The Race Against the Train
Among the many glorious pages of Parma's motor racing history, one which could never be forgotten belongs to Rienzo Slawitz.
One night in 1923, after a boring day at work, Rienzo found himself at Bar Centrale for a chat with his friends. At the time, the Bar was one of the temples of country chitchats, a place where one may make new friends and a symbol of the trivial Parmesan pastimes. Sitting at the table with the usual group of friends - great fans of the kind of motor racing which was going to become the leading player in his life - Rienzo Slawitz threw out the fanciful idea of racing the train with his car, to see who would get to Rome first. At the time, a city like Rome was light-years away from Parma.
"The car I drove - Slawitz would later explain to a group of intrigued journalists - was a Fiat 501 S, a two-seater with rear brakes only. But considering the horrible condition of the road, the real problem was the leaf springs, which I had to reinforce by wrapping some iron wire tightly around them." The race between Slawitz's car and the train - an extremely fast means of transport for the time - started at the Parma train station, at the exact moment when the train for Rome whistled.
In his notebook, Slavitz added:
"To be honest, I felt calm, I wasn't worried at all. I took off very quickly, so that I wouldn't get stuck at the first grade crossing, about twenty kilometers away from my starting point. I thought it would be smarter to drive across all the towns along my path rather than using the awful winding bypasses. Reggio Emilia was the first big town I hit. I was driving at a fairly good speed, when suddenly, in the center of Reggio, a traffic cop stopped me with raised arms. All I could do was to speed up and drive at him. He bolted (that is exactly the right word) to a nearby arched courtyard entrance for shelter. I made as if to drive after him and then I left".
"To the amazement of coach drivers and florists", this gentleman from Parma arrived at the Termini Railway Station in Rome 47 minutes before the train did. The contemporary newspapers explain that Slavitz's victory was promptly announced to his friends - and to a crowd of customers and curious fellow citizens sitting at Bar Centrale - with a call made from a public phone.
The news of "motor racing apotheosis" spread rapidly throughout the country, enlivened with amusing or sensational details. Groups of improvised spectators would find themselves enthralled by tales about the fear and concerns of Slavitz's passenger, their eyes wide open in amazement. Even Achille Beltrame, reknown author of sketches on the "Domenica del Corriere" and unrivaled bard of prodigious undertakings, paid homage to Rienzo. With that, this important page of Parma's olden times rightfully became a part of the city's motor racing history.
Page edited by Nunzia Manicardi
Excerpt from "AC Parma 1913-1998", written by Gianni Franceschi and Gianni Slawitz
Courtesy of AC Parma