Jim Clark: an F1 great remembered by those who knew him best
Jim Clark's legend as one of the greatest – perhaps the greatest – drivers in F1 will remain undimmed. David Tremayne spoke to those close to him as they recounted stories of 'Jimmy' from on and off the track
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 names 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 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 half an hour. About all sorts of things, although funnily enough I felt like I already knew so much about him I nearly had nothing to 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 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 Walter 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 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 a 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 my mind up 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 of 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’sFerrari 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 anything was going 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 the management structure 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 definitely 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 was 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 was 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.”
The NASCAR Rockingham race in 1967 was a classic example of Jim Clark’s insatiable curiosity. “That was also a good example of the difference between Jackie and Jimmy,” laughs Gauld. “He was in Bermuda, and had invited Jackie and Helen Stewart and Jochen and Nina Rindt to his flat. The six of them were there and the ‘phone rang. It was Bill France. And Bill said to Jimmy, believe you’ve got Jackie with you? I’d like you and Jackie to race stock cars at Rockingham.’ Jimmy covered the ‘phone and relayed the message to Jackie, who immediately went on the defensive. ‘What kind of stock car? If I’ve got to race a stock car it’s all got to be right, the best.’ That sort of thing.
“And Jimmy told Bill that Jackie wouldn’t be able to race, but said ‘I’ve got Jochen here. I’ll ask him.’ And Jochen agreed and the two of them packed their bags and flew off the next morning. Jochen was there in Rockingham, although he didn’t actually race in the end.”
In fact, Jimmy had actually driven a NASCAR stocker before Rockingham, in 1964. AJ Foyt had suggested that he try one, and he had tested 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 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 into 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.”
At the end of 1965 he had won his second World Championship and finally triumphed at Indianapolis, yet he faced 1966 with only the cumbersome BRM H16 in immediate prospect in a stop-gap year before Ford’s Cosworth DFV would be ready. And even that beast was delayed, obliging him to rely on a Coventry Climax V8 stretched to two litres. Despite the apparent indignity he raced as hard as ever. And if his win in Watkins Glen with the H16 was a trifle fortuitous, then he had certainly made his own luck earlier in the season when he took the battle to the three-litre Brabham Repcos of Brabham and Hulme at Zandvoort with the smaller-engined 33. But for overheating he might well have thrashed them.
In 1992 such quiet determination such love of racing – was put into further perspective when both Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna prepared to turn their backs on F1, the latter in particular unenthused at the prospect of driving a Ford-engined McLaren after all his seasons with Honda power behind him (though he changed his mind after trying the car just before South Africa), yet neither faced the daunting odds Clark did 26 years earlier.
“I think the element which has come into Grand Prix racing today, which was not present back in those days, is money. And money does corrupt,” says Gauld. “Money didn’t matter to Jimmy. Now every racing driver is faced with the decision what he thinks about it, but in those days it didn’t come into it. Money wasn’t an element at all, apart perhaps for Stirling and Jackie. It’s reckoned that in Jimmy’s last season Jackie was earning far more money. But then Jackie was prepared to be far more commercial than Jimmy was.
“I remember Jimmy sitting down near here” – our conversation took place close to the Chirnside graveyard in which the Scot now rests, and not far from the dramatically undulating field on which he once unsuccessfully tried to lure Chapman to land his ‘plane – “and pondering whether he was going to lend his name to Scalextric. This was 1963 for ’64, after he’d won the championship. Then he did the gloves, and he did a pair of shoes. That was about it. Other things he didn’t get into at all.”
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 independent, 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 an 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 that 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 and navigator 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.
Jim Clark made his grand prix debut with Lotus and never left the team. But this formidable partnership had not been the original plan
“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, whereas Jimmy was using it 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 preparing to rejoin. It was outstanding 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!’
“He was the rare sort who did not need his entire range of mental faculties to drive fast”
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 illustrates 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 ratings. 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.
