Scheckter's guest editor special


Jody Scheckter mooching around the less-than-salubrious support race paddocks of Snetterton, Brands and Thruxton was a common, but always surreal, sight in British motor sporting circles during the late 1990s. To this child of the ’70s, Jody was something of an exotic figure. The 1979 World Champion, at the time still Ferrari’s last, had spent 10 years racing around the world in the glorious era of fat slicks and sideburns – then enigmatically left it all behind to become a business entrepreneur in the United States. We hadn’t seen him since.

Now here he was, the notorious South African who caused that shunt at Silverstone, who won a Grand Prix in a six-wheeled car – and who oiled his soles for the squat thrusts to win TV’s Superstars – hanging around the trucks and awnings of the salt-of-the-earth Formula Vauxhall teams, back at the race tracks where it had all begun for him 30 years before.

As our guest editor of the February edition admits, he didn’t enjoy the life of a racing dad. Sons Toby and Tomas wanted to go racing, and having returned to the UK after selling his business in the US, Jody was willing to support them. That meant for the first time since 1980, he was back at the race tracks week-in, week-out – but scrapping around pock-marked paddocks at British Touring Car Championship rounds was not his idea of fun.

“Ah, it was horrible,” he tells us. “When I first came over I was at the bottom of the paddock at Brands Hatch changing gear ratios and 30 years later I was there doing the same thing. I hated it – and they didn’t want to give me pits tickets…

“I wanted to stay with the teams so we went to these horrible hotels. What I did enjoy was the technology and data that hadn’t been around when I was racing, and I worked more on the set-up than I did on the boys’ driving style.”

That last comment was telling. As a young reporter covering the boys’ races, I was thrilled to have this golden opportunity to get to know a great World Champion – especially one who was bored and had plenty of time for idle chat at race weekends. But as for the teams Toby and Tomas drove for… let’s just say Jody’s enthusiastic ‘interest’ wasn’t always totally welcome.

He couldn’t help himself, of course. As anyone who has worked for Scheckter at his Laverstoke Park organic farm will tell you, he likes to get involved, to be hands-on. There was the odd race engineer who would be tearing his hair out by the end of a Scheckter Jr race weekend, even if Dad meant well.

But Jody’s reconnection with the sport in which he made his name was still a pleasure for most other people. The nonchalant irreverence he displayed when talking about modern Formula 1 was charming, funny and surprisingly insightful, given how long he’d been away. And we tapped into that again with our F1 season review during his guest editorship this month. You can read it in the magazine and listen to it online in podcast form. While we didn’t agree with everything Jody had to say, he was never less than entertaining.

Scheckter’s not one for reminiscing – all he really thinks about today is his farm – but if you can persuade him to look back his thoughts and memories of racing in the 1970s always keep you hooked. In the February issue, we played a word association game with him, naming the friends, rivals and team bosses he knew and finding out how he summed up each. Patrick Depailler, Gilles Villeneuve, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi – he had fond memories of them all. But the same wasn’t true for another fellow ’70s World Champion…

Along with his visit to Chelsea I also paid a visit to his home, in company with photographer Charlie Best. There, we spent a fun day talking to Jody about his collection of 10 single-seaters that all played parts – both major and minor – in his racing career. The fact he’s bought these cars at all gives the lie to the notion he’s not interested in his past at all.

At the front of the magazine, Jody takes my place to talk about his most recent experience of driving F1 cars. And he also reveals the first details of a special event he’s running, in association with Motor Sport.

Plans are still being formalised, but as Jody says in Matters of Moment, save the date: May 18. The new-look Saracens rugby stadium in northwest London will be the venue for a ‘gourmet and cars’ evening, which Jody will host, complete with Laverstoke Park Farm banquet, plus a rare chance to see the racing cars from his collection and hear him talk about them. More details will follow in forthcoming issues, and of course on our website, too.

Our reader evenings have proven popular in the past couple of years, and along with Jody’s we’re working on more for 2013.

The most recent was held on December 5 at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, where we were delighted to be joined by Sir Jackie Stewart. More than 100 readers listened to the three-time World Champion talk about his life and career, then take the opportunity to ask him their own questions. We were also joined by former mechanic Jo Ramirez for this special evening, as we launched the Hall of Fame charity auction which will raise funds for the Grand Prix Mechanics’ Charitable Trust at our annual awards ‘do’ on February 25. (Click here for online bidding details, and here for a chance to win tickets to this invitation-only event).

Meanwhile, there’s plenty more to keep you reading over the Christmas period. Elsewhere in the February issue, Corvette ace Oliver Gavin has lunch with Simon Taylor, Nigel Roebuck reflects on the dramatic finish to the F1 season and Doug Nye lifts the lid on an amazing search behind the Iron Curtain to find a prized Silver Arrow pre-war Grand Prix car. As he writes, it’s like something from a John le Carré novel.

Merry Christmas, thanks for reading throughout 2012 – and I hope you’ll join us for more in the new year.

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