If a genie were to appear and grant me a wish I would not ask to be rich, or for eternal life, or for world peace. That’s not me, and perhaps this is a bit romantic but I would like to go back to a time when you had to get your hands dirty to get something, when beauty was appreciated more than it was marketed. Being born in the 1950s would bring me back to a world where life was harder, but I think also more fulfilling because of it. In motorsport especially so; blood on the streets, and sweat on the brow, the stains of the sport left behind in the indents of racing goggles and in the creases of race suits covered in oil and grease and dirt.
From my perspective, having “been born too late,” this time seemed like one when we weren’t so self-centered, and instead were more self-propelled. More willing to take risks when skinning your knees was the law and hard work was just called work—sure, I can’t program the computers in a rocket set to escape earth, but you know what I’m talking about. There are different types of difficult.
In motorsport this meant danger. The mental fortitude to get into old race cars and drive them as fast as possible is a breed apart from today’s. Especially when it comes to road races like the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio.
In a period of economic evolution, in a land levered with possibilities and resources, a man seeming had the reins of everything in his hands. He was Vincenzo Florio, and I like to describe him as a man with balls and a brain. A brilliant mind, he was far from the archetype of the modern world’s entrepreneur. Florio was a rebellious and violent soul, extremely passionate about life and supremely unafraid of risk. An ancient punk with a few million to spend and an interest in fast cars.
To me the race that bears his name will always be the peak of motorsport, and the Targa Florio remains the oldest and most bastard race in the world. I have always loved to define the Targa as a beautiful woman who’s worn many faces over the years—from a road race to a rally to a modern homage to its past—we can’t all stay young forever, but we can age gracefully.
Today the cars might evoke the shapes and sound of the past, but they are fitted with modern safety kits like fire suppression systems and rigid roll cages, and as such the level of excitement that comes from the element of risk that used to characterize the fastest drivers in the Targa is missing, as is the speed and aggression from those competing now. That’s the thing, it’s not really a competition anymore, but it still gives a taste of what it was. The myth of the Targa Florio remains and cannot be dampened, but I have a sense that its evolution would be met with repulsion if Vincenzo was around today to see his gladiatorial vision turned into something so safe.
But as much as I’d like to go back to an earlier time to see races like this during their peak, the world would be worse off without the Classica edition of the Targa. It’s inevitable that events must change and adapt over time, and this one still manages to put together one of the best vintage racing events of the year.
150 cars completed 670km of timed sprints between the salt pans of Marsala, the mountains of Caltavuturo, and the sea of Cefalù, sneaking between old homes, monuments, and breathtaking vistas of the land they were built on, next to, and above, perfectly reflecting the tourist and sporting connivance that Vincenzo Florio had conjured so long ago.
Having had the opportunity to follow it for four uninterrupted days, trailing the cars and venturing off onto roads known only by the local shepherds to find spots for photography, to be completely catapulted into this wonderful adventure and experience the same emotions experienced by the crews has made me, once again, very proud of Sicily and what my land has contributed to international motorsport.
A re-enactment is the right way to honor history in my opinion, and the Classica is worthy of carrying on this wonderful race’s name. As I write while drinking an excellent glass of marsala I imagine Vincenzo, sitting in stands in front of Cerda, looking at the start-finish line and grumbling a bit about this or that, but nonetheless happy that his race still lives.
So, thanks Vincenzo. For giving us a marvelous event, and a perfectly encapsulated manifestation of an era that we will not forget. “Continuate la mia opera perché l’ho creata per sfidare il tempo.”