Lunch with.. Jody Scheckter

From World Champion racing driver, to million-dollar businessman, to his current guise as an award-winning organic farmer: all his life, Jody Scheckter has been driven to succeed


James Mitchell

If you’re a top Formula 1 driver, you are a driven man. As well as all those skills and physical attributes, you are motivated by abnormally high levels of determination, self-confidence, persistence and stubbornness. Putting yourself under pressure and exposing yourself to risk is part of your daily life.

But when the time comes for you to leave the cockpit, what then?

Former racers cope with life after F1 in different ways. Money is usually not a problem, so there’s rarely an economic requirement to do a conventional job of work. Some find it impossible to break their addiction to the circus that has dominated every second of their life for a decade or more, so they parlay their knowledge and reputation into a role on the other side of the pitwall – with varying degrees of success, because history has shown that the egotistical qualities of a driver do not always sit easily with building and managing a team. Some remain involved in motor racing as TV commentators, or as club officials, or as consultants of one sort or another. Some invest in other people’s businesses outside the sport, which may make them richer and may make them poorer. Some do nothing much at all, apart from enjoying their wealth, and telling anyone who will listen that motor racing isn’t as good as it was in their day.

Jody Scheckter is different. As a racing driver it took him just 12 years to go from a teenager hammering an old Renault saloon around the local tracks of his native South Africa to World Champion for Ferrari. Then, without regret, he turned his back on racing and started a new business from scratch in the USA, developing weapon training systems for law enforcement and the military. While he was building up Firearms Training Systems Inc, almost nobody he dealt with knew anything about his past as a racing driver: and Jody was happy with that, for his previous life no longer concerned him. With single-minded enterprise and ceaseless hard work he built a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then, at the end of another 12-year cycle, he sold the company and came to England. At the age of 46 he was now a very rich man, but there was no question of opting for an easy life. The racing driver’s determination, stubbornness and the rest of it were still a crucial part of his make-up. A few years before, his second wife Clare had given him a book about organic farming, and that pointed him towards his third career. He immersed himself in the subject, researched it in endless detail, and then bought Laverstoke Park, a 2500-acre estate in Hampshire. He then set about developing his purchase into a showpiece farm, which has won international awards and been called the University of Organics.

“It’s a passion which has become an obsession,” says Jody ruefully as his farm runabout – a Mercedes GL 4×4 – takes us on a rapid cross-country tour of his huge operation. “The key is bio-diversity, and following nature. Modern farming is chasing profit, and the animals are bred to grow bigger faster. We’re going in the opposite direction. We go for smaller and slower, because it tastes better. There are only 45 pure uncrossed Angus cattle left in the world, and we’ve got 13 of them here. There are probably 500 pure-bred Herefords left in the world, and we’ve got 80. We have 1000 head of buffalo, which is most of the UK population. Our sheep, our chickens, all are feeding totally naturally. I employ a full-time Doctor of Microbiology working in our own laboratory here, which is the only one of its type in Europe, so we can get the soils and the grasses, herbs and clovers back to how they used to be. We hired the world’s top animal psychologist to help us design our abattoir, so there is no stress on the animal when we kill it. We purify our own water – no chlorine, no fluoride – and within two years we want to be running all the farm machinery on non-fossil fuels, like rape seed oil. We want to be totally self-sustaining.”


At home on the Scheckter farm

James Mitchell

He shows me his recently planted vineyard, 28 miles of vines within 45 hectares, which will produce champagne. He also has 130 organic acres on another site 40 miles away producing fruit and vegetables, with three acres of glasshouses. He supplies meat, vegetables and salads to the very best restaurants, like Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the Fat Duck; in the more affordable world Waitrose is now stocking his buffalo burgers and buffalo milk. Other plants on the estate are making salamis and cured meats, organic ice cream, and buffalo cheese. As we drive round, Jody dictates messages to himself on his Blackberry as new ideas occur to him. This is still a driven man, bringing the same determination to perfecting his soil as to a perfect lap of Monza in a Ferrari 312T4.

