Motoring: A thriller writer on the fast track: On the eve of the British Grand Prix, Phil Llewellin met the author of 'Silverstone'
Saturday 10 July 1993
'Dick Francis on wheels' is how Jackie Stewart describes the erstwhile advertising executive whose fifth thriller, Silverstone, has just been published. Judd has been labelled the only author ever to have earned a living writing fiction with a motor racing background. There is no reason not to believe this tall, tanned, 54-year-old American when he tells you that Formula One, Indy, Monza and Phoenix have made more financial sense than being a vice-president and creative director with the J Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York and London. Accounts included Rolex, Kodak and Unilever, but Ford was his special baby.
He created and produced a series of Ford television commercials with Jackie Stewart, the world champion who became a friend and a first-rate source of background material for the books. During a short spell with another agency Judd masterminded the campaign that helped save Chrysler from the knacker's yard.
Forrest Evers made his debut in 1989, a year after JWT changed hands, lost the Ford account and decided it could survive without Bob Judd. The money that went with the sack enabled him to research and write Formula One. But the book's origins can be traced right back to the day when Judd - the son of a Ford dealer's daughter and a journalist who edited his own newspaper until he was 87 - was attracted to motor racing.
'I was 16 and had my first car, a hot-rod 149 flat-head Ford V8 Coupe. And I was out exploring and I heard this roaring, the siren song of racing cars that still draws me, coming from an abandoned airfield. They were racing the big Ferraris and the tiny Alfa Zagato coupes with the twin bubbles on the roof, Giulietta Spiders, gullwing Mercedes and RS Porsche Spyders like James Dean's car.
'And there was an awesome hot-rod called a Cheetah that was either spinning its wheels, wildly accelerating or wildly spinning into the hay bales. A great sunny summer day and I was hooked. But what really addicted me was my second race, at Thompson Raceway, an old midget oval with a long, banked turn they had stuck on to a road course. When I drove in, there in the air, coming up off the banking, arcing up and rolling upside down, its Cadillac V8 engine on full song, was an Allard 32. Which was the sort of thing Allards did.'
The aspiring author realised that motor racing, no matter how exciting and true to life the plot and prose might be, was not a subject to sell thrillers in meaningful numbers. So the books cast Evers in the role of the Anglo-American good guy whose off-
track adventures involve thwarting all manner of villains.
Judd was flattered when Formula One attracted a call from a Scotland Yard officer who was investigating a cocaine-smuggling case remarkably similar to the book's plot. The approach was a tribute to his gift for blending facts with credible fiction. He loves ferreting out the sort of information that enables him to explain exactly how dynamite explodes, as it does in the opening pages of Phoenix.
There are references to Everard, a medieval Bishop of Norwich who is Forrest Evers's most distinguished ancestor. He existed. Judd found him while browsing through an old book packed with potted biographies. Ken Tyrrell, the doyen of grand prix team managers, is one of many real people who share the pages of Silverstone with such characters as Virgin, the sex symbol.
Evers spends quite a lot of time bonking, but his dry sense of humour and the dedicated driver's attitude towards food and drink distance him from James Bond. Judd's character requests Evian water - 'A very good week' - while his companion orders a bottle of '61 Chateau Petrus.
The racing stuff is very good indeed. Judd doesn't mingle with the real superstars - and would probably find them boring if he did - but his allies include the drivers Damon Hill, Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell. Hill provided most of the new book's in-depth knowledge of Silverstone.
Judd saw his first grand prix in 1967. Then the stars included Jim Clark, one of his greatest heroes: 'He exemplified the combination of grace, modesty and ferocity that makes a real racing driver.'
Who is going to win tomorrow's round of the Formula One world championship? Judd's heart is with Damon Hill, but the money would be split between him and his team mate, Alain Prost, if the new house in California were at stake. Bob Judd will be there, soaking up the atmosphere, making notes for Forrest Evers's next adventure and, of course, promoting Silverstone.
'Silverstone' is published in hardback by Macmillan at pounds 14.99.
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