Death on the track

Ben Huisman jumps into his yellow Porsche 911 in Zandvoort, The Netherlands.
It is early Sunday morning 29th of July 1973. Ben drives from his home on the southern Zandvoort boulevard to the Zandvoort racetrack. It is a ride of less than two kilometers. Ben's wife and his kids, who later become race car
drivers Patrick and Duncan Huisman, take their seats on the main grandstand near Start/Finish. Huisman drives on to the pit area and parks his Porsche.
Ben Huisman joins track director Johan Beerepoot. This is going to be their day.

For months the two men have been busy putting Zandvoort on the Grand Prix calendar again. In 1972 no Formula One cars were racing through the dunes. The track had grown old, bushes were on the track. In 1972 the FIA and the drivers did not come to the Zandvoort raceway along the coast; too dangerous. The city of Zandvoort wanted to close the track. The local Labour Party and 13 citizens of Zandvoort signed against the racetrack. Formula One
is not very popular in these days anyway. These were the first anti-racetrack activities to be followed by many more deep into the 90's.

Johan Beerepoot, who was the secretary of the Nederlandse Autorensport Vereniging (NAV) at that moment, and Ben Huisman - the financial man - put their heads together in 1972. No Grand Prix at Zandvoort, that just could
not be the case! There should be a race and therefore they established CENAV which was going to exploit the Zandvoort racetrack. Johan Beerepoot will be president.

They start raising funds (they are looking for money 'everywhere and nowhere') and invest 2,5 million Guilders (1,1 million Euros). A new surface suits the racetrack, rundown areas are broadened, guardrails are placed everywhere around the track, old armco barriers are replaced with new ones.
New pitboxes are built and a new controltower is built. Ben Huisman is extremely busy these days and decides to move with his family to a summer house during spring 1973. His paper business in Elburg almost goes bankrupt but Huisman is a dedicated man. He puts a lot of energy in a safer Zandvoort racetrack and his paper business must do without him for a while.

Huisman and Beerepoot meet that 29th of July at the controltower. They decide to make a ride on a motorbike on the track first. During their bikeride they see how great everything looks. The trackside looks neat, flags are waving, the sun is shining and music comes out of the soundsystem.
Spectators are pouring in and look for places on top of the dunes or seated places near Start/Finish. Eightythousand people in total and they cause traffic jams. Today Dutch NOS live television is present for the first time in history. Henk Terlingen and Frans Henrichs will be the presentators and of course Dutchman Gijs van Lennep is one of the Grand Prix drivers. The morning of 29th of July is a good one, everything looks shiny.

While Huisman and Beerepoot ride their motorbike around the track it is Herman Brammer who collects his lunchbox, an apple and a bottle of softdrink. It is his reward for a day volunteering as a marshal on the track
at post #10 near Tunnel Oost. This is Brammer's second day as a marshal while he can not get a day off as a teacher on a grammar school on Friday.
Brammer has been marshal since 1967 and therefore a member of the Officials Club Automobielsport (OCA). In 1970 he saw Piers Courage burn to death.
Brammer was at trackpost #10. "I remember I was waving two yellow flags because there was hardly any sight. The black smoke was blowing right over the track." Back then it was Ben Huisman who was the race director assistant who had to tell the bad news to teamboss Frank Williams. Huisman, "It was exceptionally tragic, poor Frankieboy".

Piers Courage's death does not prevent Brammer from coming to Zandvoort as a track official. Nobody is surprised these days when a race driver crashes fatally. Schlesser in 1968, Mitter in 1969, Courage, Rindt and Bruce Mc
Laren in 1970. During five years after Zandvoort 1973 it is Francois Cevert, Helmutt Koinigg, Mark Donohue, Tom Pryce and Ronnie Peterson who die.
"Drivers who were in Formula One five years or longer had a chance of 66% to crash fatally", says Jackie Stewart. "I once calculated this with my wife Helen. During my active years I lost 75 people in racing."

Brammer realizes that death belongs to the sport. It is not a nice part of racing but it is like it is. On the other hand he is crazy about motorsports and he can not pay for racing himself. His work as a track official is the closest he can get to racing. That is why he comes to Zandvoort this Sunday morning. He wears his regular cloths and his black & white checkered OCA shirt on top of that. No helmet, no fireproof cloths, no equipment.

