See you, Sir Jack
JACK Brabham is driving in Britain sometime in the 1960s, sharing a car with a bunch of fellow racers, when he is stopped by a bobby for speeding.
“Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?” asks the bobby. “No, I’m Jack Brabham. Stirling is in the back,” Brabham replies.
This story is the one that keeps coming back to me as the reality of Sir Jack’s death on Monday, aged 88, sinks in. It’s a funny story that sets him in a time and a place, and it is a story that reflects his rise from a gritty dirt-track racer in western Sydney to a world champion and the first man to be knighted for his motor sport success.
Brabham was as tough as they come. He was also typical of the postwar generation in Australia who just got on with the job. Anyone who wanted to be a real success headed for Britain, the “mother country”.
Brabham won the world championship with the Cooper team in 1959 and 1960. It helped that he was leading a transition to rear-engined racing cars, a challenge that allowed him to dip into an engineering background that included time as an air force mechanic.
But he also had to push his car over the line to win the 1959 championship after a mechanic had failed to fill it up for the title decider at Sebring in Florida.
Brabham’s ambition led him, with fellow Sydneysider Ron Tauranac, to set up his own team. All his cars had serial numbers that started BT, for Brabham-Tauranac.
When he persuaded Repco to fund an engine for the 1966 season, he put the final piece in place for a world-beating combination that made him the first driver to win the F1 title in his own car. Kiwi Denny Hulme matched the feat the next year in a Repco-Brabham.
Brabham was a title contender until his final Formula One season in 1970 but his greatest achievement was probably completing his career without a single injury — in an era when 30 fellow drivers were killed.
Sir Jack was proudest of his family’s achievements, from sons Geoff, Gary and David — who made it to F1 and also shares success at Le Mans with his oldest brother — to grandsons Matthew and Sam, who are racing and winning in the US and Britain.
Vale Sir Jack Brabham.