One of racing’s greatest drivers never won a Grand Prix
The names of the greatest racing drivers to grace a cockpit are agreed amongst knowing fans: Senna, Andretti, Foyt, Clark, Stewart, any Unser, Petty, Fangio, Hobbs.
Yes, David Hobbs, currently busy as an F1 commentator for NBC. A real wordsmith, he coined the word “clag” to reference forever those bits of spent racing rubber lying just off-line on race tracks. What fan of F1 doesn’t love this guy?
When you think of it, Mr. Hobbs was, and still is, one of the models for racing broadcasters. Witty and charming, able to relate the story of the day with a knowledgeable style that is easy to digest for the most casual of fans, yet still interesting for the dedicated fan as well. The David Hobbs who, along with jousting-mate Sam Posey, injected wild amounts of life into the old pro SCCA F5000 race meetings of the late sixties and early seventies. Their comic back-and-forthing was funny as hell, as related in the reports of the day. Most likely, this is where both Hobbs and Posey developed the style that would later serve them both very well as they morphed from drivers to broadcasters. Mr. Posey still provides those dramatic, eloquent words that presage many a race event.
None of that makes Mr. Hobbs a great racing driver. But he sure as heck wouldn’t get to drive for John Wyer, Roger Penske, BMW, and McLaren, amongst others, if he were a wanker.
What makes him great is the diversity of machinery he has driven for prestigious teams, with great speed, always in with a sniff at the win. A lot of drivers would love to be in with a sniff of a win just one time…..
Consider the racing resume of David Hobbs
- He raced for John Wyer in Gulf GT40s, finishing third in 1969 with Mike Hailwood, and then the Gulf Porsche 917 in 1970.
- When Mark Donohue had to race elsewhere in 1971, Roger Penske tapped Hobbs to drive the Penske/works McLaren M19 at the USGP. Hobbs also co-drove with Donohue in a Penske Ferrari 512M at LeMans that year.
- McLaren’s F1 team chose Hobbs to substitute for the injured Mike Hailwood in the Yardley McLaren M23 in 1974.
- Hobbs was a works BMW driver for the IMSA 320i Turbo and both GTP programs.
- He raced at LeMans, with 2 thirds, one fourth and one fifth his finishes, at the wheel of some 200mph+ cars: Mirage-Ford, BMW M1 and Porsche 956/962s.
- He drove the JDavid-sponsored Porsche 935 Moby Dick to first in class and 4th overall at LeMans.
- There were the drives in the gorgeous Carling Black Label Can-Am, F5000 and Indy Eagle, Lola and McLarens.
- Hobbs drove the brutal Bud Corvette GTP in IMSA. He’s also raced in NASCAR (briefly) and raced in the IROC series.
- He won both the F5000 and Trans-Am Championships outright.
- Don’t forget his spell with Carl Haas in the factory Can-Am Lola T310. Hobbs made the car look far better than it deserved.
Hobbs spent most of his racing career on the road courses of the world
He’s what some might call a “journeyman”. That would be a massive disservice to Mr. Hobbs.
If there were top rides to be had, he was always in the mix for it. Wyer, Penske, McLaren, BMW, Lola all came calling when they needed a quick, dependable driver who didn’t often fall off the track and was always in the hunt, often with slightly inferior equipment to the frontrunners. He made do, and then some.
There are many great drivers that had diverse racing careers. But few can say they topped the sheer diversity and consistent excellence of David Hobbs. If he was never going to be Formula One World Champion, then being considered among the very fastest by the very best teams is pretty good consolation. You could plug him into a racing seat in any series, and he’d be on the pace, in with a sniff at the win.
And more often than not, bring the car home in one piece, by avoiding the clag.