Around the same time photographer Poppe de Boer, then 32 years old, leaves from Haarlem. Poppes' father Cees de Boer runs a photopraphers agency and he has been a regular visitor of the Zandvoort Grand Prix since 1960. Poppe
will start his day of photographing at Hunserug and intends to walk around the track during the race. He knows he should take some pictures of the leaders of the race and of course Dutchman Gijs van Lennep.

Gijs van Lennep, who competed in a Grand Prix (Zandvoort 1971) before, received a telephone call from Marlboro a few weeks prior to the Grand Prix.
The tabacco company wants to let him drive for the ISO-Marlboro-team owned by Frank Williams. In order to get some more spectators to the Grand Prix on the renovated racetrack.

Van Lennep is the defending 1972 European Champion Formula 5000 and faces an unstable season in 1973 so far. He wins the 1973 Targa Florio but in Formula 5000 he is not able to score. The winner of the 1971 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans seems not able to collect 400,000 Guilders (181,000 Euros) to drive for the Formula One team of Surtees. Van Lennep, "to be honest I had deleted Formula One from my mind."

"Just a few Formula One races a year would be nice", van Lennep thinks when he hangs up the phone after talking to Marlboro. In a way he still is keen on Formula One although he is a better long distance and sportscar driver.
"Long distance demands 90% from you. Formula One is much heavier, that claims 100%. It is one of my mancos. Since my heavy crash in Spa 1967 I have always been on the edge of too little physical condition." Marlboro however thinks Van Lennep is a great driver and Frank Williams has to accept the deal. Gijs van Lennep agrees. "But Williams did not mean a thing those days.
He did not have money, he did not have anything."

During the Grand Prix Van Lennep feels he is being used by Frank Williams. Only at the end of the last qualifying session he gets a good set of tires.
"Of course, Williams was used by Marlboro as well", Van Lennep says thirty years later in 2003. "But what a tough man this Frank Williams is. He still owes me money." Van Lennep qualifies 20th, two places behind Roger Williamson and one place in front of David Purley. Front row is Ronnie Peterson (Lotus), François Cevert (Tyrrell) and Jackie Stewart (Tyrrell).
Peterson and Cevert are rising stars as fast as they are wild. Jacky Stewart was the World Champion in 1969 and 1971 and is the big man these days. Only a few months earlier he was at Zandvoort as a representative for the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GDPA).

Ben Huisman picked up Jacky Stewart from Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam in a orange BMW 2002. With a speed of only 50 kilometers an hour (32 mph) they drove to Zandvoort. Stewart did not want Huisman to drive too quickly and therefore race director Huisman drove even slower just to tease. "We weren't really talkative. Our personalities did not really fit."

Huisman gets along very well with Graham Hill whom he visited at home and vice versa. And playboy James Hunt. In 1972 Huisman and Hunt have dinner with Roger Williamson in Hilversum. "That serious Stewart, that is a different piece of cake." Huisman, Stewart, Beerepoot and constructor.
Smallegange walk around the recently renovated racetrack. This is an important meeting because the GPDA has a lot of power and Stewart is a personality. Stewart has questions and remarks. Stewart remembers, "The back
part of the track was interesting. Very demanding with all these hills and sanddunes and there needs to be done a lot more to the track." After Huisman brings back Stewart to the airport Huisman realizes nothing can hold back
the Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

Back to Sunday 29th of July 1973. Around two o'clock Huisman instructs the drivers to the track. He tells them to hurry up otherwise he will close the pitlane. "Nobody was in a hurry". When all cars are out on the track Huisman
and Beerepoot congratulate eachother. They have done it. The cars drive a warming up lap and then slowly drive to the main straight. The drivers get out of their cars on the starting grid. Van Lennep talks to Roger Williamson
on the grid. "Williamson was a nice chap".

