Reg Parnell

1940’s & 1950’s Racing Driver

Reg Parnell, born July 2nd 1911, was a Derby-born man who would make his home city proud from his formative racing days in the 1930s, through his glory days of the 1950s and right up to the day he died in the city at the tragically young age of 52. Cars and racing took over almost his entire life in one form or another and he became so skilled in his craft, whether it was driving, training or management, that he would become one of the greatest names in motor sport at the time.

His blue plaque on former home.

His blue plaque on former home.

From a haulage company in Derby to the track at Donington.
Looking back on Parnell’s early life, it is clear that a career involving cars and driving was going to be the way forward because they – along with the family pub – were highly influential factors in his childhood and teenage years. His parents ran the Royal Standard pub in Derby, where he was also brought up, but it was his brother’s haulage business that was more interesting to Reg and he began working and driving for him from a young age – too young to even be fully licensed. This work was a great introduction to cars and driving but it was a trip to Donington Park in 1933 to their opening race that would show the young Parnell what could be achieved with speed and talent.

Reg Parnell on the track

Reg Parnell on the track

Parnell’s visit to Donington was arguably the catalyst for his long career in motor racing and F1 but getting onto the starting grids and podiums was not as straightforward as he would have hoped. He began racing and learning his craft in the 1930s in his MG Magrette and was on course for success; however, an accident in 1937 caused major delays to his eventual fame. Parnell himself came away unscathed in the incident but fellow driver Kay Petre was left temporarily unable to race after her car rolled and Parnell’s license was taken away from him. A further stumbling block came in the shape of the war, which closed Donington and affected racing, but by 1946 Parnell was fully licensed, back on the track and ready to compete.

The 1950s were a time of success and fame for Reg Parnell.
When Parnell came back to racing, ready to make a name for himself, he probably did not imagine that he would have such a great start to this new shot at a career. In 1950 he was given the honour of racing for Alpa Romeo in the first British GP at Silverstone but this high was quickly surpassed when he managed to achieve a podium finish in third place. From there, Reg’s career took off and he enjoyed great success while cementing himself as the top British name in F1 for the era. Over the following seven years, Reg earned more championship points – to give him a total of nine – competed in seven F1 GPs and was dubbed the “Iron Man” of racing by his supporters for his dedication and fearless attitude. He drove for BRM and raced Maseratis across the word, winning three Goodwood Trophies, and he finished his racing career on a high in 1957 with victory at the New Zealand GP.

Reg Parnell advert

Reg Parnell advert

When Reg Parnell decided to retire from a career at the wheel he did not leave the circuits behind and can even be said to have thrown himself into the sport even more. He was a truly gifted racer but his work behind the scenes from 1957 showed he was the full package when it came to motor racing because he was professional, knowledgeable about everything from driving to the mechanics and design of the cars themselves and he had an eye for spotting talent in future drivers. Parnell became the team manager for Aston Martin with great success, before forming Yeomen Credit and, later, Reg Parnell Racing in 1962, and he even had a hand in training up a young John Surtees. Aside from his family and his pig farm in Findern, motor racing was Reg’s passion and it is no surprise that he put everything he possibly could into it right until his death.

A career cut short and a growing legacy within Derby.
Just two years after the formation of Reg Parnell Racing, Parnell contracted peritonitis after an operation on his appendix and died on January 7th 1964. For a while, his son Tim continued his work and took over the running of the team but, even though he was fairly successful, his work could not match up to that of his father. On that day, the racing world lost one of their great stars and Derby lost a son to be proud of; however, some would say that Reg was a surprisingly under-appreciated figure who only recently received the accolades and recognition that he had deserved for a very long time.

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In 2013, almost fifty years since his passing and eighty since that day he first laid eyes on the Donington track, two grand honours were awarded to Reg Parnell to help ensure that he would be well remembered within the industry and his home city for a long time to come. The first was the inclusion of his life story in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the second was the unveiling of a blue plaque on the side of his former home in Derwent Street – now known as the Brewery Tap – by the former chairman of Rolls Royce,Sir Ralph Robins and Reg’s son Tim.

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Reg Parnell’s influence on F1 and motor racing went much further than the seven years he spent racing in championships in the 1950s; his work on the track inspired many to follow in his footsteps but it was his continued dedication to the sport after his retirement, his creation of teams, development of talent and skill in car manufacture that ensured that his name would be one to remember by drivers, fans, and car enthusiasts alike. The fact that a car built by his own hands is being lovingly restored by an American collector shows the wide range of this man’s appeal and Derby should be proud of their champion and local hero.