Phil Hill is credited with becoming the first American to become World Champion – yet he was not the flashy, colorful sort of person you would expect such a title to belong to. In fact, Hill wasn’t entirely sure that he really enjoyed racing. An intelligent and sensitive introvert, he openly admitted to having inner demons which plagued him throughout his racing career. Still, despite his mental obstacles, Phil Hill was truly a champion of the sport.
Born in 1927 to a prominent family in California, Philip Toll Hill Junior became an introvert at a very young age. He feared failure and often felt inadequate. He turned to music as an outlet for his problems before becoming absorbed in the world of cars. He received his first car at the tender age of twelve. The Model T Ford was a gift from his aunt and he dismantled it several times before learning to drive it. After dropping out from the University of California, Phil Hill went to work for garage owner who was also an amateur racer. Before long he started racing and in 1951 he was able to purchase a 2.6 litre Ferrari with money he inherited after the death of his parents. Despite his regular wins, Hill was plagued by the dangers of racing – to the extent that he had to stop racing for ten months in order for his stomach to recover from multiple stomach ulcers. When he returned to the track, he was making use of heavy doses of tranquillisers. He always attributed his success to the car.
In 1955 Phil Hill was invited to join Ferrari as an endurance racer. It was a slow start towards his Formula One racing career since Enzo Ferrari hesitated to put him in single-seaters. However he soon started racing Formula One and he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza after just two years in the driver’s seat. During his entire career, Hill was strikingly candid about his personal demons and emotional troubles. His introspection resulted in some unflattering comments on his personality but for the first time in his life, he was able to leave his inferiority complex behind. Before a race, Hill was nervous and edgy – but as soon as he was behind the wheel he seemed calm and tranquil. He often drove the best on the worst tracks in the worst weather conditions.
Despite his worries about the dangers of the sport, it was something which he was just too passionate about to stop. Thus, after a short period of inactivity, he simply found he had to race again. Things started well but after the tragic accident at Monza wherein his old team mate Count Wolfgang von Trips was killed in a collision with Jim Clark, his career started on a slow downward spiral. He raced for a number of companies before eventually retiring from Formula One and then from racing altogether. In 1971 he married his girlfriend and settled down to start a family. He thereafter led a quieter and happier life, restoring old cars as part of a rather lucrative business. — Phil Hill died on 28 August 2008.
Racing legend Phil Hill recently passed away at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula at 81 years of age due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. The celebrated octogenarian was the first and only US born racing driver to ever win the Formula One international auto-racing championships.
Philip Toll Hill was a memorable racing legend who was born on April 20, 1927, in Miami. He was raised in Santa Monica and started to develop his passion for cars from an early age. At just 12 years of age, he started to drive a Model T Ford that his aunt bought him on the private roads in Santa Monica Canyon. Cars were clearly a life-long obsession for him – one that stood him in good stead in future years. Hill started out his automobile career as a mechanic, but by the mid-1950s he found himself behind the steering wheel in Santa Ana. From there he went on to race in Pebble Beach, Mexico and even Europe. After his long but brilliant journey to the top, he eventually managed to join the Ferrari team and tackle a Ferrari Formula One car. The year was 1958 and it marked the start of the most spectacular leg of an already spectacular career – one which culminated with his earning the Formula One world title for himself.
During his years as a Formula One driver, Hill witnessed many tragic events. Perhaps the most memorable of these was the 1961 Grand Prix in Italy at Monza when German Wolfgang von Trips was killed in a tragic three-car collision that also took the lives of eleven spectators. It must have been a tragic race for Hill since Von Trips was his Ferrari teammate. Nevertheless, Phil Hill managed to enjoy a very successful career without ever suffering a serious injury. He not only won the F1 Championship in 1961, but became a three-time winner of both Le Mans and Sebring. After he retired from competitive racing, he never left his passion and focused on his love of classic cars, pianos and other antique musical instruments. His life as a driver was commemorated in 1991 when he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Hill is survived by his wife, children, step child and grandchildren. He lived a very full life of passion and excitement and will no doubt be remembered fondly by loved ones and fans around the world.