It is an event that has all but been forgotten by history. An international race so wild that during the first running, most of the teams pulled out of competition after qualifying. An event that reset racing performance marks across the board and an event that pitted the best drivers from the USA in their cars versus the best Formula One drivers from around the globe in theirs. It was The Race of Two World and it highlights everything crazy, ballsy, and awesome about racing in the 1950s.
After the famed Monza course in northern Italy got fixed up in the 1950s, there was a new portion of the facility that was designed to be the fastest thing on Earth. A multiple mile oval with banking as gnarly as 80-degrees in the corners. This thing was set up to allow the best cars in the world to pull on to it, stand on the gas, and achieve things no one ever had before. But how to promote it? After USAC officials visited Monza to take in the Grand Prix in the middle 1950s, a discussion struck up and the idea of this trans-world race came up. USAC cars were probably pretty well suited to run around a course like this and after all, as hard as they ran at Indy with almost no banking, they could really make some hay on this deal, right? Enough of the European teams expressed interest that a plan was hatched.
There were complications though. The Monza oval was known to be a place that destroyed tires and cars. The surface itself was very, very rough with loads of big bumps in those highly banked, haul ass corners. No one had really ever developed a tire for the sustained speeds that this race would see, let alone the punishment they would get on the course. Firestone stepped up. The world watched as they tested their tires at speed on the course for longer and longer intervals and everyone was happy that they held up.
Everyone is an overstatement. A hastily formed driver’s union made of of the European competitors tried to get a boycott of the race going, calling the whole thing suicidal. No one had raced at these sustained speeds before on this style of course. The 500 mile distance would be run in three 53 lap heats with an hour break between to allow for repairs. The drivers were talked back into it.
Competitors from the USA, Italy, Scotland, Great Britain, and France all took a crack at qualifying. After qualifying many of the European teams threw in the towel and did not actually attempt to run the race. The brutish American Indy roadsters were the machines to beat and they wouldn’t be. Driver Jimmy Bryan crushed ’em all, winning all three heats and taking home the big money prize and the special trophy for the event. Bryan wold be killed less than 3 years later at Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania, a one mile dirt oval.
It should be noted that this was the fastest race in the world in terms of average performance. The fastest laps, made by a Novi V8 powered roadster were over 177mph average. That means the thing was absolutely doing north of 200mph on the straights. Indy 500 average lap speeds at this time were in the 140-150mph range. This was not just a test of performance, but a massive contest of guts and courage.
The event showed enough promise that there was a second Race of Two Worlds in 1958. This time the F1 teams knew what to expect and some of them built special cars with big engines and designs to better suit them to oval racing. The speeds were again, amazing but the Americans prevailed a second time. Citing a lack of financial success and a lack of financial backing, as well as the continued escalation of performance it was the last event of its type ever held.
This two year only event has to be one of the neatest races held of any type, in any decade! The film below was made by Firestone in 1957 and it tells the tale of this most amazing race!