Ethos

Catching Up With: Derek Hill

Master of ceremonies, Pebble Beach Concours D’elegance

Derek Hill is the son of America’s first Formula 1 world champion, Phil Hill. Like his father, he is a California native who cut his teeth racing sports cars before heading to Europe to pursue a career in open-wheel racing. Today, Hill stays active on the track in vintage racing events, including the Goodwood Revival, and also participates in many shows, including Rév Auto (revauto.org), which he co-founded. We caught up with Hill, 43, en route to Italy, where he was set to drive a classic Alfa Romeo in the 2018 Mille Miglia.

Automobile Magazine: Last decade, you raced in Formula 3000 in Europe. What was your experience climbing the racing ladder abroad?

Derek Hill: Racing in Europe was as exciting and challenging as it gets. The magnificent circuits like Spa, Monza, Silverstone, and Monaco, just to name a few, were sensational to drive on. The highlight was racing my first full season of Formula 3000 with a French team, [paired with] Sébastien Bourdais, who was in his second season. If there was ever the ultimate racing school, I was immersed in it. It was so extremely challenging and demanded such a high level of mental focus, physical fitness, and a level of grit I can’t imagine I’d have gotten anywhere else.

AM: Your father was the first American F1 champion. Was that helpful or burdensome to you as an aspiring racer?

DH: Being the son of a world champion opened doors, got conversations started, and helped me raise the finances I needed to keep climbing the ranks. Being the “son of” was the biggest reason I ever became a racer, anyway, having been exposed to that world and seeking the thrill and the challenge of it like my father had done. However, I soon realized that it’s a far greater advantage to come from deep family wealth or corporate connections than being a son of a famous driver. I have zero regrets how things turned out. I’m just very grateful I got to race as much as I did and got to continue on in historic racing in a very meaningful way.

AM: Inside Track, the book featuring Phil’s photography from his racing days, is out now. What does it mean to see that project completed?

DH: Inside Track is truly a beautiful three-volume work of art. My father was an exceptional person, and the fact he pursued a hobby of photography during his career was such a gift, it turns out. We had more than 1,000 images on 35mm color Kodachrome to sort through. Thankfully, the book project started years before he passed away, so he was able to go through each image and offer up so much detail for every image.

AM: That must have required some commitment …

DH: It took us years to compile all the interviews and sort through the family archive to get all the accompanying letters, documents, photos, etc., to make it a very thorough and complete homage to his incredible life as a racing driver. It was a massive team effort [with Doug Nye and Steve Dawson], and I still can’t believe it’s done.

AM: You’ve been Master of Ceremonies at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for several years now; what’s your favorite part of the role?

DH: Pebble Beach has been a story weaving through my whole life, starting as young as I can remember. I never even imagined being the Master of Ceremonies, but as I continued to stay involved over the years, it was a position that naturally opened up for me. My favorite part is getting to have one of the best seats in the house right in front of the ramp.

AM: It is notoriously difficult for a postwar car to win Best of Show at Pebble. Do you see that changing over the next decade?

DH: Well, we saw it a couple of years ago, and I don’t doubt we’ll see it again soon. There is just something about the prewar era that oozes elegance. What we are going through is a transition to how we interpret the word elegance, which is all about people’s perception. As generations change in the Concours world, so do our tastes.

AM: You’re the rare enthusiast who really embraces both classic and contemporary cars. What can designers of future cars learn from vintage cars?

DH: The cars of the past are such sensory vehicles—the way they look, drive, feel, and the way they sound. Just like any art form, stylistic design in many of the classics was just off the charts. In a world where cars are being built around fuel efficiency targets and with all the safety regulations, designers only have to look back to the past to find inspiration for the subtle styling cues that keep a brand unique and on point. It’s fun to see these subtleties in modern cars, like the Bugatti Chiron.

AM: What cars are in your garage?

DH: My father was a collector of early American classics, and we ended up keeping a few of them. In fact, two of them, a 1918 Packard Town Car and a 1931 Pierce-Arrow, have been in our family since new. I have a diverse and growing list I’d like to own, including a ’50s Maserati A6GCS, a ’73 Porsche 911 RS, a ’74 BMW 3.0CS, a Series II or III Land Rover, an Alfa Romeo 1750 Berlina … this list can go on for another page. For now, I’m driving an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, which, for a family man, fits the bill on many levels.