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It is with great sadness that we have to inform Members of the death of Syd Hebert last Friday, 9 December, from cancer. He would have turned 90 at the beginning of next month.

Very few, if indeed any, other individuals have become so closely associated with a motor sport venue that it becomes part of the name by which they are known. But Syd’s dedication to the Home of British Motor Racing was so complete that it seemed only natural to call him ‘Silverstone Syd’. He was never certain who came up with the name originally but thought that it was one of the commentators which suggests that inveterate bestower of nicknames, Peter Scott-Russell, in the aftermath of the infamous multiple pile up at the end of the first lap of the 1973 British Grand Prix. By then, Syd had become the first track safety officer at the behest of managing director Jimmy Brown.

Syd’s early involvement in motor racing was as the driver of a 500 cc Formula 3 Kieft at the same time as Stirling Moss was racing a similar car although, as Syd put it, ‘Stirling was at one end of the grid, and I was at the other’. He also competed in the 750 Motor Club’s 1172 Formula for a short while until he could afford it no longer. A few years later he took up rallying in a Mini-Cooper S but it was his passion for motor racing which led to him joining the British Motor Racing Marshals’ Club (as it was known in the 1960s). Syd was one of a group of BMRMC members who formed the emergency services team at Silverstone, attributing his involvement to the fact that he knew someone who could source an ambulance for the circuit. Until then, testing at Silverstone, as at other UK circuits, had been undertaken very casually with limited regard for ‘health and safety’.

In June 1969 while testing his Formula 1 Brabham BT26A, Jack Brabham had a hefty accident at Club Corner when an experimental Goodyear tyre deflated. As was normal in those days, there were no marshals on duty and it took a while for Jack’s pit crew to discover what had happened, make their way to the scene of the accident where Jack was sitting in a large pool of fuel trapped by his left ankle, and cut him out of the car without sparking a fire which would have had disastrous consequences. Jimmy Brown resolved that such a situation should not arise again and that someone should always be available both at race meetings and test sessions who had medical knowledge and the knowhow to extract injured people from crashed vehicles. Having spent 15 years working for the London Ambulance Service, Syd had the training and experience to amply satisfy Jimmy’s requirements which suited Syd down to the ground, and by September he had been taken on as Silverstone’s first track safety officer.

Syd’s responsibilities included managing test sessions, so that they were undertaken in the safest possible circumstances, and driving the Jaguar Fire Tender, of which there were many over the years, behind the competing cars on the first lap of every race so as to be first on the scene in the event of a serious accident. Even after his retirement from his full time role at the age of 65 in 1998, Syd continued as the driver of the red Jaguar for many years.

In 1994 Syd was invited to become an Associate General Member of the BRDC, an honour which was very much appreciated not only by Syd himself but also by the many Members who had reason to thank Syd for his assistance in times of trouble. It is perhaps worth quoting one such tribute from Ian Flux:

I, amongst many, have seen Syd in action at accidents at the circuit and many of us agree should we be unfortunate enough to have a ‘serious’ accident we would choose to have it at Silverstone, with Syd taking care of it. He considers safety of drivers paramount and although at times this leads him to be labelled ‘an awkward b*****’ it is for our own good.

Syd respected anyone ‘who gets in a car and starts a race’. Having been a competitor at a modest level in his youth, he had some insight into what it takes to be a successful racing driver. He had his heroes – Mike Hawthorn, Ronnie Peterson and above all Ayrton Senna. He would always have a small enamel badge of the great Brazilian’s helmet on his own hat. Ayrton was only one of many World Champions and Formula 1 drivers who over the years felt the lash of Syd’s tongue when they tried to step beyond the parameters laid down by him for the safe management and operation of test sessions.

The high regard in which Syd was held by BRDC Members was unequivocally shown when he was elected to be one of the Club’s Guardians whose principal role is to protect the Club’s assets. In 1987 he was presented with the International Jaguar Driver of the Year Award for his services to Silverstone, the image of Jaguar, and motor racing generally. In recent years, Syd was often a Club Steward at Historic Sports Car Club events. Or he might be found with his great friend and fellow Associate Member John Pearson in the BRDC Clubhouse enjoying the company and catching up on the latest gossip.

Syd was passionate about Silverstone and the BRDC. With Jimmy and Hamish Brown and George Smith he pioneered aspects of circuit safety which were all too often overlooked. In 2011 Syd was asked if he knew approximately how many laps he had driven of Silverstone and came up with the probably conservative figure of 50,000 over the preceding 40 years. It’s fair to say that there will never be another Silverstone Syd. To all his many friends the BRDC offers its most sincere condolences at the loss of a Silverstone legend.

The Club regrets to report on the death of Alan Minshaw, who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1984
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ray Thackwell who was elected as a BRDC Member in 1957
The Club regrets to report on the death of Ron Bennett, who was elected as a BRDC Associate Member in 1963
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