Taken from the April 1993 issue of Motor Sport
By David Tremayne
The hamlets of Chirnside and Duns nestle into the mellow countryside of Scotland’s Border region, mere miles from the northernmost boundary of England. The homesteads have name such as Mill Farm, West Fouldron, New Mains. Or Jim Clark’s Edington Mains.
This was the haven from which the reluctant racer sallied forth on his forays to the far reaches of the motorsport world – to Zandvoort, Warwick Farm, Surfers Paradise, Mexico City, Indianapolis, Milwaukee. It was the anchor which kept his feet so firmly on the ground. The region that he loved, wherein lived the people that he loved most. The area from which his calling tore him as he indulged his love for the sport at which he was such a consummate master.
Early this month the townsfolk of Duns and Chirnside paid their tribute to their greatest son, in ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of his passing at Hockenheim on April 7 1968.
Once again the conversations turned, as they so often do here, to the brilliance of his star, and the comparisons with Jim Clark and those who went before and who have come since were as inevitable as they were enjoyable. Through it all he stands as he did in life, as a Colossus of the sport whose name will forever be remembered with fondness, not just for what he did, but for what he was. Indeed, the more the sport ‘progresses’ the more Clark’s example continues to shine. To many he remains the greatest racing driver of all time, not just because of his strike rate of 25 Grand Prix victories in only 72 attempts, nor even his Indianapolis 500 success, but because he remained an unspoiled gentleman throughout, the true sporting hero.
Peter Windsor first met Clark in Australia during the Tasman series, as he helped out Geoff Sykes running Warwick Farm. Since then his artistry with a pen or typewriter brought acclaim as a journalist on the international Grand Prix circuit, before he moved into the management side with Williams and, currently, in CART racing. For Windsor Jim Clark was everything. Without question the greatest of all time. The ultimate hero.
“Even now,” he says, “I can’t imagine just how good Jimmy was.” And suddenly you conjure up mental images of what he might have done with a Lotus 72 in 1970. Or 1972 or ’73… Of how many more races he might have won.
“When I was a kid at school,” says Peter, “Jimmy Clark was my life. I addressed envelopes, that sort of thing, for Geoff. Jimmy came out for the 1965 Tasman series and through Geoff I found out what flight he was on from South Africa and I rang Qantas and got the list of passengers – Mr J Clark, Mr P Rodriguez, Mr J Stewart! – and went to meet them at the airport.
“In 1968, after Longford, where Piers Courage won, Jimmy was due to fly back to London and I went to see him off. The plane taxied off and then stopped. Everyone else left, but I hung around to see it take off, and it didn’t. I forget what was wrong but they came back in, and there I was, alone with Jim Clark! We had coffee together and talked for about half an hour. About all sorts of things, although funnily enough I felt like I already knew so much about him I had nothing so say.
“I asked him all sorts of minutiae, like why did he use a dark blue peak on his helmet in Mexico in 1966, instead of the usual white one, and he told me he’d broken the white one the race before and Buco only made dark blue peaks. After a while he had to go, and that was the last time I saw him. Four months later he was killed.”
Windsor looked after a bank account Clark had opened in Sydney, another indication of the trust Jimmy would place in the people he liked. Later, the journalist would acquire Ian Scott-Watson’s old Lotus Elan when he finally came to England, and he became a regular visitor at Duns.
Today he will talk for hours about his hero, as convinced as ever of his place in history. “Jimmy was my whole life,” says an arch-enthusiast. “I was physically ill when he was killed. It took me a long, long time to get over it.”
But what made Jim Clark so special? Talk to any of the myriad motorsport people who were closely associated with him, and the same fact emerges. Yes, he won 25 times in his 72 GP starts, started from pole position a record 33 times and set fastest lap in 28 races. The records he set have only recently been beaten. Yes, he scored that Indianapolis 500 victory in 1965, and should have won it in 1963, ’64 and ’66 too. Yet it was not simply that he possessed an innate skill behind the wheel that elevated him to at least an equal standing with the greatest racing drivers of history. Far beyond that he exuded charm and manners that reflected his upbringing. Many thought him shy, but reserved was a better adjective. It was only when he felt relaxed with people that he felt comfortable, when he would really open up. Fundamentally his enormous talent bemused him, and although he unquestionably liked to show off in a car, he never stooped to posturing or boastfulness. Though he won races around the globe, came to meet the glittering and the famous, his feet remained firmly on the ground, his heart in the farmland of the Border region.