Bordering the estate is Laverstoke Park itself, a pillared 18th-century stately home standing in rolling, manicured parkland, with the River Test running through the grounds. Here I find that Jody has not entirely closed his mind to his first career: there is no evidence of his racing days in the house, where the walls are hung with modern art, but lined up in one section of the immaculate stable block, gleaming on polished tile flooring, is almost every single-seater he ever raced, from his Formula Ford Merlyn to his World Championship-winning Ferrari T4. His Can-Am Porsche 917 is away being restored, but here are his F2 McLaren, his McLaren M23, the original Wolf; only the P34 Tyrrell is missing.

Our lunch in the lofty dining room, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the park, naturally consists entirely of Laverstoke produce: a green salad, roast lamb with parsnip and beetroot all tasting as they used to when I was a child, and apple crumble with custard made from buffalo milk. Over the meal Jody allows his mind to slow down for a while, and looks back over those 12 years of racing.

“In my early days I was very wild. I only did a little bit of karting and a couple of 50cc bike races, but when I was 18 and apprenticed at my dad’s garage in the Eastern Cape I got my hands on a beat-up old Renault R8. I had no money, but I scrounged the bits and pieces I needed to prepare it for racing. The rules said I had to have a rollcage, so I bent one up out of exhaust tubing. I didn’t think about the safety aspect. I locked the diff, which meant I got a reputation for going sideways – got black-flagged for it in my first national race, because they thought I was driving dangerously. We’d take it on a borrowed trailer 1200 miles to Rhodesia and back for a race, do the trip in 20 hours non-stop. I was doing my National Service in the middle of this, so I’d get leave to go racing, and get my cousin, who was a dentist, to give me a doctor’s certificate for the Monday if I needed to mend the car after the weekend. Then I supercharged it, which made it rather a handful, because it still had standard brakes and cut-down road springs.

“But it got me noticed, because I got a ride in a Mazda in the Springbok Series and won my class in the Kyalami Nine Hours. Then Ford offered me a loan car, a Lola, for the five-race Formula Ford Sunshine Series. A lot of European drivers came over for it, but I finished third in the series. The prize for the best-placed local driver was a ticket to Europe, and I won that. I’d just had my 21st birthday.

“So in March 1971 I arrived in England. It was just before the big Race of Champions meeting at Brands, and I needed an FF car. Colin Vandervell was selling his Merlyn, the one Emerson Fittipaldi had used in 1969, and Vandervell had won everything with it in 1970. I didn’t have a workshop, I didn’t even have any spanners, so Colin delivered it to Brands and I bought it. It was a wet weekend and I’d never driven a single-seater in the wet, but I put it on pole and led the race. Two laps from the end I got over-excited and spun at Bottom Bend. But I came back to finish second, half a second behind the winner. That was what got me up the ladder so quickly – not so much that I was fast, but because I was spectacular.


Scheckter was told to “hide away” following his grassy moment at Silverstone in 1973, which triggered a multi-car pile-up

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“Later in my career that became more a negative than a positive. I could usually drive around a problem, so a car’s set-up didn’t make much difference to me. If it was understeering I’d throw it around, if it was oversteering I coped with that. I don’t know whether my car control was natural ability, or if the Renault with its locked diff had something to do with it. But other drivers were better than me at sorting out a car in practice, so they’d have an easier time in the race. Also my short-term memory wasn’t great: I wasn’t good at passing on exact details of car behaviour. Other drivers, the Alain Prosts of this world, could sort a car out better than me.


