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Peter Revson was an American racing driver who competed in Formula One, IndyCar, Can-Am, and Trans-Am during the 1960s and early 1970s. Though born into luxury as the heir to the Revlon cosmetics empire, Revson eschewed reliance on his family’s wealth to forge his path in motorsports.

Early Life and Introduction to Racing

Revson was born in February 1939 in New York City. His father, Martin Revson, was a co-founder of Revlon, while his mother was a former nightclub singer. Though afforded every advantage, Revson resisted expectations that he would join the family business. While a university student in Hawaii in 1960, he purchased a Morgan sports car and began amateur racing. He won his second-ever event but was later banned for overly aggressive driving.

Nevertheless, Revson was hooked. He dropped out of his Ivy League education and pursued sports car racing full-time. Teaming up with Cornell classmates Timmy Mayer and Teddy Mayer (brothers, and sons of racing driver Charles Mayer), Revson co-founded the Rev-Em Racing Formula Junior squad in 1962. The team was underfunded, requiring Revson to live frugally out of the transporter while competing throughout Europe.

Formula One Debut

Impressing with his driving talent, Revson secured a Formula One test in 1963 with British team Reg Parnell Racing. He made his F1 debut that year at Oulton Park. Though showing promise, and lining up further F1 drives in 1964, Revson found little success. Between funding woes and the tragic death of teammate Timmy Mayer, Revson departed Europe by 1965.

Trans-Am, Can-Am, and IndyCar

Over the next several seasons, the globetrotting Revson established himself as a top sports car racer in North America. He scored wins in Trans-Am for Ford and AMC and was an ever-present fixture in the new Can-Am series. He also made his debut at the Indianapolis 500 in 1969, securing a shock 5th-place finish from the back of the grid.

Tragedy again struck Revson in 1967 when younger brother Douglas was killed in a European Formula 3 race. But Peter continued, eventually landing a full-time Can-Am drive with McLaren in 1971. That year marked his big breakthrough, as he captured the Can-Am championship and also scored a front-row start and 2nd-place finish in his second Indy 500 outing.

Peter Revson
Peter Revson triumph – Getty Images

Return to Formula One with McLaren

Revson’s success earned him another shot at Formula One in 1972, reunited with former teammate Teddy Mayer who was now managing McLaren’s F1 effort. Revson silenced critics by scoring several podiums and a highest finish of 2nd place, ending the season 5th in the championship.

He improved further in 1973, winning the British and Canadian Grands Prix on his way to 4th in the points. However, at the end of the year, McLaren controversially dropped Revson in favor of new World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Though disillusioned, Revson secured a drive with the Shadow team for 1974.

Death and Posthumous Recognition of Peter Revson

Peter Revson died on March 22, 1974, at the Kyalami Circuit in South Africa. He was just 35 years old. It occurred during pre-season testing when a front suspension piece broke on his Shadow Formula One car. Unable to control the car, Revson crashed heavily into barriers sustaining ultimately fatal injuries.

Only a few years into his career, it was evident to rivals and critics alike that Peter Revson possessed immense talent. His legendary McLaren team boss Teddy Mayer said he considered Revson truly one of the top six drivers in the world at that time. If not for his untimely death, many feel Revson would have challenged for and possibly won the Formula One World Championship.

Though robbed too early, Revson’s accomplishments across multiple motorsport disciplines secured his legacy. In 1996, he was posthumously inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He earned respect during his career not through name or money, but driving skills and a determination to constantly improve. Even with privilege, Revson never stopped working at his craft. Ultimately, that is what racing history remembers.

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