Graham Gauld, Clark’s biographer, knew him better than most. “I remember Water Hayes telling me, the day after he won Indianapolis, Jimmy was invited to Ford in Detroit and was taken up to the top floor, the directors’ dining room, and Walter said here was this little guy and he walked in there with some of the most powerful men in America. Henry Ford II, all these people. And in 10 minutes he had them all eating out of his hand. Just by being ordinary! He had no airs and graces about who he talked to.
“J McNeil Brown, a mad character who in the 1956 rally season had me off the road six times as a passenger, left Glasgow and went to America as a stockbroker. And at an American GP he was walking through the paddock and a hand slapped him and voice said, ‘Hello Neil, what the hell are you doing here?’ He said ‘You could have knocked me over with a feather, because here was Jim Clark, the now great Jim Clark, and I wouldn’t have gone to interrupt him, and yet he comes up and claps me on the shoulder.’”
Clark never lost touch with his friends who had been there in the beginning. He drew strength from those who had been there long before fame overtook him. Gauld concurs with that view.
“Take the first book we did. I should never have written that! He phoned me just after the Mexican Grand Prix and said, ‘I’ve got to write a book. Will you write it for me?’ I said, ‘Don’t be silly. I’m only seeing you about twice a year now. Get so and so to write it, he goes to all the Grands Prix.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t trust him. You do it.’ And that was it.
“One of the biggest regrets of my life was that we never wrote the third book. That would have been one of the greatest motor racing books. Originally it was to be done in 1967, but it was the usual cannae make up my mind thing with Jimmy. Leave it just now and I’ll come back to you. And then it was definitely going to be done in 1968. The only thing we had was the title: The First Ten Years Are The Hardest. It was going to be from 1958 to ’68. It wasn’t going to talk about races – and then next we went to so and so. It was going to talk about driving technique, how he thought through things. For example, 1961 season, French Grand Prix at Reims. Trying to keep up with the BRMs. He was having to slipstream like mad, and all this sort of thing. But it was the way he used his brain.”
Sally Stokes, who was Jimmy’s girlfriend from his first championship year until they parted and she married racer Ed Swart in 1967, still fondly remembers his gentle nature.
“He never really sold himself like Jackie did. His character was totally different. He was just a quieter, more reserved character. He was a gentleman on the track. He cared for the safety of other people.
“Jimmy could cut off, he really could. There were somehow two totally different parts of his life, the driving and the rest of it. His total concentration; I suppose that went into the nail-biting. He’d bite them right down, but otherwise he didn’t show much sign of nerves. When he was out of the car he wasn’t visibly different to anyone else. This is just my own theory, but he went back to his indecisions as soon as he stepped out. As soon as he sat in a car again he was the total master and he never even thought about decisions. He drove with his head and the seat of his pants. Some said he wasn’t all that good as a test driver because he adapted so well to any faults to get the best out of the car.”
Some suggest that Clark’s only weakness was that he couldn’t take pressure when he wasn’t leading, that he could only really cope when he was out front dictating the pace. At best, they usually point to the 1965 Race of Champions when he crashed under pressure from Dan Gurney to illustrate the former. To this day the American refuses to take any pleasure in the incident, continually playing it down. “Hell, it was the sort of mistake any of us could have made in those circumstances.”
He looked pretty good in the Tasman Australian GP at Sandown Park in 1968, when he had Chris Amon’s Ferrari on his tail from beginning to end…
Gauld: “I don’t think Jimmy had any weaknesses. He had this amazing capacity to adjust. I think that was maybe his greatest secret. I would never say that was a weakness.
“In qualifying sessions they would often send him out and then bring him in shortly afterwards because they never knew if there was anything wrong with the car. All of a sudden a lap time would go slower, and then all of a sudden it would go faster again. Jimmy had adjusted his driving to whatever problem had arisen.”
“That’s absolutely right,” confirms former Lotus mechanic Dick Scammell, now Racing Director at Cosworth. At Monaco in 1964 Clark clipped a straw bale on the opening lap and broke the rear anti-roll bar when he was leading. “His lap times went back up a little while he sorted it out,” recalls Dick, “but then he went back to his old times. Of course, we weren’t sure what the problem was, and I was detailed to go down to the hairpin to see if I could see any obvious damage. Well, the second time Jimmy came round after I’d arrived there, he’d picked me out and gave me the thumbs up! He could adjust himself not only to the changed car condition but also to that sort of change, within a lap! He carried on as if nothing had happened.”
