Like war, motorsport accelerates and intensifies the lives of young men, and before the modern era it had a similar attrition rate.
You watch the new McLaren documentary knowing that Bruce’s career was compressed into 12 years of Grand Prix racing as a driver, designer, constructor and team manager, five of those with the team that still bears his name. Yet when you see his achievements recounted in this elegant, elegiac film you still wonder how he did it all, and you compare unfavourably your own meagre achievements by the age of 32.
You know how it ends, too. But like the Senna documentary, the intensity with which Bruce lived and raced keeps you engaged with his story until that awful, inevitable moment on the Lavant Straight at Goodwood. Fewer of us have a personal connection with Bruce than with Ayrton; few readers will have seen Bruce race. But this film portrays him with such detail and colour and humanity that I defy you not to choke when it finally happens.
The moment is made more awful by some brilliant sound design in which the roar of the Chevy V8 in his McLaren M8D, which has built gradually to a din, suddenly stops dead, and you see his tyre tracks and that marshall’s post.
I watched the film at Goodwood, which was eerie enough. Behind me sat Amanda McLaren, his daughter, for whom that scene must be unbearable.
There is glamour and humour too.
This was an era when men with combovers could still win Grand Prix (Bruce’s fellow Kiwi and team mate Denny Hulme) and when jet flight was novel and exciting and allowed Bruce and Denny and the others to compete in F1 and Can-Am and endurance events on alternate weekends on either side of the Atlantic.
The film is directed by Australian Roger Donaldson who made The World’s Fastest Indian. Other than finding and editing the period footage, Donaldson’s best moment probably comes with the interviews with Bruce’s team mates who were with him at Goodwood on that day in 1970.
The racing team and road car manufacturer that bear Bruce’s name, and now this film, are all fine ways to remember him.
The measure of a man
In his book From the Cockpit, Bruce famously wrote about the young American Timmy Mayer, who was killed at age 26 while racing, in terms which later seemed prescient: “Who is to say that he had not seen more, done more and learned more in his few years than many people do in a lifetime?"
“To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”