Gauld: “How it happened was actually very simple. As you know Ferrari had five cars at that race. Phil Hill, von Trips, Richie Ginther, Giancarlo Baghetti and Ricardo Rodriguez. As usual Jimmy had got a very good start, and von Trips had got a very bad one. On the opening lap Jimmy was passed on the banking by one of the other Ferraris, and then he was the highest placed car behind them. Then, von Trips came up behind him round about the two Lesmos and he held him off down the slope and under the bridge where the old track crosses over, and up the hill to the Vialone, which was a flat-out left at that time. As they came out of the Vialone von Trips passed him. Jimmy said, ‘As soon as he went past I pulled in right behind him, right on his tail, but I could see that von Trips was thinking, “I’ve got a bad start. That’s Clark done, now the next one I want is Rodriguez”. And we went down to Parabolica I was right on him and as we got to the end I just pulled out and went forward. My front wheel was right alongside his back wheel, and I suddenly realised he hadn’t looked in his mirror. He didn’t know I was there and all of a sudden he pulled over to get his line. I almost stopped and said “Watch it, watch it!” Then all of a sudden our wheels touched and boomf!”
When they touched von Trips’ Ferrari went tail-first up the bank and into the spectators, while Jimmy’s Lotus just spun. Eleven 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. He was so anti the Daily Express, and that was why. And that was partly why Jimmy Clark did a column in the Daily Mirror, which was written by Pat Mennem.
“In 1963 when he became World Champion he won the Daily Express Trophy, and he stuck in on the mantelpiece, above the arger. As a result, within about three months it was covered in grease and muck and all that, and he said, ‘Och, leave it there!’ And he did!”
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 postrace conferences of the type we all now take for granted.
Mennem and Clark got on well together, and Pat remembers getting a call from Jimmy while the latter was passing through Heathrow, bound for Indy. “He asked me to come along for a drink. He’d had a few noggins, actually. He would occasionally, but it was very rare. What I couldn’t get into his head was that I couldn’t get through to his side of the airport lounge without a ticket, and he couldn’t come through to where I was because that would have counted as another trip to Britain!
“He was very highly strung. A Border farmer transformed into this glamorous world of motor racing. He was still a bit wary of it, and still a Border farmer at heart. I once went to market with him in Edinburgh and they were all farmers there. He’d won both his World Championships, but nobody ever mentioned motor racing at all. All they talked about was sheep. He told me that was what he wanted to go back to. He was much more interested in whether parking meters were being installed in Duns Mains, things like that, when he was living in France.”
Team-mate Trevor Taylor provides further insights into Clark the driver and Clark the man.
‘We were very, very good friends. I mean very, very good. Even when we were racing, didn’t come into it. He shared information on the car, he was a good lad. Often we were sat down, sharing a bedroom, and we just chatted away.
“I think he used to get bothered a lot. People used to pester him. He hated people being over-familiar. He hated people he’d only known for a couple of hours coming up and putting their arms round him. But he was a gentleman, a real gentleman.”
Not surprisingly, Taylor remembers Clark with fondness after their time together at Lotus. It doesn’t rankle at all that many remember him as ‘Jim Clark’s team-mate’. “Me and Jimmy shared the Junior championship in 1960 and when Jimmy moved to Formula One l won the Junior championship again in 1961. At the end of ’61 we went out to South Africa with the Formula One cars and Jimmy won the Johannesburg and I won the Durban races. Jimmy won the championship and I won at Cape Town. Fair and square. But there was no sort of bitchiness between me and Jimmy. Like I said, we used to share the same bedroom, and, I used to go up and stay with him. If you knew Jimmy Clark he was never a bighead, he’d never speak loud to anybody. He was brilliant, but he needed company.”
Taylor in particular remembers the key to Clark’s relationships. “He and Sally Stokes were very close. She was a great girl. Personally, I thought he would have married her but he wouldn’t commit himself while he was racing. We talked a lot about Sally. I said, ‘Look, the girl’s there, she helps you in every way.’ But he just said, ‘What happens if something happens to me?”