On the second floor of the controltower Huisman informs himself about timekeeping. They are ready. The fire brigade is ready and he checks if the OCA on the first floor made contact with all posts around the track.
Everything seems to be OK. As agreed the ladder stands against the tower wall. In case Huisman can not hear timekeeping he is now able to run up against the ladder to get close to them. "These guys were my eyes and my
ears." Accordingly he climbs on a small platform at the beginning of the pitlane near Start/Finish, the drivers get into their cars and start their engines. All spectators get up their feet and Huisman waves the Dutch flag.
The race has started!

Twentythree cars drive into the Tarzan turn. Peterson in front of Stewart, Pace and Cevert. After seven laps Peterson still leads. Van Lennep is driving a great race and is 12th after a good start. Right behind him on
13th place is Roger Williamson with David Purley behind. One and a half minute later Van Lennep laps for the 8th time post #10 near Tunnel Oost.
Full throttle, full speed.

"Tunnel Oost is a very nice turn, it is a real turn", Van Lennep says. "It is a difficult turn. One has grip but when you come out of the turn there is no space. It is a few meters grass, a guardrail and a steep dune and on top
of that the woods. A very tight turn. There you need to do it exactly right.
There is not a lot space for error, not a lot of space for compensation. When on the inside of the turn, if only a bit too far from the inside edge of the track, you would miss a lot on the outside. Tunnel Oost was a matter
of centimeters. A bit like Blanchimont at Spa or the 130R at Suzuka. The car needs to be neutral, it all listens very closely at 260-270 kilometers an hour (165 mph). I always felt happy when I passed Tunnel Oost clearly. I
always have been very aware of that turn. When coming through Scheivlak I always thought 'two more curves...'".

Sometimes I thought 'is it me or is it the car?'. I saw someone passing by like Cevert or so and I watched them slam and slide their car and run six meters away from me. I thought I should not have too much overtsteer here
and looked at the black skidmarks they left on the track. Amazing! When you make one little mistake, time stands still. You just do not have time and space to correct."

A few seconds after Van Lennep passes post #10 Brammer hears a loud bang.
Metal hitting metal and the sound echoes through the guardrail. Brammer turns his head. One of the cars has a burst tyre, front left and hits the guardrail. It is the red March 721 of Roger Williamson. The car gets catapulted by the guardrail, flies through the air and bounces back on the track. The car turns around it axes and slides upside down over a distance of 200 meters to a standstill opposite post #10. The cockpit fire extinguisher goes off. Brammer is scared to death and thinks of Piers Courage, "Oh no, not another one". The March lies on its rollbar with Roger Williamson still inside the car. Brammer feels adrenaline, runs to the trackside and starts to wave the yellow flag immediately to warn the other drivers.

David Purley is driving his 3rd Grand Prix and sees just in front of him Williamson being catapulted by the guardrail. Without hesitation he parks his March on the left side of the track and that is the outside part of the
track. Graham Hill passes next and drives by. The other cars follow. Williamson's wrecked car is on the inside part of the Tunnel Oost turn, exactly on the ideal line, on fire already. Former paratrooper David Purley gets out of his car and crosses the track to run to Williamson. Purley tries to turn over the car by pushing the right front wheel but the car is too heavy. Brammer's colleague Hans Rens and another OCA track official cross
the track and run to Williamson to assist Purley. Both men are unable to push the car because it is burning heavily and they lack protective clothing.

Then a fireman with a fire extinguisher comes to the track. Purley crosses the track for a second time and runs to the fireman. We see a 'nervous' Purley who grabs the fire extinguisher from the fireman and runs back to
Williamson. On video it is clear that Purley does not know how to operate the fire extinguisher and gets assistance from the fireman. Purley sprays the fire extinguisher till it is empty. The question is if he uses the fire extinguisher properly.

When the fire extinguisher is empty Purley tries to push the car one more time and fails again to turn it over. OCA track officials try to push as well but are unable to get close to the burning car. Then Purley waves spectators to come and cross the track to assist. A second fire extinguisher arrives near the now heavily burning car. The second fire extinguisher is not able either to extinguish the fire.

