David Purley was running his MARCH 731GS at the Dutch GP in Zandvoort in 1973, close to another competitor named Roger Williamson. The left tire on Roger's car exploded while they were doing the eight lap, having just negotiated the left right flick. The March Williamson was driving struck the outer guardrail. The car flipped upside down back on the track and a fire started. Charles Purley, abandoned the race and his March, risking his life in an attempt to save Williamson as the race continued uninterrupted. Purley tried solo unsuccessfully to free Williamson from the burning car as marshals and others stood by. Any biography of David Purley is a story of a true hero who happened to be a race car driver.
David Charles Purley was born January 26th 1945 in Bogner Regis, West Sussex. His father, Charles Purley, founded the LEC Refrigeration company. After attending college, David served in the Parachute regiment of the British Army and upon his return home, he took up the sport of racing. Between 1970 and 1972 he had three wins in Formula 3 racing, but it was between the 1973 and 1974 years that Purley took his racing career to the Formula One circuit
In a hired March 731, he made his debut at Monaco, but his most memorable achievement was not in Formula One racing, but in his heroic efforts to save Roger Williamson later that year for which he won the George Medal. Perhaps the trauma of the George Williamson incident was too much for Purley and by 1974 he bowed out of Formula one racing. However, he wasn't out of racing completely and won the Formula 5000 Gold cup in 1975 and the Shellsport British Formula 5000 title in 1976.
In 1977, Purley had another near death experience, this time it was his own. In a customed built Lec Formula One car, he was involved in a serious crash while practicing in Silverstone. He made history, however, as the only human being to be subjected to a 179.8 G-force and survive. But recovery from this miracle would take long excruciating months of surgeries and treatment.
Purley managed to overcome his injuries and was back on the racing circuit in 1978. From 1978 to 1979, his racing activities included a 2nd place finish in the Brighton Speed Trials, Aurora , followed by 4th, 9th and 10th place finishes in other races. In his retirement from the motor racing circuit, Purley took up a different kind of racing with aerobatic bi-planes. In 1985 he crashed his Pitts Special aerobatic biplane off Bognor Regis.
David Purley was a British racing driver who participated in 11 formula one World championships, and while scoring of championships eluded him, he will be well remembered for his heroics at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix and his miraculous survival of the crash at the British Grand Prix. He was, by all accounts, a fighter who died doing what he loved extreme sports.