Dave ‘Beaky Sims, now an integral part of Toyota offshoot TOM’s GB but a Lotus mechanic in the ‘60s, has no doubt that that adaptability was a major asset.
“It was his greatest strength. He had an ability to adjust to any situation, even when he knew the car was wrong and there was no time to put it right. It was phenomenal. Once he’d got used to it, his speed was the same! It was unique. Mario Andretti was the only other driver I’ve worked with who could do that, but Jimmy definately had the edge.”
Gauld again: “There is the other great thing about Jimmy, to continue our theme about him and cars. He did not have a technical mind. Certainly, when he was helping out Ian Scott-Watson he was just polishing the cars. He didn’t have a technical mind. But, he could work things out and that’s why he was so good in underpowered cars. This is another mark of a real champion.”
At Indy in 1965 Clark was working things out, and was sure that strongest rival AJ Foyt wouldn’t last, ‘because of the way he kept putting bigger fuel tanks in his Lotus. I knew the transmission was going to break on that thing…’
Sims also remembers his calmness, giving further insight into his make-up and development while clearly disagreeing with Gauld’s opinion about his technical knowledge. “He had this ability to interpret what the car was doing. That made it so much easier for Colin Chapman to engineer the car and put it right. Jimmy might come in and say that the front end was washing out, needed more grip, and then he’d say how best to do it. His technical ability and feel for what the car was doing were phenomenal. It was uncanny. Unique. And he knew when something was wrong. He’d feel a slight vibration in the rear and we’d pull the car about and find nothing. He’d insist something was still amiss and later we’d discover a wheel bearing was going, or something like that.”
“His greatest character strength first of all as a person was that he had what one can call an ethos,” maintains Gauld. “That was the fact that a) he enjoyed his racing and wanted to find out as much as possible about it, and b) that he was willing to ask questions of people. He was never so big that he couldn’t learn from something, and of course that rolls over into his attitude towards cars. And one of his great strengths was that, unlike many other drivers, he could put his hand on his heart and say ‘I have done virtually every form of motorsport’. He had done driving tests, he had done sprints, he had done hillclimbs, he had done rallies, he had done autocrosses, you name it. The lot. And also, right up to the end, he still had this magical quality of seeing a car and wanting to drive it.
Such curiosity led him to try all manner of cars. Shortly before his death he had driven the turbine-powered Lotus 56 at Indianapolis, but a year earlier he had arrived back in Europe to tell his great friend Jabby Crombac of Sport Auto: ‘I have driven the car that is going to win at Indy,’ after sampling the STP Paxton turbine in which Parnelli Jones would come so close to victory. He jumped at the chance to drive a Bugatti Type 51, and then the Hon Patrick Lindsay was highly impressed when Jimmy tried his ERA at Rouen one year. He had grabbed the offer to drive it, and astonished Lindsay by lapping very little slower than he could within a handful of laps. The Englishman always maintained that was something very special, for Clark had never driven such a car before and was totally unfamiliar with its pre-selector gearbox.
The best indices of a man are frequently most obvious when he faces adversity rather than success. In triumph Jim Clark remained a gentleman; when the cards fell the other way his equanimity was unaffected.
Sims: “I never really saw him get mad. He could get uptight with the Old Man, and say, ‘Look, I told you you should have done this,’ then he’d go out and prove the old man wrong. He was a gentleman, and even when things were bad he didn’t get in a flap. So no one else ever did. That way we could get the job done. He was so approachable; out of his driving suit you’d never think he was connected with racing.”
Towards the end of his life there were indications that Jim Clark was becoming more cosmopolitan, and also that he was beginning to emerge from the shadow of Colin Chapman.
“Jimmy was a highly introverted man,” recalls Jackie Stewart. “He ate his fingers, not just the nails but all the skin around them too. But living in Paris near the end changed his life quite a lot. He became more liberated, more worldly and rounded.
“Colin had protected Jimmy from everything. He could depend on Colin to do everything for him, to fix his racing cars, to do his travel, because Lotus did that. Jabby was his racing and Chapman link, but a guy called Michel Fanquel was another friend, a totally different animal. He opened the world to Jimmy. And suddenly Jimmy was not the border farmer depending on Colin.
