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.