Filmed by live television millions of people watch the tragedy happen but in the controltower at the Zandvoort track there is no television. At post #10 a marshal must call the controltower but now, thirty years later in 2003,
nobody knows who this man was. Herman Brammer and Hans Rens were not the man in any case. The unknown man has an impossible mission because it must have been 1973 according to Brammer that the telephone cable was torn from the hook. The important message "Post #10, crash, fire", never reaches race director Ben Huisman. The race is not being stopped by a lack of information.

Stewart is chasing Ronnie Peterson when he sees waving flags in lap 9 for the first time. He sees smoke and he knows this is a big accident. "A bad news story". Who is it? No idea, there is a lot of debris on the track and
Stewart must decide in a split second how fast he still can go and where to pass the wreck. "I was looking for marshals", Stewart says. "They could inform me. In a car you see the accident completely different from what
spectators see. And do not forget, this is a fast part of the track. When you lower speed you must be careful no one hits you in the back. So you take a good look in your mirrors. Your mind has taken on a different zone."

"We drove by at a foot-pace", Van Lennep remembers. "Except mister Peterson who just screamed by. On a certain moment I noticed a driver next to the crashed car. After the race that appeared to have been Purley but when it
happened I thought 'oh, the guy just rolls from under his car.'"

David Purley after the race: "I just couldn't turn it over. I could see he was alive and I could hear him shouting, but I couldn't get the car over. I was trying to get people to help me, and if I could have turned the car over
he would have been alright, we could have got him out." Later, when the immediate grief had receded, he admitted, "I didn't even think about the heroism or any of that rubbish. I just did what comes naturally to a trained
soldier who sees a fellow in trouble."

At Hunserug photographer Poppe de Boer sees smoke. He does not hesitate and grabs his equipment and starts running through the dunes. He guesses it took him around five minutes to reach the area of the accident. He only sees smoke, misery and disaster. De Boer photographes the smouldering car. He does not have a clue if someone is still in the car, he just registers with his camera.

Meanwhile Brammer gets frustrated. He sees everything but he has the yellow flag and has to wave. The situation changes all the time. People are still running across the track. At this moment race director Ben Huisman notices
the black smoke as well. But no message from post #10 is received in the controltower. "It could not havehappened on the track", Huisman thinks, "..because laptimes remain the same." Maybe some spectators set fire to some tires. Huisman goes up the ladder. Timekeeping does not know a thing. It must be false alarm. Besides this, didn't they build a safe track? What could happen here at Zandvoort? Later we knew something had happened but the message we received was: accident, driver OK. He is standing next to his car.

After 20 laps Huisman realizes something is terribly wrong. "Naive? Absolutely. But things are happening during races all the time and I am not a person who panics quickly. None of the drivers came into the pits to let
us know something was going on." After the race Dennis Hulme tells Huisman, "Bullshit, I have let you known something was going on."

Then from the Gerlach turn a firetruck enters the track with 500 liters of water onboard. Slowly the truck creeps up Hunserug. Not faster than 40 km/h (25 mph) Huisman guesses. It takes a long time before the old red Bedford
arrives at Tunnel Oost. It is too late for Williamson as the official report says. Roger Williamson died of breathing hot gasses. When the fire is completely extinguished by the firetruck the car is turned over and a white
sheet is put over the car.

?I do not know. It gets serious when a firetruck enters the track. But the message: 'he is dead'.... I really do not know when that came in. It even might have been my own conclusion. It took a long time before we knew for
certain. The story grows?, Huisman says.

Huisman ends the race after 72 laps. Jackie Stewart wins. Roger Williamson's body is transported to the hospital of Haarlem. Huisman sees the bad weather coming. Dutch driver Gijs van Lennep scored a nice result, he finishes 6th
and deserves one World Championship point. Dutch television reporter Frans Henrichs does not want to talk about this one point. "Goddamned!", Van Lennep swears when the reporter tells him what exactly happened at Tunnel
Oost. "I have seen him getting out of his car!", Van Lennep says. But Henrichs tells him that he has seen Purley and that Williamson burned.
Williamson's fiancee, Jacqui Hamilton, is being escorted from the track. Purley, a mental wreck, leaves to his hotel in Bloemendaal where he stayed with Williamson. Photographer Poppe de Boer is in his lab developing his
negatives. Ronnie Peterson, who does not finish, drives with his roadcar to Tunnel Oost.

