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Whitney Straight

Full Name:
Whitney Willard Straight, CBE, MC, DFC
6th November 1912
New York City, New York (USA)
5th April 1979 (Aged 66)
Fulham, London
Most recent race (in database):

Air Commodore Whitney Straight was an Anglo-American legend of the gentile British racing scene during the 1930s. The oldest son of wealthy New Yorkers, his father died of pneumonia in 1918 while in Paris with the United States Army. His mother remarried English land owner Leonard Elmhirst seven years later and the family relocated to London.

Early racing career

Straight was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge when he first became interested in airplanes and motor racing. He raced at Brooklands from 1931 and came to prominence when his Maserati 26M won the Mountain Championship in the final Brooklands meeting of 1933. Straight also competed on the continent that year. He finished fourth at Reims and second at Albi before coming 11th on his full Grand Prix debut in the Italian GP.

Even in the privileged circles in which he moved, Straight managed to stand out. He flew his De Havilland Moth direct to Brooklands after completing an exam and those studies seemed something of an inconvenience. He dropped out of University to concentrate on racing in 1934.

Whitney Straight Limited

He formed Whitney Straight Ltd that year but rather than rely on his extreme wealth alone, he intended it to be run as a business. Respected mechanic Giulio Ramponi was hired and a pair of Maserati 8CMs and MG Magnettes purchased – the cars painted in the blue and white racing colours of America.

Straight started 1934 with seventh place in Monaco despite crashing the 8CM during practice. He won the handicap JCC International Trophy at Brooklands later that month and enjoyed a number of placings in minor races run to the GP formula. He won his heat in Vichy despite spinning in the rain and finished second behind Count Trossi’s Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo Tipo-B "P3" in the final.

His team also ran others that year – Dick Seaman impressing in an MG and Buddy Featherstonhaugh and Hugh Hamilton scoring a 1-2 at Albi. The Swiss GP meeting provided wildly differing emotions. It began in a downpour and with Dick Seaman winning the voiturette race in the MG but Hamilton was killed on the last lap of the GP. Straight was absent that day as he was finishing third at St Gaudens instead.

A winner in South Africa

He ended 1934 with victories in the Donington Park Trophy and Mountain Championship once more. He then travelled to South Africa for the winter and their national GP. This was a handicap affair against a field of limited pedigree and Straight won what proved to be his final race.

Hopes to buy an Auto Union for 1935 came to naught and he quit racing with his team disbanded after a single eventful season. Straight married in July 1935 and took British citizenship a year later.

World War II and later life

He served the Royal Air Force with distinction during World War II. A decorated fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, he was shot down over enemy territory in 1941 and captured. Resourceful as ever, Straight escaped to Gibraltar and rejoined the RAF.

He was Managing Director of the British Overseas Airways Corporation after the war and excelled in business. After nine years with BOAC, Straight joined Rolls-Royce where he rose to Chairman.

While Straight made his life in London, his siblings found fame and notoriety in America. His sister Beatrice was an award-winning actress – winning the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in Network (1976). Straight’s younger brother Michael was recruited as a Soviet spy while at Cambridge University and it was his 1963 admission of that past that led to the disclosure of Sir Anthony Blunt – then art advisor to Queen Elizabeth II – as a traitor.