“And you know, I saw it, the change. I mean, he was a different man. He was more independant, more vocal about what he wanted. And I think Colin was going to have more and more trouble with him.”
Perhaps Enzo Ferrari saw a change too, even if he did misinterpret its signals. Gauld has his own thoughts after a recent conversation with journalist and former Ferrari team manager Franco Lini. “Well, here’s a thing I don’t think anyone else knows. I was with Franco last year and he came up with a interesting story. At the Mexican Grand Prix in 1967 an English journalist had said to him: ‘You know, Jim Clark isn’t wedded totally to Lotus.’ And Franco said to me, ‘I went straight away and phoned Enzo Ferrari. And Ferrari had replied: ‘Ah, I know that Jim Clark is in negotiation with Colin Chapman about his contract. Maybe he wants to use this to raise the stakes.’”
That, of course, was totally against Clark’s style. It would no more have occurred to him to play one team against another than it would to have abandoned farming. He just wasn’t that sort of character.
“Franco was trying to point out that that was the sort of way Enzo Ferrari looked at it! And he said that Ferrari would never have believed him if he had told him that it was not in Jimmy’s character to have behaved that way.”
Another great pointer to Jim Clark’s character was his decision in 1966 to do the RAC Rally, in which he shared a works Lotus Cortina with respected driver Brian Melia. “You know, the people who respected it most were the Swedes,” says Gauld. “The Swedish drivers, literally, had a little laugh to themselves because they had seen people like Graham Hill try. In fact, on that RAC Rally, I went for breakfast on the first halt with Jimmy and Brian at Bathgate. Naturally one of the first things I asked was how they got on, and Jimmy said: ‘Brian should have been driving the car on the first few stages, he’s far quicker than me. I’m getting used to it now’. Which I thought was a nice thing to say.
“The second thing I said to him, was ‘How about Graham Hill? And he said, ‘He’s just playing at it. What does he mean, by going on the RAC Rally, in a works Mini Cooper, and taking a bloody journalist? It’s obvious, isn’t it? If you’re going to do a thing like this you might as well do it professionally. That’s why I’ve got Brian with me’. He was totally dismissive of Graham’s attitude towards the rally. In other words Graham was using it purely for publicity and ‘I’ll show these Swedish buggers.’ Because British rally drivers in those days were not competitive with the Scandinavians.”
In fact, Clark was highly competitive. He and Melia were rarely out of the top 10 stage times, and he was fastest on three, second fastest on seven, third on four and fourth on five. On the 40th, in Loch Achray, he went off sideways and inflicted severe damage to the driver’s side of the car, then after repairs, they rolled on the 45th, Glengap, and had to walk off stage when a ditch prevented further progress. “We tripped over the border,” he said laconically. And so they actually had!
“I remember the winner Bengt Soderstrom afterwards saying to me, ‘I never knew Jim Clark was as good as that’” recalled Gauld. “And I pointed out to him that he had been brought up on all these little link roads around here.
“If you look at the photographs of the mess he made of the Lotus Cortina, nobody would have got back into it, but he had carried on until he put it off the road again. And then, the point that is overlooked, once he did that they lent him a private car and he followed round helping the service crew. That has to make the guy a little different, because he had now been twice World Champion by that time – and an Indy winner.”
The American classic, to me, was one of the best indices of his talent, for he was quick from the moment he first drove there in 1962 with the F1 Lotus 25 on the way back from the American GP at Watkins Glen. He was unimpressed with the mandatory rookie test, but did it nonetheless, staggering USAC observers by hitting the exact speeds required at each stage. “The only problem was when the car wobbled a bit exiting Turn Four one lap,” says Scammell. “They tried to make a fuss but Jimmy just said calmly, ‘Didn’t you see that rabbit that ran across the track? I didn’t want to hit it.’”
The same turn would cause him to astound officialdom again in 1966, when he twice looped through 360 degree spins there without contacting the wall, and then promptly continued as if nothing had happened! On one, indeed, Jimmy was sufficiently composed to gesture to a passing Stewart as he motored along the infield prepared to rejoin. It was astounding presence of mind.
Clark hated all the ballyhoo of Indy, and the way complete strangers acted as if they knew him personally. “They’d say ‘Hiya Jimmy, nice to know ya,’” said Sally, “but he would say, ‘But they don’t know me, and they probably never will!’ Nevertheless, he liked the race. “Oh, he loved that all right,” said Sims. “He hated the hype but he loved racing there. And to the USAC people he was a demi-God. I worked in American racing for five years, and they still remember him fondly there.” Jimmy himself was honest enough to say of the Brickyard: ‘Every lap I was in the lead I could see dollar signs in front of my eyes!”