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.”
Taylor: “I mean, Jimmy at Oulton Park one particular time when we went testing. . . He had a radius arm break on the F1 car. They were only single shear and he was getting a little bit twitchy, a little bit nervous. We spoke that night in the hotel and he said, ‘Trevor, I never know what the hell’s going to break next.’ And that wasn’t Jimmy. He wasn’t that type of chap. He’d get in a car and off he’d go.”
Gauld avers that Clark was always very conscious of car fragility. “With Chapman in particular he always remembered that famous test day at Brands Hatch when he first drove the F2 car and went very well. And Chapman said to Ian Scott-Watson, ‘That chap goes very well, doesn’t he? How come we’ve never heard of him before?’ And Ian said, ‘Yes, not bad considering he’s never driven round Brands Hatch before!’ And Colin had him in double-quick, and within four more laps with Graham Hill driving a wheel fell off.
“Well, as soon as Jimmy had signed up with Colin he said, ‘If I’m driving the car and I don’t think it feels right, I’m not going to push it, I’m just going to drive it.’ You could say that was a sensible thing, but also that was an element that did not fit in with the ‘racer’ image, you know, drive it until the wheels fall off. He was terribly concerned about safety.”
“I can’t really compare him with today’s drivers because I don’t know a lot about Formula One,” says Taylor, “but to me he was the best driver. He didn’t have to talk loud or behave like that, because he was such a natural driver. He didn’t have to work like I did. Everything I did, I had to work at. Either you’re born with it, or you have to work at it. I couldn’t compete with him at all.
“I followed him at Oulton Park once in the Formula Junior. He started to turn in and he’d got the back out – that was unusual because he didn’t usually drive like that – and I thought he’d had it. He’d lost it. But his control was fantastic. I’d teeter up to a corner and look round it, and he’d have disappeared!”
Countering his recollection of Clark’s caution, Gauld also remembers the 1963 Belgian GP at Spa. “On the other hand you could say, this is the man who in the wet at Spa was getting concerned because the car was jumping out of gear. And was nevertheless going through the Masta kink with one hand holding it in gear. . . ” Not only that, but maintaining the faith with Chapman by keeping the fact to himself.
Spa was another of the great indices of Clark. He detested the place but he won there four times, and he never drove with less than 100 per cent commitment there, either. He was a considerate driver, too. When Stewart first drove at the track in 1965 Clark was all too aware of what his compatriot faced, after his own troubled debut there in 1960. In the wet race they ran first and second, and as Clark was leading comfortably he backed off to preserve his equipment and to take his time lapping backmarkers. Little by little Stewart reduced the gap, until Clark could just spot the BRM’s orange nose in his mirrors. He told Gauld: ‘I could just see this speck in my mirrors on the long straight and I suddenly thought it’s pouring with rain, it’s Spa, it’s an awful place. Now, if Jackie can see me, he’ll maybe think he can catch me.’ With typical thought he then put in a couple of quick laps to stretch the gap again, worried that the less experienced Scot might risk himself overdriving in pursuit.
Clark himself loved to drive saloons, such as the Ford Galaxie or the Lotus Cortina. Gauld had an arrangement with Jimmy, Stewart and Ireland that if he needed a ride back to the pits at the end of a race, after going into the countryside taking photographs, he would signal to them on the last lap and they’d stop on their slowing down tour. “At Snetterton in 1964 it was pouring, and at the end of the saloon car race, which turned into a huge battle between Jack Brabham in a Galaxie and Jimmy in the Lotus Cortina, I signalled to Jimmy. It was one of those real ding-dongs. He pulled in and stopped, and I hopped in. He was just bubbling. He kept saying: ‘Did you see that? Wasn’t that great? Wasn’t that great?’ And by this time we’d arrived at the Esses and he said, ‘Watch this!’ And he just went flick and the Cortina went sideways one way and then the other. And the enthusiasm! It was just his sheer enthusiasm for it all.”
