon made his Formula Three début for the same manufacturer at Brands Hatch.
It’s incredibly rare to find a driver who went from competing in the lower formulae championships to rubbing shoulders with his childhood heroes in Formula One, but Pryce’s race record proved his brilliance behind the wheel. It took him just five years to go from apprentice to F1 driver, where he went on to race and beat some of the sport’s most famous names, becoming the first ever Welshman to win a Formula One race at the South African Grand Prix in 1975.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though – Pryce was refused entry to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix a year before that win in 1974, as he was deemed “inexperienced”.Team Boss Tony Vlassopulos decided to prove a point and replaced normal Formula 3 driver Buzz Buzaglo, with Pryce for the supporting Formula Three race, driving for Ippokampos Racing, in a March 743, which he won by 20.8 seconds.
Throughout the 1976 season and ’77 up until his tragic death at the very same circuit that gave him his currently unbeaten title, Tom Pryce raced to win. James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart and so many more all raced during this era of F1, and Pryce was amongst them with every race weekend. He was known as a master in wet weather conditions, proving that by setting the fastest time in the Wednesday practice session at the South African circuit, which was soaking wet at the time. Pryce posted a time of 1 minute 31.57 seconds with the next best, the eventual 1977 World Champion Niki Lauda, a whole one second slower.
His helmet, famously simple compared to most and especially against what the designs are like in modern motorsport, was actually one designed with purpose. His helmet was plain white all over until 1970. At that year’s race at Castle Combe, his father asked Pryce to make his helmet stand out more so that he could easily identify him in a pack of cars. Pryce added five black vertical lines to his helmet.
Although not a true 1970’s period helmet, we wanted to pay tribute to this incredible gentleman with our own version which is displayed amongst original photographs and driver profiles in our Cardiff office. There are many Welsh athletes or celebrities that are idolised, but the story of Tom Pryce is one that is truly unique. Despite his incredible journey to success and his ability well-and-truly showcased, his story is often remembered for just how violent the accident that killed him was. But his story is more than that, and his achievements will be celebrated forever.
Elliot is our resident tech-lover and petrolhead, who is in charge of spreading AdFeeder to the masses! Having previously worked with brands such as Porsche and BMW, Elliot specialises in content creation and social media.