Silverstone accident marred his impressive debut season

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“That first year in FF I got a job at Merlyn: they let me cut and weld up brackets. There was an F3 chassis sitting around which had been built for a French customer who’d run out of money. So I got Merlyn to lend it to me, and I went to Holbay and persuaded them to lend me an engine. Firestone South Africa gave me some tyres, and I went F3 for the second half of the season. I won at Mallory and Oulton and Thruxton, I think. There were some shunts too, like at Crystal Palace when Dave Walker, Colin Vandervell and I were three abreast fighting for the lead and our wheels got tangled, and we all went off. At Mallory Roger Williamson and I went into Devil’s Elbow together: he went off and I won. He was the local hero there, so words were exchanged afterwards.The Escort Mexico championship was running for the first time that year, too, and Ford put me in a car. That was fun. One meeting my car blew up in practice, or I crashed it, one or the other, and so I went to the pub. I’d just downed my first pint when another of the Mexico drivers offered me his car. It’s the only time I’ve gone racing after a drink.

“Both Surtees and McLaren got in touch offering me Formula 2 for 1972. I wasn’t sure about possible personality clashes at Surtees, so I chose McLaren. Phil Kerr was in charge there, and Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander. It was just a one-car F2 operation, and at first we had serious handling problems with the car [the Ralph Bellamy-designed M21]. It had this mighty twitch when you got near the limit. In F2 you raced against current Formula 1 drivers, and at first I wasn’t competitive at all. It was depressing.Finally they found the rear shock absorbers were imbalanced, and once that was sorted, bang, I was competitive. I won Crystal Palace and went well at Rouen, and for the first time I started to think I could make it in F1.

“I also did some testing for McLaren, and I remember going to Goodwood with one of the turbo McLaren-Offy Indianapolis cars. They’d just finished putting it together and hadn’t put the rear wing on it yet, but they wanted me to do a few shakedown laps to make sure it ran OK. So their F2 wild guy gets in, and once I got it on the straight I put my foot down, the turbo came in, and it just spun around and went straight into the bank. Very embarrassing. I had to buy the lads at the factory a lot of beer after that.

“Things came to a head when Lotus offered me an F1 ride in their second car for the last five races of the season [intending to replace the struggling Dave Walker]. McLaren wouldn’t let me do it, but it put some pressure on them, so they agreed to run a third M19 alongside Denny Hulme and Peter Revson for the last round of 1972 at Watkins Glen.”

It was barely 18 months since that first Formula Ford race at Brands, and it was a remarkable F1 debut. Jody qualified on the third row ahead of newly crowned World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, and at the start he shot into third place. At half distance he was still fourth behind Stewart, Cevert and Hulme when a sudden shower of rain blew across the circuit. Jody was the first to drive into it and spun into the dirt. It took two laps for him to restart, but he brought the car home ninth, and his best lap was the second quickest of the race, a fifth of a second slower than Stewart.

But the 1973 season dawned unpromisingly. The McLaren Formula 2 programme was no more, and Phil Kerr told Jody that, with Hulme and Revson still under contract, there would only be occasional F1 drives. One of them was at Kyalami, where the organisers offered good start money for the local boy. He qualified his last year’s M19 on the front row and led the race briefly, running second to Jackie Stewart for 27 laps, and holding a strong fourth until, with four laps to go, his engine failed. In July Revson was committed to the Pocono USAC race, so Jody was in an M23 for the French GP. He qualified second-fastest, starting between World Champions Stewart and Fittipaldi on the front row – this was still only his third F1 Grand Prix, remember – and led the race from the start until, with 12 laps to go, Fittipaldi tried a move on him as they were lapping Beltoise’s BRM. Jody kept the door firmly shut, Fittipaldi ended up in the guardrail, and Jody was out with a broken wishbone.


Revolutionary six-wheeled Tyrrell was never Jody’s favourite

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“Fittipaldi came to find me in the pits and delivered a heated monologue at me about newcomers not holding up the World Champion. He went on and on, and when he got to the end I pointed out that he’d had 42 laps to get past me, and if we found ourselves in the same situation in the future I’d do exactly the same again.

