Image of a hero

Jimmy Clark died before I was born. To me, he’s only ever been an image in magazines, in books and on television screens. And yet as an impressionable racing-mad kid, devouring anything I could find on the sport both past and present, I regarded him as a personal hero. Why? Because everything about Jim Clark is inspirational, from his sublime skill behind the wheel, to his quiet yet fierce enthusiasm for racing and his reputation as the best of men. You don’t need to have watched him race to feel the power of his influence.

The image of what Jim Clark still represents, 40 years after his death, burns as bright as it ever did. When you attempt to picture in your mind a year you never actually lived through, the imagination is all you’ve got. For me, this is how I relate to 1967: the year of Sergeant Pepper, psychedelic colour and a green Lotus 49 in a four-wheel drift, driven by a figure in a deep blue helmet with a white peak, face mask and goggles. It’s a year of optimism in my mind, of a new era.

The opposite is true of 1968. Again, ask me what springs to mind and I’ll say anti-war demonstrations, Jumpin’ Jack Flash – and a specific date: April 7. How fitting that the greatest racing driver of his generation, a man considered even by Jenks as perhaps the greatest ever, should be lost in a year now associated by more than just me as the start of a cynical, darker age. As you can read in Nigel Roebuck’s tribute to Clark, ’68 was one of the most grief-stricken seasons racing has ever known. Nothing was ever the same again.

But we are not marking this anniversary to sombrely wallow in the grief that still lingers among his friends and many fans. We’d rather celebrate the life of a man who left a legacy anyone would aspire to. And when we do look back on that fateful day at Hockenheim, as we do in David Tremayne’s excellent article, it is only to remind the world why this landmark date matters.

I hope more than anything this special issue dedicated to the life and times of Jim Clark will make you smile and remember – and strangely, illogically, that even goes for those of us who never lived through it.

Will 2008 be remembered as a year of optimism, of fresh hope? Well, as an antidote to the bitter taste of 2007, the Australian Grand Prix had just the right flavour: a weekend free of controversy, an action-packed race and a well-judged victory by a man who is on course to be the best of his age. And wasn’t it so much better without traction control! We haven’t been slow to criticise the FIA in recent months, and for good reason. But we shouldn’t be slow to praise when credit is due either. And this is one of those occasions.

• A new development is on its way at Motor Sport, and we think it is something you’ll be excited about. We are in the final stages of preparation to launch our archive into the digital age, with a range of DVDs featuring the back catalogue of the magazine. For the first time, you will be able to flick through the pages of past Motor Sports without opening dusty bound volumes. We’re kicking off with the years 1950-90, so look out in next month’s issue for more details of how the DVDs work and for some special offers to get your new digital collection of Motor Sport started.
Damien Smith