Howden Ganley remembers Sir Jack Brabham
With the passing of Sir Jack Brabham, we say goodbye to one of the most influential men in the recent memory of motor racing. It was not only his own career which was so special, but his role in the careers of so many others, in particular Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. Not forgetting, of course his own three sons, Geoff, Gary, and David, all of whom have made their mark in racing.
I first remember seeing him race at Ardmore, in the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix. He was described as an ‘up and coming young driver’ (prophetic words), and in his black Cooper Bristol his cornering technique made him stand out from the rest of the field. His subsequent upward path in International motor racing took him to the very top, but with much hard work and application, the likes of which might have defeated a lesser man.
His CV records three World Championships, but how close it was to being five Championships. Although the credit went to Cooper, and certainly John Cooper was the perfect partner, it was Jack who steered things the right way, and was effectively Chief Engineer when they led the rear-engined revolution in Formula One. When asked one day how they first brought Jack on board, John Cooper’s answer was “I don’t know. Jack just seemed to join us by osmosis.”
One can speculate endlessly, but one has to ask whether there would have been such a successful organisation as McLaren Racing, had Jack not taken a young Bruce McLaren as his protégé?
Would Denny Hulme have become World Champion without Jack to create the car and engine? There can be few Antipodeans who did not benefit from Jack’s direct or indirect influence on their motor racing career. Following Jack’s example, two of his closest friends, Dan Gurney and Bruce, went on to build their own cars and win races, but only Jack won the World Championship in his.
Wherever one looks, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, Jack’s influence stands out. The threads run throughout motor racing. He was a colossus, the likes of whom we will never see again. A very special man.