“I’d gone pretty well in my first three Grands Prix, but unfortunately what happened in the fourth rather wiped everybody’s memory of what had gone before. This was the famous Silverstone shunt. After the morning warm-up we decided to put a harder left rear on the car, because Silverstone is mainly right-handers and I was sliding a lot. So that tyre was unscrubbed. At the end of the first lap I was fourth, right behind Denny, and coming into Woodcote I passed him on the outside. I thought, now I can really get going. And that’s when it swapped ends on me. I went across the grass on the outside, went across the road and slid along the pitwall, then bounced back into the middle of the track. I looked up and cars were crashing all around me, crashing before they hit me. I ducked down in the cockpit and when it went quiet I looked up again, and there was another wave of cars crashing, so I ducked down again. Then I jumped out, went over the pitwall, and Phil Kerr grabbed me and said, ‘Go into the motorhome, hide away and don’t come out.’ Everybody was looking for me. All three of John Surtees’ cars were written off, so he wanted to find me and kill me. I’d taken nine cars out in all.

“I escaped from Silverstone and flew to New York, because I was due at Watkins Glen for the Can-Am round. First I had to do a press conference in New York, and just as I was thinking, thank goodness I’m out of England, the first thing the guy asked me was, ‘Tell us how you broke all those cars in England.’

“With no full-time F1 drive I’d lined up F2 with Rondel, but after two races I pulled out of that. Ron Dennis was trying to run five cars – three for Frenchmen because of the Motul sponsorship, and two for Tim Schenken and me – and I didn’t think it was going to work. So I signed up to do F5000 in America with Sid Taylor in a Trojan, and the Can-Am Series with Vasek Polak’s Porsche 917 turbo. Sid’s car turned up at each round of the L&M Series on a trailer towed by a tired old truck, when everybody else had smart transporters and motorhomes. But I won the series, after a season-long battle with Brian Redman. As for the 917, it had 1100 horsepower – some of the time – but it didn’t have any brakes, because the pads used to glaze after two laps. On the uphill right-hander at Road Atlanta people were saying, ‘Jeez, Scheckter brakes late.’ In fact I was braking early, but the car wasn’t slowing and I was flying past everybody. I did 19 American races between May and October, and I sat on a lot of aeroplanes.”


Can-Am Porsche was campaigned in 1973

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Although Jody’s three-year contract with McLaren had a year to run, the team still couldn’t offer him a full F1 season for 1974. “It was a political thing with the main sponsor: there was still apartheid in South Africa then, and they didn’t want a South African driver. But I did the last two 1973 rounds, Mosport and Watkins Glen, and I’d had approaches from several teams. I talked to Ken Tyrrell at Watkins Glen, in the motel after Friday practice. He made me an offer, we agreed in about three minutes flat, and shook hands. It was a big secret that Jackie Stewart was going to retire, but I knew I was going to be partnered with François Cevert. That was the team for 1974.

“Next day, 10 minutes before the end of morning practice, as I accelerated out of the pits Cevert came past. When I got to the Esses the front of his car was in the middle of the track. The rest of it was in the guardrail on the left, sort of wrapped over it. I stopped and jumped out of my car and ran over to him, because fire was a big thing then, so it was an automatic reaction. I got to the battery and I remember it was sparking like anything, so I went to grab his seat belt buckle. And immediately I turned around and walked away. I’ll never know what I saw in that cockpit; to this day I don’t remember because it’s just blanked out in my mind. Other drivers had pulled up and were running over, and I stopped them and said, ‘No. It’s finished.’

“He was the first person I’d known who had died. I couldn’t believe that a guy had died and everybody just carried on, like nothing had happened – not so much the F1 guys, and of course Tyrrell withdrew from the race, but everybody else. Suddenly it came home to me, hey, this is dangerous.” In the race, his last for McLaren, Jody was running fifth ahead of Fittipaldi and Revson when a wishbone broke. It gave him a spectacular moment but no further damage.