Ben Huisman realizes some hot hours are waiting for him and therefore he first wants to speak to the OCA track officials of post #10. When Brammer has told Huisman about the accident he signs a document not to talk about
this outside these four walls. "After 30 years we might have reached the term of limitation and therefore I speak about this for the first time", Brammer says in 2003.

Near the controltower everybody with an opinion or a question flocks together. Drivers, journalists, teambosses and of course the race directors. It is a kind of 'press conference' in a tent. Huisman sits at a table and a
wild scene unfolds. "It scared me", Huisman syas. "Everybody ran in and out, heated discussions, people were calling eachother names. I thought 'where the hell am I?'. Everybody was shouting about Williamson but the only one who knew him was me. Last year I had dinner with him in Hilversum. Dennis Hulme who called me nasty names never met Williamson."

The critics are all over. Peter Revson (McLaren) says Williamson would have had a chance if the race directors had responded faster and accurately. The race should have been stopped. Mike Hailwood says he will feel guilty all of
his life because he did not stop to help Purley. Earlier that year Hailwood stopped to free Clay Regazzoni from his burning car risking his own life. Williamson's teamboss Max Mosley (president of the FIA in 2003) talks about
a 'fuck-up'. If intelligent people would have been in charge, this would not have happened he says. Besides this the trackofficials were cowards, he concludes. Jackie Stewart does not agree. The winner of the race doubts if Williamson could have survived the accident and a fire of this magnitude.
The race stopped? "I do not think so if that was necessary", he says 30 years later at the Malaisian Grand Prix 2003. "Today the safetycar would enter the track. Today's drivers do not understand how things were 30 years
ago. We had to live with the knowledge anything fatal could happen any time."

After one hour the meeting at Zandvoort dies out. "It felt like a cold shower", Ben Huisman says. Huisman leaves to Graham Hill's camper and they drink a glass of beer. The driver and the race director. Both tired. "Not so good Ben", says Hill. "This is not so good, Ben." After a few minutes Huisman gets up and leaves to Tunnel Oost, the place of the accident, and then back to the summerhouse on the boulevard next to the beach.

Tom Wheatcroft, Williamson's sponsor and owner of the Donington racetrack, is being asked to come to Haarlem to identify the body. He can not do it and he asks BRM-boss Louis Stanley to go with him. "The mortuary was a simple
building. Inside it felt like a church", Stanley writes in his book Behind the Scenes. "Instead of an altar there was a coffin. I had a key to open the coffin. If there has been any reprehensible picture of motor racing this was
it. Roger Williamson in his affected fireproof overall, both his arms and hands for his face like he had tried to protect himself for his approaching death."


'Andere Tijden'
2 maart 2004
VPRO television
The Netherlands


Ben Huisman, race director GP Zandvoort 1973
Herman Brammer, track official Post #10
Gijs van Lennep, driver at Grand Prix Zandvoort 1973
Jacqui Hamilton, fiancee Roger Williamson
Kim Stevenson, childhood friend
Ian Phillips, journalist Autosport
Cor Mooij, photographer, winner World Press Photo 1974

Formule 1, nr 14 / 2003
Autosport (oa jaargang 1973)
Haarlems Dagblad,
Het Parool,
De Telegraaf,
Algemeen Dagblad,
Strictly off the record - Louis T. Stanley
Behind the scenes - Louis T. Stanley
Jackie Stewart - Karl Ludvigsen
A man called Mike - Christopher Hilton
To hell and back - Niki Lauda
Ronnie Peterson - Alan Henry
James Hunt - Gerald Donaldson
Speed with Style, the autobiography of Peter Revson - Leon Mandel
Frank Williams - Maurice Hamilton
Grand Prix Requiem - Williams Court
30 jaar circuit Zandvoort - Hans Hugenholtz
100 jaar autosport, 50 jaar circuit Zandvoort -Dirk Buwalda e.a.
The Autobiography of Formula One - Edited by Gerald Donaldson
Grand Prix Story 1973 - Heinz Prüller
Grand Prix Story 1974 - Heinz Prüller