Phillip Toll Hill Jr., 31, the handsome, high-strung Californian who stands a chance of becoming the first American to win the world driver championship, is an introspective man of forthright and often startling speech. When asked not long ago whether he had any qualms during his drive to victory in heavy rains and high winds last year in the world-famous 24-hour race at Le Mans, he said, "I am always afraid when I race." Why, then, does he race? "Because I do it well."
An overriding passion to do something supremely well, preferably in fast cars, has apparently ruled Phil Hill's life since his boyhood. Son of a longtime postmaster of Santa Monica, Calif. (both his parents died in 1950), Hill poked around the family cars as a toddler and, at 9, actually drove an aunt's 1936 Olds-mobile. At 12 he raced a model T Ford on an impromptu quarter-mile track laid out on the family estate of his schoolmate George Hearst, grandson of William Randolph. "I learned a helluva lot about the dynamics of cornering from that old model T," he says.
College days at USC were "a bust"; gropings in the wildly disparate fields of railroading and music revealed "strange blocks." Work as an automobile mechanic rekindled his passion for cars. He plunged avidly into the first postwar road races in California, tried midget racing and acquired a lasting distaste for speedway driving, and then began, in the early 1950s, to make his name nationally known in sports car racing. "I think," he says, "that I had the latent talent to be more successful even then, but I wasn't grown up enough. It was all tied up with my ego about motor racing. If I had been capable of lowering myself to the point of learning how to drive racing cars, I would have arrived much sooner. I needed to believe racing drivers were born, but I had to learn that they must be developed."
By 1954 he had learned well enough to place second in the murderous Pan-American road race. Mindful that there is only one route to the world driver championship—by way of a first-rate European factory connection—Hill knocked on doors but for years was denied real satisfaction. Finally, last year, came three championship-caliber sports car triumphs for which this magazine awarded Hill its U.S. Driver of the Year trophy. More important in the long run, he proved in his first full-scale Grandes Epreuves, those races for Formula I single-seaters which alone count toward the driving title, that he must be considered a worthy contender for that ultimate achievement.
Along with Hill's spectacular ascension has come a remarkable push on the international scene by three other Californians. Dan Gurney, an obscure club driver 16 months ago, has joined the Ferrari sports car team. Lance Reventlow, having already produced the amazing Scarab sports cars, will launch Scarab single-seaters in European Grandes Epreuves this season, sharing the driving with fellow-Californian Chuck Daigh.
Hill and his contemporaries will make it a rousing year, indeed.