Jody spent three seasons at Tyrrell, with Patrick Depailler as team-mate. “Everybody says Ken got hold of me and calmed me down, but I think I’d learned by then that you’re not going to win a championship by crashing. Ken was a great guy, and we had a good relationship, but what made it difficult – and I didn’t realise it at the time – was that I wasn’t Jackie Stewart. Jackie had won everything and they’d say, Jackie would do this or Jackie would do that, but I was me, I wasn’t the same as Jackie. The first year with Ken was great, and we finished third in the championship, but it deteriorated from there. I found them very old-fashioned from a technical point of view after what I’d seen at McLaren. The 006, the car Jackie drove in his last year, I couldn’t get on with it at all. It didn’t seem to have any grip. I was sliding the car around and Ken said, ‘You’ve got to drive it more delicately.’ But I was slower like that, so I went back to how I was driving it before. Then we got the 007, and that was a good car. After Monza I was fighting for the title, one point behind Regazzoni and two ahead of Fittipaldi. But at Mosport the brakes failed and I hit the wall, and at Watkins Glen a fuel line broke, so we ended up third.”


Wolf won three times in Jody’s hands, including at Monaco

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In 1975 Jody won his home Grand Prix at Kyalami in the spare 007, having crashed heavily in practice, but that was the high point in a difficult year. In 1976 the Tyrrell team astonished the world by introducing Derek Gardner’s revolutionary six-wheeler: but Jody’s enthusiasm for the P34 was muted. “I just didn’t believe in it, I didn’t believe in the theory, and the tests we did with it were wrong. Testing at Paul Ricard they ran with a narrower rear track, so of course it was faster down the long straight. The braking was supposed to be better: well, it was when you were braking in a straight line, but as soon as you turned in, the little wheels slid and you had to come off the pedal, so there was no advantage there. And it broke all the time.”

But history shows the P34 was much better than that. Jody did 12 GPs with it, and only retired twice: the shunt in Austria, when a wishbone broke and the car turned sharp right into the barriers on a 160mph curve; and Japan, when the engine overheated. He was in the points at every other race. He scored the six-wheeler’s only victory in Sweden, and was second at Monte Carlo, Brands Hatch, the Nürburgring and Watkins Glen, and took third in the World Championship behind the battling James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

“Yes, I suppose I got more results with the six-wheeler than I’d remembered. And you could do anything with it: it reacted like a car with a very short wheelbase, you could slide and correct it. But there were breakages. At Anderstorp, where I won, a front wheel flew off in practice. We had a little window in the cockpit sides, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see what the front wheels were doing. I drove into the pits on five wheels and Derek Gardner put his head down into the cockpit and said, ‘What’s up?’ I said, ‘I think I’ve got a bit of understeer.’

“Patrick Depailler was great, but mad. He got arrested driving to the French GP at Dijon, flat out down the wrong side of the road. Ken had to get him out of jail so he could start the race. He was very French. I remember saying to him, ‘Patrick, that corner, what are you doing there?’ And he’d say: ‘It ees quite flat.’ I’d think, shit, he’s taking that flat? I’m lifting off there, no way can I do it flat. It was about halfway through the season before I realised he was talking French English – to him, ‘Quite flat’ meant not quite flat.

“At the end of 1976 I felt I had to leave Tyrrell. There weren’t a lot of options, but Walter Wolf came along talking very big, said he was going to conquer the world. In fact he only delivered 80 per cent of what he promised, but that was still more than anybody else was offering. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll come, but I want some people to come with me.’ He agreed to it all. I took Roy Topp, my mechanic at Tyrrell, and I got Peter Warr as team manager, because he had a winning record at Lotus.”

Harvey Postlethwaite was carried over from the previous season’s unsuccessful Williams/Wolf relationship and designed a neat, elegant and very effective car. “The conceptual work was Harvey, but Patrick Head did a lot of the suspension. Patrick came out to South Africa with me for testing, and we really got on well. Then he told me he was leaving to join Frank Williams. I said to him, ‘God, no, don’t do it. That Frank Williams is a complete loser.’ Shows how much I knew….”

