"I believe that gentleman drivers are part of this whole living tradition of racing. They're flamboyant, they're not quite as programmed. They still do things wrong. The crowd loves people who screw up and spin the cars just occasionally and thank god we have a few gentlemen drivers to do that for us," Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, former CEO of L'Oreal and former gentlemen driver himself, says.
"Gentleman drivers, for many years, [were] the life blood of motor sport. As Henry Ford will have told you, the first motor race was when the second car was built. And quite often the guys who could afford cars were quite wealthy. So the original racing drivers, ultimately, were all gentleman drivers. There were no pros in those days. That's kind of disappeared now," motor racing commentator John Hindhaugh explains.
"So the last great bastion of gentlemen drivers is in sports car racing. RIght up to and including world championship level. They are a big part of the sport. One, because they bring money into the sport. But secondly, they also represent all of us, the fans. Because if you have the wherewithal, you can buy a baseball team. You could buy an NFL franchise, but can you go out a quaterback it on a Sunday? Of course you can't, it would be ridiculous. Well in this form of motor racing, you can do exactly that. If you are preprared to dedicate yourself to get to a decent level, you can race with the giants of the sport," Hindhaugh adds.
But to compete at the level, even as an amateur, it's not just weekend fun. "Now as the cars have become more sophisticated, quicker. The role of the gentlemen driver has become more difficult," Hindhaugh says.
A few famous gentleman drivers include Steve McQueen, Paul Newmann and Patrick Dempsey. "Dempsey now is a full time driver and works once in a while as an actor, he's had to make that change to make his performance level appropriate to the world championship," according to Hindhaugh.