Victor Hémery

18/11/1876 - 9/9/1950

Record updated 08-Sep-21

Victor Hémery was a champion driver of early Grand Prix motor racing. He also set a number of Land Speed records. Frequently banned due to his fiery temperament, he was posthumously awarded the United States Driving Championship for 1905.

Victor Hémery
Victor Hémery was a champion driver of early Grand Prix motor racing who was born in Brest, Finistère, France. In 1904 he joined Automobiles Darracq S.A. as their chief tester and helped prepare cars to compete in that year's Gordon Bennett Cup. He drove a German Opel-Darracq to victory at Hamburg-Bahrenfeld.

In 1904 the Darracq Company build three racers for the Gordon Bennett Cup race. Victor joined the Company as the chief tester and along with his mechanic Victor Demogeot.

Together they entered the French trials for the Gordon Bennett Cup on the 16th June 1905. Later they contested the important 590Km race in Belgium on 7th August 1905 at Circuit des Ardennes which they won in their 80hp Darracq four cylinder against stiff opposition, finishing some 15 mins ahead of the second finished. Then in October they won the Vanderbilt Cup at Long Island, New York, beating a field that included racing greats such as Felice Nazzaro, Louis Chevrolet, and Ferenc Szisz.

The factory desperately wanted to retain the record wining performance, and Hemery's view was that an engine of twice the size should easily be able to lift the land speed record to a new level. Louis Ribeyrolles placed two 4 cylinder engines at 90 degrees each other creating one of the first V8 engines. The capacity of 22,500 cc's gave 200 bhp at 1,200 rpm and was connected to a two speed transmission. The car was eventually finished in December 1905 and the 990Kg special was delivered to the ACF inspection team in Salon-en-Provence together with the crew, Hemery and Demogeot. The car was measured between milestones 49 and 50 on the Salon to Arles dirt road. The records show four runs, 21.8 20.6 20.8 20.6 for the flying kilometer, a world record of 109.65 mph. Hemery considered that the very cold weather had a poor effect on the carburation, and that future records would be broken. The car was immediately shipped to America for the Ormond Beach Speed Tournament at Daytona held on 20 - 27 January 1906.

On 23 January Victor set a new world record, raising his own record of 109.25 mph to 115.30 mph. Hemery had recently been barred from competing in Italy for offensive behaviour, and as the Stanley and the Darracq came to the line for the elimination trials, Hemery revved the V8 and the flames from his open exhausts blasted the wood and canvas body of the Stanley. Hemery was threatened with disqualification, but the officials did not understand the stream of abuse in French that was his reply. On 24 January 1906 the works driver Hemery elected to run during a break in the weather, but the timing mechanism failed. Hemery was justly outraged at this incompetence, and furiously swore at the officials. For this he was banned from the event. The fiery Hemery had several more altercations with authority later in the year and was fired by the Darracq factory.

He left Darracq to join Benz & Cie. in 1907 and in 1908 he won the St. Petersburg to Moscow race and finished second in the French Grand Prix. He scored another second place finish behind Louis Wagner at the United States Grand Prix in Savannah, Georgia. The following year, on November 8, 1909 he set another new speed record at Brooklands of 202.691 km/h driving the famous "Blitzen Benz" (Lightning Benz). In 1910 his Benz racing team finished 1-2 at the United States Grand Prix with David Bruce-Brown winning and Hémery only 1.42 seconds behind in what was the closest Grand Prix finish up to that time.

In 1911, Victor Hémery won the Grand Prix de France at Sarthe driving a FIAT S61.

Involved with racing all his life, Victor Hémery died at Le Mans in 1950 at the age of seventy-three. The following year, in 1951, Hémery was retroactively awarded the United States Driving Championship for 1905.

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