In the intense heat of Argentina’s high summer, the Wolf made history by winning first time out. Jody qualified halfway down the grid after various new-car problems in practice, but he moved strongly up the field until he was on the tail of Carlos Pace’s leading Brabham-Alfa. “It was very, very hot, but I just kept to my steady pace, and I could see Pace was in trouble, taking some funny lines. He was near collapse from the heat, and being sick in his helmet, and I went past him easily. I was always very fit, did weights, running up and down hills with heavy stones in my hands, that sort of stuff. Less sophisticated than it is now, but I had stamina.

“We should have won Long Beach, too. I was leading Andretti and Lauda with eight laps to go when I got a slow puncture in the right front. It got worse and worse, and I kept thinking, I’ll go in the next lap, but I kept going. In the final laps Andretti and Lauda both went by, but I got to the finish in third place.” Second at Kyalami, third at Jarama, and then a flag-to-flag victory at Monaco: at the season’s halfway point Jody was leading the championship. There was another victory in Canada and more podiums at Hockenheim, Zandvoort and Watkins Glen. Wolf’s maiden season ended not only with Jody runner-up to Lauda in the Drivers’ Championship, but with Wolf fourth in the Constructors’ Championship – running a single car.


F3 Merlyn in Scheckter’s car collection

James Mitchell

For 1978 the ground-effects WR5, boxy where the WR1 had been shapely, was not in the Lotus and Williams class. There were four podiums, but by July the news of Jody’s departure was out. “Nearly every year Ferrari said, ‘We want to talk to you,’ but nothing had ever come of it. But in May I was ushered in to meet the Old Man, and the first thing he said was, ‘How much money do you want?’ I said, ‘I’m too young to talk about money,’ and we got on well after that. Enzo Ferrari was tough, a tough, smart guy. But when it came down to it I said, ‘I don’t want to talk now, it’s early in the season, I’m busy racing.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘we want to sign you up now.’ So I said, ‘If you want me now, that’s my price.’ We settled on a retainer of $1.2 million, a lot of money 30 years ago. Plus prize money on top, and other bits and pieces.”

Jody was the contracted number one, with Gilles Villeneuve, in his second full season both in F1 and with Ferrari, the number two. But after the first five rounds of 1979 Gilles was leading the championship. Then Jody took the lead with back-to-back wins at Zolder and Monaco, and stayed there. At Monza, in front of the delirious fans, Jody and Gilles finished one-two, and Jody was World Champion.

“All my life I’ve never needed anyone to push me, I’ve always been self-motivated. But having Gilles as a team-mate did probably push me to get more out of myself. Gilles could have won the championship, but he always wanted to be the hero, always wanted to be the quickest guy. Wherever he was he wanted to win, win the corner, win the lap, do the most wheelspin out of the pits, and that’s what gave me the confidence to beat him. At Monza he was trying qualifying tyre after qualifying tyre, trying to get the best time. I told Ferrari to give me the hard race tyre, I was doing engineering, engineering, engineering, to get the car right for the race. I still qualified quicker than him. Everybody thinks Gilles let me win at Monza, but it’s not true. We were running one-two and Jacques Lafitte was chasing us in the Ligier, but as soon as he dropped out I backed off and cut my revs, and Gilles did the same.

“Gilles was a great guy, and we got on really well. He was very hard-working, really worked at the testing. But he liked the daredevil image. If there was a chance of some wheelspin or a doughnut in front of an audience, he would do it. We both lived in Monaco and I used to go with him to Maranello by car. I’m a nervous passenger, but he was well-behaved all the way – until we got within two miles of the factory, then he’d start to show off. Above all he was honest. A very honest, honourable guy, honest to the point of being naïve. That thing with Didier Pironi [at Imola in 1982, when Pironi reneged on a pre-race agreement and took victory from him]: he just thought everybody else was as honest as him. He called me after Imola, he was furious and upset, and of course he was killed in practice for the next race.