That was the real Jim Clark. Quite simply, he loved racing.
In the cockpit he was a giant. Outside of it the odd character shortcomings were sometimes evident.
“There’s absolutely no doubt he had them!” chuckles Gauld. “Outside the racing car he was terribly indecisive. And this is the stupid and childish thing, that I’ve never said to anyone before, but it’s a very good example. When we were doing the first book, I went to the farm and he had a little room which he used as a kind of office and hanging on the back of the door he must have had 25 jackets. Rally jackets, that sort of thing. A lot of them were American, that he’d got in the States. We were all young and enthusiastic, and I said to him that I’d love one of them. And he wouldn’t let me have one! ‘Oh well, I need them in case I’ve got to do a programme or anything. . . ‘
“And yet there was another thing with the watches. He kept winning watches, so he had a drawer and every time he won a watch he would put it in the drawer. And he wanted to build it up to seven so that he had one for each of his nephews . . . ”
“There is no doubt about it that he was very vague. He was terrible outside the car at making decisions.”
Sally: “He was very safe on the road, but yes, I know that story of him crashing a couple of times at the Y-junction near his farm. Making up his mind was his big problem, all the time. I’d say ‘Where shall we go and eat?’ and he’d say ‘I don’t mind. Where do you want to go?’ And it would go on like that. It was terrible! I said ‘However do you make up your mind to turn a corner?’ And he said, ‘I don’t have to make it up, that’s automatic. That’s natural.’ And I knew then that he became a different person when he entered the cockpit.”
Jim Clark wasn’t a saint in his private life, and as Gauld is quick to confirm, “if you listen to him talking on tape, he used the same amount of four-letter words as you or I.” Indeed, a friend once played me a colourful tape and it took me a while to register who it was speaking. I was surprised!
“It destroyed me, really, in terms of my self-control” Dan Gurney
“He’d come in and tick us off now and then,” recalls Beaky. “In 1967 we were at Reims for the joint sportscar and F2 race meeting. Us mechanics had the night off before the F2 race, and we became attached to some young ladies. Jimmy came across us and said. ‘Come on lads, how old do you think these girls are? That’s naughty; it’s not gentlemanly. Don’t let the Old Man see you.’ That was Jimmy. He had some fantastic sides to him.”
Such stories merely add depth to his character, take nothing away from it. No matter how much more you find out about him, Jim Clark stands tall as a true motor racing hero.
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 any more, 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 . . . ”
D J T
Jim Clark detested Hockenheim. That same weekend in April 1968, the European Formula Two Championship race in Germany coincided with the second BOAC 500km at Brands Hatch for Group 6 sports cars. There, Ford’s sleek F3L was due to make its debut, and the Brentwood company was obviously keen that Jimmy should be one of its drivers. He felt that his commitment to Colin Chapman took precedence, however, and as Bruce McLaren and Mike Spence prepared to drive the sole Len Bailey car in Britain, so Clark lined up in Germany with Graham Hill. Thus did Fate place him in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Dave ‘Beaky’ Sims was Jimmy’s mechanic. “Right up to the point of the accident, it was already a seriously bad weekend. We just kept breaking metering unit drive belts in the cold on the FVA, and we couldn’t get the gear ratios right. The tyres were awful. The Dunlop runners, like the Matras and Ahrens, were at such an advantage. Next to us on the grid we had Amon in the Dino Ferrari, and Graham was well back too, that’s how bad the Firestones were there.”
Already the team was under considerable pressure, although team was hardly the right word for Lotus’s F2 offering. In Barcelona the previous week Sims and Mike Gregory had been in sole charge of the two cars for Clark and Graham Hill. Jimmy had qualified his newer 48 second there, only a tenth off Stewart’s Matra, but he was rammed from behind on the first lap when Jacky Ickx got his braking late for the hairpin. Clark was an instant retirement with wheel and rear suspension damage, and was very unhappy about it.
