I have always enjoyed reading about the great races in Europe- Monaco, Le Mans, Monza, the Mille Miglia, a thousand mile road race through Italy. Another race that fascinated me was the Targa Florio in Sicily. It did not get the attention of the other European races. Until today, I knew less about it than any other race. Today I saw A Sicilian Dream, a documentary about the Targa Florio, at the Indy Film Fest. Another screening will be Saturday afternoon at 3:15 pm at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
The story has former driver Alain de Cadenet, who nearly lost his life in a horrific fiery crash during the 1970 race, driving the 44 mile, 710 turn course with Francesco Motosco, who remembers watching the race as a boy. They drive a 1931 Alfa Romeo, rumored to be the car driven by Tazio Nuvolari in the race. The film interviews people who watched the race, last held in 1977, and still have fond memories of the event and what it meant to Sicily. We also hear from a relative of the race founder, Vincenzo Florio, whose husband was the promoter in its final years. Vincenzo was a dreamer and impulsive. The youngest son of a shipping magnate, he was not involved with the family business and had time to pursue his ideas.
The first race was in 1906. During the previous year, Florio mapped out a course through the towns in the la Mondie mountains (only 92 miles long), built grandstands and a timing stand. The race distance was 276 miles- 3 laps. The course changed several times. For a few years it ran the perimeter of the island. Its last iteration was a 44 mile circuit with a distance of 484 miles- 11 laps. In the early days there were no pit stops. Drivers would tour the course before the race and hide cans of fuel in the woods at points where they thought they would need to refill. In later years, drivers marked areas of the track that they thought would give them the most trouble. They spray painted walls and rocks as a warning. Each driver did this individually. One of the most striking scenes was one of these trouble spots. each driver not only marked their trouble spots, but they each used a different color and a different symbol. Some of the rocks seemed to have hieroglyphs on them from the various markings.
The story of de Cadenet’s 1970 crash was told from a point of view I didn’t expect. The son of the spectator who watched his father pull de Cadenet from his burning car and drag the unconscious driver across the road reenacted his dad’s actions at the spot where the crash occurred. Brian Redman also had a fiery crash in that year’s race. One charred piece of Redman’s car remains on display in Sicily. There is a touching scene where he sees the piece and picks it up. You can just imagine what he’s feeling at the time.
After 1977, the race stopped. There were many factors.in its demise. First, finances. There was never any admission fee for spectators. Early on, the whole operation was funded by Florio. Second, safety. There never guardrails nor spectator protection.Crowds had grown to more than 500,00. The streets had become too narrow for the cars. Third, the cars themselves. Manufacturers began building special machines just for this race, reaching speeds up to 150 miles an hour on the long straight. The cars simply outgrew the track. The race continues as a rally now.
The film contains a lot of vintage footage of races gone by. The passion shown by the citizens talking about watching the race was touching. You can feel the passion in their voices. It was fan ownership of the event. At the end, a British vintage auto club is set to tour the course in their own cars, many of which are relatives of the cars that once drove the great road race.
For more information about the film, visit the website, siciliandreammovie.com
Photo above- Stirling Moss driving the 1955 Mercedes he drove to victory in the Targa Florio. Photo by Lothar Spurzem