“Actually, he was serious about safety. Everybody thought the wheel-banging battle with René Arnoux at Dijon, when they were fighting for second place, was the best thing in the world. But we talked about it afterwards, and I said, ‘The crowds love it, but it’s stupid what you’re doing. You’re going to kill yourself’ – because, you know, we used to have one or two drivers killed every year in those days.

“Mauro Forghieri was the technical boss at Ferrari, but for me he was more the team manager. Marco Piccinini was the political team manager, but Forghieri made things happen. But he had some very awkward ideas about design, and didn’t seem to want to understand the wing car concept. At Silverstone we were slow: I qualified 11th, Gilles 13th. The problem was that the V8s were getting more air through the underside of the car, their ground-effects worked properly, whereas we had our wide flat 12 – which was made worse by having the exhaust pipes going through the only place that the air could come through. But Forghieri didn’t want to do anything about it. After Silverstone the Italian press were going mad, like they always did, and so Mr Ferrari called a meeting. I said to Gilles, ‘Let’s speak with one voice on this; the car needs to be modified.’ In the meeting I said, ‘We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves, we should be fighting the other teams.’ Gilles said the same, and Mr Ferrari agreed with us, so Forghieri modified the exhausts. We took it to Monza and we had another 300rpm, and more downforce. It was a performance jump.

“Winning the title for Ferrari at Monza – I remember the sea of people at the end, but what I really felt after a year of being up and down was the relief. It was just a relief to get it over. I didn’t get too emotional or excited when the crowd were going mad, and that maybe helped me the following season, when they weren’t going mad!

“For 1980 everybody else moved forward and we stayed still. The T5 just wasn’t competitive. Gilles was quicker than me most of that season. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying hard: when I got to the track I put just as much into it as I ever had. But now, if I woke up in the middle of the night, I wasn’t thinking of understeer and oversteer. Subconsciously I had probably lost some of my edge. If you’ve been around for a while and you’ve been fighting at the front, and then you find yourself fighting for 18th place, it’s very hard. So early in the season I decided to retire. I had done what I wanted to do. We’d had accidents and deaths, and I saw some people not really caring much about that. The magic of F1 had gone for me. In July I told Mr Ferrari I wanted to stop, and then I announced it to the press straight away. But I carried on doing the testing and the races to the end of the season.

“Renault approached me with a serious offer to carry on for them, at any money. I didn’t even consider it. I’d made my decision. I stayed living in Monaco, and I spent a year trying to put together a Race of Champions series around the world, using identical DFV-powered Ford Sierras. I was lining up sponsorship and TV coverage, but in the end it didn’t happen. I was probably too naïve and greedy. Then I saw an advert in a magazine for the weapons training system, had some ideas, moved to Atlanta, and Clare and I started that business at our kitchen table.”

In the 1990s Jody became involved in the racing careers of his two sons by his first marriage, Toby and Tomas. “It was the worst time. I found myself grubbing around in the Brands Hatch paddock changing gear ratios and humping tyres, which I’d been doing 30 years earlier. If you’re driving you can always drive harder, but with Toby and Tomas I always felt I couldn’t do anything useful, although I did try to help Tomas on the engineering side. Toby isn’t racing any more, but Tomas is in his seventh season in Indycar. I go to a couple of races each year to see him.” And he goes to the occasional Grand Prix with Honda – but only because he supplies the team with organic food.


Twelve years in racing, 12 years in weapons training, and now the Laverstoke project is in its eighth year. “By that measure, I’ve got four years to go here. After that, who knows. But I don’t want to end up on a beach. It’s not just that I get bored, it’s worse than that. If I’m not busy, I feel useless. I’m getting a bit better about it as I get older, but not much.” Whatever Jody focuses on for his next 12-year project, you know he’ll attack it like an F1 driver: still the driven man.