by Bob Varsha
"The only current driver who has spoken to me about my retirement is David Hobbs. He really is a super guy, down to earth. He's a squared away professional with a really good perspective on life."
Those were the words of Mark Donohue in 1973, as quoted by Michael Argetsinger in his new biography "Mark Donohue, Technical Excellence at Speed." The 1990 Hall of Fame inductee was dealing with the toughest decision a professional racing driver faces, namely when to hang up his helmet. The admiration he expressed for his on-track rival and occasional teammate neatly captures what has made David Hobbs one of the most popular figures in racing on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to the driving skills that propelled him to success in an astonishing array of machinery, out of the car David is upbeat, personable and often hilarious. His ability to address the human side of the sport, the physical and mental challenges, as well as the funny, frustrating, and sometimes tragic elements of racing life have made him a staple in American television from his first broadcast with CBS in the early 1970s through his current position with SPEED.
Automobiles were the family business when David Wishart Hobbs was born in the British midlands in 1939. His father Howard pioneered the automatic transmission through his creation of the Hobbs Mechamatic, a component that eventually appeared on the cars raced by his youngest son. An automotive apprenticeship gave David a primer in hands-on engineering. Starting out in his mum's Morris Oxford in 1959, he was soon in demand to drive for other owners. When he made his first trip to America to race in the 1962 Daytona Continental, he did so driving someone else's Jaguar, while bringing his own Lotus Elite to be driven by another rising British name, Jimmy Clark.
David's natural speed and engaging personality eventually took him around the world, racing in every major championship for the sport's top teams in the era's most iconic race cars: Formula 1 for McLaren, Honda, and BRM; sportscars in the Ford GT40 and Mirage, the Ferrari 512M, Porsche 917s and 956/962s. He raced IMSA Camel GT for BMW, finished fifth in the Indy 500 for McLaren, won championships in Formula 5000 and Trans Am, and even led the Daytona 500 in a NASCAR stocker. He is most closely associated with Le Mans, where he raced 20 times, finishing third on two occasions.
Though he won more than his fair share, David's self-deprecating stories about the times he "coulda, woulda, shoulda" are a part of what makes him so popular. His commentary style, mixing fragments of the good ol' boys ("she done blowed up") with British slang ("mind the klag, lad") and a host of hilarious, if politically incorrect, dialects, have molded the racing vocabulary of his legions of fans here in America. David Hobbs has spent the last half-century as one of the sport's most popular ambassadors, and he remains so today.