Through the Years: John Piccin
Celebrating 50 years
Local lawyer John Piccin scratched off the only item on his bucket list when he and his son raced in the historic Italian Mille Miglia — a 1,000-mile, three-day road rally — last month.
Piccin, 72, had experienced the thrill and romance of the event, which courses through the hills and villas of the Italian countryside, as a spectator when he traveled to the area while he attending school in Vienna, Austria, in 1961.
“I saw Stirling Moss compete,” Piccin said, as he pointed to a framed photo of the famed driver in an open wheel car in the 1961 Mille Miglia race, which hangs on his downtown Ocala office wall. “It has always been a fantasy to compete in the Mille Miglia and factors just fell into place this year,” he said.
Several months prior to the rally, John and his son, Tim Piccin, 39, chartered a car eligible to enter, a 1952 Ermini, which met the requirement of having competed in or completed registration for the original races, which were held from 1927 to 1957.
In 1957, the Italian government stopped the races, which were held on public roads, after an incident that involved the death of a driver, co-driver and 10 spectators, according to www.1000miglia.eu.
The site shows that “rallies” were held from 1958 to 1961 and that in 1977 a rally was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the first 1,000-mile race.
By 1987, the number of entrants in the annual rally had climbed to 350. The 2012 Mille Miglia had a field of 386 classic sports cars and racers, including a 1933 Aston Martin, the only remaining 1938 Lancia Astura, a 1953 Lincoln and 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk. Vintage Jaguar, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Triumph models rounded out the field.
“The Mille Miglia is still sometimes referred to as a race, but it is no longer a race,” John Piccin wrote in an email. “However, very spirited driving is allowed, seemingly without a risk of arrest. Certain sections are timed, and the winner sometimes wins by as little as six seconds.”
From May 17-19, John and Tim drove the red, 60-year-old Ermini — a two-seat roadster with an open cockpit and a 1,100-cc engine, with a value estimated at half a million dollars — across the Italian countryside.
“John and Tim drove at breakneck speeds in an extravaganza, with cheering crowds lining the streets in a celebration like the Kentucky Derby,” said Mary Piccin, John’s wife and Tim’s mother, who accompanied them to Italy.
Dubbed “The World’s Most Beautiful Race,” the Mille Miglia runs from Brescia to Rome and back, passing through Verona, Ferrara, Padua, San Marino, the Vatican City, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Modena and “a thousand small villages where we were showered with flowers and gifts” said Tim Piccin, who lives near Homestead.
“Twenty years from now, I’ll still remember the loud exhaust and seeing my father with his shirt collar turned up, wearing sunglasses and a big grin” while coursing through the Tuscan hills, Tim said. “For my father, it was like turning the clock back 50 years. I can’t believe we actually survived the race. It was grueling, intense; an epic journey.
Tim, a lieutenant colonel who has spent 17 years in the Air Force, including time as a fighter pilot, was awarded the Bronze Star for ground action with forward air control in Afghanistan and Iraq during tours of duty through 2003.
“The race was even a bigger thrill than flying an F-16,” he said. “It was not a gentleman’s race. We pushed the car hard at times,”
Mary Piccin said the family “likes to venture” and enjoys “high voltage” forms of sport like the Mille Miglia.
“Myself and my sister, who traveled with us, saw John and Tim (when they made an unforeseen reversal on the route) and they did not see us. It was something: the red car and both of them wearing red scarves,” Mary said.
Family friend Robert Hauck said John Piccin “did something others only talk about” by achieving a long-standing goal from his “bucket list.”
Hauck said when John talks about the Mille Miglia experience at social gatherings, everyone in the group is riveted by his conversation.
As for John Piccin, he may have already added another ride to his bucket list.
“There is the Targa Florio road race in Italy, if Tim can race with me,” he said with a grin.