As a driver he was the rare sort who did not need his entire range of mental faculties in order to drive fast. There was always something left over for emergencies. Gauld recalls a thought process Jimmy once explained to him which illustrated the point to perfection.
“It was when Innes was still being naughty about Jimmy. The Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 1964. Jimmy was in the lead, being harried by Dan Gurney in the Brabham. Really harried. They came up to lap Innes at the corner just at the end of the straight, and Jimmy did the usual, you know, stuck his nose in. And Innes wasn’t having that and boomf! he just cut right across. And Jimmy pulled back. He said, ‘I went round the rest of the lap thinking what I was going to do. I had Dan right behind me. The next time we came into the corner I just sat right back and watched Innes and waited until I saw him glance in his mirrors. As soon as he glanced in them I just lifted off, and of course Dan shot right past me and went for the inside, and Innes saw a nosecone coming up the inside. He thought it was me and chopped across again, but of course nobody does that to Dan Gurney. And while both of them were wobbling I went round the outside.’
“Now that, to me, that’s using your head. And in that respect, no matter what people may say about him, I think that’s the way Prost thinks.” Indeed, of the current breed of superstar drivers, the French triple champion has always seemed to me the only absolute top-liner who drives the way Clark did, respecting his rivals, and giving them racing room. His driving, like Jimmy’s is majestic, unruffled. Deceptively fast, and totally devoid of the intimidatory tactics of Senna or Mansell. Prost doesn’t usually crash into his rivals, which is perhaps why the Bernie Ecclestones of the world regard him as boring, bad for television rating. Unlike Mansell and Senna he’s not a box office draw in that respect. It’s sad to think that if Jimmy Clark could come back, he might be regarded the same way.
Monza, of course, was also the scene earlier of his horrible accident with championship leader Wolfgang von Trips in 1961. Indirectly, it was to influence Jimmy’s thinking about the press, as well as thoroughly shaking him up.
When they touched von Trips’ Ferrari went tail-first up the bank and into the spectators, while Jimmy’s Lotus just spun. Fourteen spectators died, along with von Trips whose body was hurled on to the track. Clark knew instantly that the German count was dead.
“What worried him were the legal implications, because the police immediately impounded the car and he was really worried about all that. And then when he flew home he had this thing. He was very, very low about it and there was this carry-on with a Daily Express reporter and photographer who were at the farm when he got back.”
Clark’s relationship with the media was generally cordial, however. He was an avid reader of all that was written about him, and a stickler for accuracy. During 1963, in the interest of the latter, he also initiated post-race conferences of the type we all now take for granted.
Sally Swart spoke on the phone with Jimmy shortly before the accident. “He was probably talking about retiring and I can’t remember what I was saying, but then he said, ‘Well, what if I died? What if I got killed on the track?’ And I was so surprised and so jolted, because he’d never even mentioned it before in all the years. And I was wondering if he actually thought about it and was considering retiring at the time.”
When he was killed, the sport cried genuine tears. At Jimmy’s funeral his father told arch-rival Dan Gurney that he had been the only driver Jimmy truly feared. Gurney never forgot that remark, but typically kept it to himself for many years. Nobody ever paid another driver a higher compliment.
“It destroyed me, really, in terms of my self control,” says Dan. “I was drowned in tears. To hear that from someone whose son had been killed and wasn’t there anymore, it was more than I could cope with. For a long time I didn’t say anything about it because I felt it was a private thing and I didn’t want to utilise it to sort of glorify my driving ability or reputation, but it was certainly the biggest compliment I ever received.”
In the aftermath of Jim Clark’s death all other drivers asked themselves one question: if it can happen to Jimmy, what chance have I got? Somebody asked team-mate Graham Hill, who would so bravely carry the torch for Gold Leaf Team Lotus in the dark months that followed, what he would miss most about Jim Clark. “I was quite touched by Graham’s answer,” said Sally Swart. “He said, ‘I’ll miss his smile.’ I thought that was awfully nice. Jimmy had a very little-boy smile, a kind of three-cornered big grin, and I thought that was very nice of a team-mate to say that. ‘I’ll miss his smile…’”