George Harrison loved cars before music. He watched sports car races and the British Grand Prix at Aintree. The future Beatle even wrote to the British Racing Motors team, who sent him pictures of all the latest models.
In the 1960s, George made friends with all the internationally famous race car drivers. Later, he became close friends with Jackie Stewart, who took him behind the scenes of the race car driving world.
However, when George was given the chance to finally get behind the wheel and race next to his idols, he didn’t have the best experience. At least it was all for charity.
George Harrison wrote ‘Faster’ for his race car driving buddies
According to Rolling Stone, George saw Liverpool’s first British Grand Prix in Aintree when he was 12. However, rock ‘n’ roll caught George’s attention the following year. He didn’t see another race until he was in The Beatles.
In the late 1970s, George got close with Jackie Stewart, the retired triple world champion Formula One driver. “It was really through him that I got backstage, and it’s much more interesting back there,” George explained.
Later, George wrote “Faster” as a tribute to Stewart and all the other guys in Formula One. In his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine, George said he wrote the song as a challenge. Many people asked him if he would write a song about car racing.
“I got the title first—I took it from Jackie Stewart’s book! I then wrote the chorus ‘faster than a bullet from a gun, etc.’ and later worked out the rest of the song in a way that doesn’t limit it only to motor cars. Once I put the sound effects on then obviously it is about racing but, if you took that away the only thing in the song which is anything to do with cars is the word ‘machinery.’
“The story can relate to me or you or anybody in any occupation who becomes successful and has pressure upon them caused by the usual jealousies, fears, hopes, etc. I have a lot of fun with many of the Formula One drivers and their crews—and they have enabled me to see things from a very different angle than the music business I am normally involved with.”
George gave the proceeds of the single to a cancer research fund set up by Swedish driver Gunnar Nilsson. It also celebrated Ronnie Peterson, who died of injuries sustained during the 1978 Italian Grand Prix.
George didn’t have the best time racing in a Formula One car
During a 1992 interview with Goldmine, George said he drove a Formula One car in a demonstration for charity.
“I never raced seriously myself, but I had a go in a Formula One car, with quite an old 3-liter-engine car,” George explained. “I’d drive ’round Brand’s Hatch in one. And I drove in a charity for Gunnar Nilsson, a Swedish driver who died of cancer, because I gave the money from the ‘Faster’ single off ‘George Harrison’ to Gunnar’s cancer fund.
“Anyhow, they had this day for the Gunnar Nilsson campaign at the track in England and they asked me to drive this 1960 Lotus, which had won a race in Monte Carlo when driven by the great English driver Sterling Moss. This car had no seatbelts, and because it had been in a museum for 20 years the tires were hard with no grip on them, yet the car was still pretty quick!
“But they assured me it was just a demonstration run, ‘around for five laps in formation and then five laps at your own pace. So, I said I’d do it. I got there, and it’s Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell he won in his ’73 world championship in; James Hunt in the McLaren; Phil Hill in his famous Ferrari.
“I’m walking to my car while chatting with driver John Watson about the pleasure of the run we’re about to take, and he says, ‘You are joking. There’s no racing driver that goes in formation! As soon as they drop that flag, they’ll all be gone like crazy!’
“Sure enough, as soon as the checkered flag fell, the other cars went whoosh as mine putted along in a haze of smoke! By the time I got to my first lap they were already coming behind me for their second lap, screaming away! Scared me stiff! But at least I did better than James Hunt, who broke down on the first pass.”
The former Beatle and Stewart bonded over their shared love of heightened experiences
There are similarities between racing cars and playing in a rock band. They’re both fast living and can give one a heightened experience.
Stewart says his friendship with George was based on their love of the heightened experience of driving fast cars.
“When you’re driving a racing car to the absolute limit of its ability, and that of your own ability, it’s a very unique emotion and experience,” Stewart explained in Martin Scorsese’s documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World.
“When that happens, your senses are so strong. That’s what I think George saw in racing. We talked about things like that a lot: heightened sense, of your feel and your touch and your feet… If you listen to a really top guitarist, or any top musician, and how they can make that guitar talk, or that keyboard talk, or the skins talk, that’s another heightening of senses that is beyond the ken, the knowledge of any normal man or woman.”
George didn’t have the best time racing a Formula One car. However, he never fell out of love with his first hobby.