Sims: “I’ll say! Was he ever angry! What had happened was that Ickx told his mechanics to put in new brake pads on the grid, and of course they weren’t bedded in. The Ferrari just went straight into the back of Jimmy. Graham blew an engine, so the two of us headed straight for Hockenheim that night. While Mike put a new engine in Graham’s car, I put a new rear end on Jimmy’s.
“In practice at Hockenheim we just couldn’t get the gear ratios right because the drivers were struggling so much with the tyres. It was probably the worst weekend of my life.
“Jimmy didn’t like the circuit at all. He complained how dangerous it was. He and Graham were talking over dinner one night and he said, ‘Anyone who goes off into the trees hasn’t got a chance. . .’ He reckoned it was mad, absolutely hideous.”
Clark qualified only seventh, behind the Matras of eventual victor Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, the Brabhams of local hero Kurt Ahrens, Piers Courage and Derek Bell, and Chris Amon’s Ferrari. It rained on race day, and though the weather improved slightly the track was still damp when the first of two heats got underway. As Pescarolo lost time going up the escape road after arriving side by side with Beltoise into the stadium at the end of the first lap, Clark struggled. After four laps he lay eighth, having waved British privateer Chris Lambert by in his Brabham. Lambert, later to lose his life that year in an incident at Zandvoort with Clay Regazzoni, thought that there was a problem with the Lotus’s Cosworth engine as he went by.
Going out down the long curving back straight on lap five, Clark had accelerated to 160mph, flat-out even in the greasy conditions, when the accident occurred. The sole witness was a German marshal, who described how Clark had been wrestling for control as the Lotus snaked and slithered from lock to lock before plunging broadside into the unforgiving trees. It struck an eight foot sapling just by his left shoulder, ripping off the spaceframe that contained the engine and gearbox. Jim Clark had no chance. He died instantly.
Beaky: “It was definitely a puncture. An instant deflation. It took a long time to sort it all out, though. It went to several different tyre companies, and Peter Jowitt at Farnborough.
“Douggie Bridge from the F1 team had flown out on raceday morning to join us,” he recalls, “but the Old Man was on holiday skiing in the Alps. The course car, a Porsche, came into our pit and the guy at the wheel told me: ‘Come with me’. I told him I couldn’t, that Jimmy was missing, and he said, ‘Yes, I know. Come with me’. So this Porsche took me round to where the accident had occurred, just beyond where the second chicane now is, and of course the race was still going on. We got there and I started looking for the car. I said: ‘Where is it?’ and the guy pointed into the woods. There was just the monocoque tub lying there. I was fairly young then, around 25, and it was horrific. Like a bad dream. I said: ‘Who’s taken the engine and gearbox off? Where are they?’ And then I saw them, lying yards away. I kept saying ‘Where’s the driver? Where’s Jim Clark?’ And that was when the guy said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but he’s dead.’ I couldn’t believe it.
“Nobody knew what to do. I radioed back to the pits to tell them to bring Graham in, and then he took over. It was Graham who called Chapman. Dealt with all that awful stuff. . .
“You know, it’s funny. You’re one of the few people who’s ever bothered to talk to me about it. In some ways maybe I was selfish on it, but I never harboured on it. It wasn’t embarrassment, but maybe I wanted to protect the family. Perhaps it was out of respect.
“I got a lot of the blame in the national press, you know. ‘Mechanic leaves wheel nut loose,’ that sort of accusation. The German press really blamed me . . .”
The official verdicts agreed that the cause of Jim Clark’s accident was a sudden tyre deflation. The tyre lost pressure due to a slow puncture, and though centrifugal force kept it tall at speed in a straight line, side force in the gentle curve caused the beading to pop from its normal position on the rim and to drop into the well. Clark would have expected the Lotus to be twitchy on the greasy surface, but even his awesome skill could not prevent the inevitable. Given the lack of guardrail at the circuit at that time, his fate was sealed the moment the tyre lost its shape.