Jackie Stewart: back to the beginningby Rob Widdows on 7th December 2012
Where do we start when discussing memories of Jackie Stewart? Which era? There are so many pictures in the mind of JYS doing his thing. For me, Monaco stands out, but I’ve chosen to go back to the very beginning.
As a teenager I was lucky enough to live just a mile away from the Goodwood Motor Circuit and it was in the Woodcote grandstand, watching the races with my father, that my passion for the sport began.
But it wasn’t just the racing, it was the testing, and most weekdays there would be cars out on the circuit. Bruce McLaren was a regular visitor, developing first his Grand Prix car and later his Can-Am sports cars.
On a cold winter’s day early in 1964 the circuit manager Robin Mackay, who allowed me to stand in the pits on test days, tipped me off that Ken Tyrrell was testing a new young driver in the Formula 3 car he ran for the Cooper Car Company works team. The name meant nothing to me but of course I jumped on my bike and pedalled furiously over to the track.
Bruce McLaren was there too, having a run in Tyrrell’s Cooper T72, and so was John Cooper who went up to Madgwick Corner, the double-apex right hander after the start, to watch when Stewart took over the car. He was a little guy in a white open-face helmet with a tartan band around it, two very bright eyes behind the goggles. Tyrrell stood by the car, clipboard and stopwatches at the ready, and Robin Mackay arrived to have a look. It’s since been said that Mackay first alerted Tyrrell to Stewart after a sports car test day. One thing is sure, an odd air of expectancy hung in the winter chill that day.
Out he went, and round he went, no fuss, no drama, nothing spectacular. Very neat and tidy, the gearchanges crisp and snappy. Head back in the cockpit, arms out straight, he reminded me of Stirling Moss. Was he really trying? It didn’t look like it. But the watches told a different story and Tyrrell brought him in, put Bruce McLaren back in the car to set a benchmark time for the day. The target time set, Stewart went back out. Same story, no histrionics, no wild slides, and on he went. John Cooper came back from Madgwick, out of breath, and said to Tyrrell so all could hear: “You’ve got to sign this lad.”
In came Stewart, his times quicker than McLaren. Back out went the New Zealander but he was not to better that day’s times from the young Scot who’d been racing sports cars for Ecurie Ecosse. The rest is history.
Of course I didn’t realise the significance of what I had seen that afternoon. Not even master talent spotter Tyrrell could have envisaged what was to unfold over the next decade. But within days they’d met back at Ockham and drawn up a contract. Stewart ran away with the 1964 Formula 3 title, winning his first race in the rain at Snetterton by a huge margin.
Many years later I would watch JYS at Monza, or in Monaco, and see the very same precision, the same calm and inch-perfect style, never flustered, in tune with the machinery, never in too deep, or out too wide. He was one of the true greats, a man born to drive a racing car, and a man born to win.
Now, just yards from that very same Goodwood pitlane, stands the Jackie Stewart Pavilion, built for VIP corporate entertaining at the Revival. A fitting tribute to a man who, having been discovered that winter day at Goodwood, won three World Championships and became closely involved in the corporate and commercial side of Grand Prix racing.