Jody Scheckter The ‘can-do’ approach Jody Scheckter applied to Formula One – winning the world championship 40 years ago – is taking organic farming to high levels, writes Sir Patrick Head.
Driven to succeed in each of his three main careers, Jody Scheckter was Formula One World Champion in a Ferrari in 1979, retired from the sport at the end of 1980 aged 30, established a technology business in Atlanta, USA and 12 years later sold it very successfully.
He then moved back to the UK and created a now outstanding organic food farming business, Laverstoke Park, with many varied products, all with high awards for ‘best in class’.
Born in East London, South Africa, in 1950, Jody began racing karts at 11, switched to motor cycles at 16, then to cars with a Renault R8 which he modified himself, then to a Lola T200 with which he gained sufficient results to be supported with a Driver to Europe Scholarship.
A sensational debut drive in a Merlyn Mk11a at the Race of Champions supporting FF1600 event saw him qualify on pole, lead then spin, recovering to second place. Wins in the Ford Escort Mexico challenge and in Formula Three marked him as a coming man.
Mclaren recognised his forceful driving and outstanding car control by entering him in Formula Two events, racing against a field which included current Formula One drivers, gaining a win at Crystal Palace.
At the time, Denny Hulme, 1969 World Champion with Brabham, was a Mclaren driver, affectionately known as ‘The Bear’, due to his appearance, gruff and monosyllabic responses and since Jody had some similarities, he was affectionately known as ‘Baby Bear’.
In 1979, Jody, as team leader for Ferrari, came out on top in the championship through speed and consistency. His wins came at Belgium, Monaco and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
His first Formula One race was in a works Mclaren M19A at Watkins Glen, qualifying eighth and finishing ninth, after spinning on a wet patch. He remained under Mclaren’s guidance through 1973, additionally winning the US F5000 championship against a strong field, and driving the fearsome turbocharged 917-10 Porsche in selected Canam sports car races in North America. Mclaren entered Jody in five Formula One races and he was always competitive but had a number of accidents, often when competing for the lead. Most famous of all was at the start of the second lap at the British Grand Prix, when a high speed spin put him and a number of others out.
When Francois Cevert died at Watkins Glen in 1973, Jody was the first to stop and help but quickly realised that there was nothing he could do for the Frenchman.
It had a marked impact upon him. I think it is accepted that this had a major influence on Jody’s following career, not in slowing him, but making him more thoughtful and more understanding of the dangers that all the drivers were facing at that time. Emerson Fittipaldi, already a world champion with Lotus, arrived at Mclaren for 1974, and as a result there was no seat there for Jody, but he was determined to have a full season. The Tyrrell team, champions in 1973, had two places available, Jackie Stewart having retired, and Jody stepped in, ostensibly as team leader and with big boots to fill. In his first full season, Jody came very close to winning the championship. The 007 design only appeared for the fourth race of the season in Spain and a number of podiums including two wins, in Sweden and Britain, placed him well in contention. But a weak finish with three car failures in the last four races resulted in him finishing third in the championship with 45 points, to Emerson Fittipaldi’s 55. Close, but ‘no cigar’. Jody’s team mate, Patrick Depailler finished ninth with 14 points.
1975 was a disappointing follow-up season, the Tyrrell 007 not having been sufficiently developed, and provided only a single win in South Africa and seventh in the championship, to Lauda’s winning 64.5 points.
The following year saw the introduction of the six-wheel Tyrrell Project 34, with four small steered wheels at the front. It is uncertain what the design target was on this car, as the frontal area was set by the rear axle and the large rear tyres. Jody was never a fan, but won in Sweden, with his team mate Depailler second, and gained a second place in the US, finishing third in the championship behind Hunt and Lauda.
For 1977 Jody went to Wolf Racing, certainly a gamble to move to a one-car team with a very poor, pointless 1976 season behind it. But Jody was always up for a challenge and had a strong relationship with Dr Harvey Postlethwaite, the ex March and Hesketh designer, and they went on to a remarkable season, with a win first time out in Argentina. This, like 1974, was another ‘almost’ year, with the small, Canadian-owned British team with 20 employees battling with a single car against the might of Ferrari, which had 200 employees at that time.
In addition to the Argentina Grand Prix, Jody won his first Monaco Grand Prix, and the Canadian Grand Prix at the end of the year. He suffered seven retirements, with engine and fuel system failures, against Lauda’s two retirements. It was either ‘on the podium’ or ‘in the pits’, yet despite that he finished second in the championship to Lauda.
1978 was a wasted year at Wolf, the team not keeping up with aerodynamic developments, particularly of the Lotus team. Jody achieved only four podium finishes, but seven retirements, finishing seventh in the championship.
For 1979, Jody moved to Ferrari as team leader, with the mercurial Canadian, Gilles Villeneuve. The two got on well, but were strong competitors throughout the season, both achieving three wins. Jody finishing on top in the championship from speed and consistency, Gilles finishing second. Jody’s wins came at Belgium, Monaco and the Italian GP at Monza, with Jody leading Gilles home to clinch the championship.
The 1980 season was a huge disappointment, Ferrari being far from competitive in an era of dominant aerodynamics from Ligier, Williams and Brabham, and a rapidly advancing Renault turbo. The car was just not competitive, Jody finishing 19th in the championship with just two points, his young team mate faring little better, 14th in the championship with six points.
Jody gave his best from start to finish, but retired from F1 at the end of that year, and there would not be another Ferrari champion for 21 years. Such a restless person as Jody was never going to take it easy, and he was not one for looking backwards. Although he accepted one or two commentating duties, he was looking for something to fully engage him.
A short interlude preparing for and competing in what was World Superstars, a competition between a number of athletes, all champions in their specialist fields, had him winning the 1981 final, a surprise for many who thought that a driver, sitting on his bottom and using his hands and feet, would not be athletically fit. But they did not reckon on Jody, who also used his continuous pursuit of the ‘unfair (but legal) advantage’ to speed up his squat thrust rate by putting baby oil on the floor and sliding rather than jumping from position to position.
Jody had two boys, Toby and Tomas, with Pam, his first wife, but, after retiring from Formula One, he married Clare, now mother to Hugo, Ila, Freddie and Poppy. With Clare he moved to Atlanta, Georgia and started FATS, Fire Arms Training Systems. As with all of Jody’s projects, total immersion for 12 years followed, from 1984 to July 1996, when Jody sold the company to a capital investment company.
Jody had met the designer of a PC based game, with a plug-in electronic ‘gun’ and software to identify if a ‘shot’ hit its target. Jody recognised the potential to develop this to a full-scale system, with application in training for police forces and the military, at much less cost or danger than full physical training with guns and bullets. After 12 years of 24/ 7 work, building the company to have systems sold in 35 different countries, the last three years’ sales were $29 million, $60 million and $100 million. The company went public two months after they sold.
Jody and Clare wanted to bring up their growing family in England, feeding them on natural products, with no artificial growth chemicals.
To do that he needed farming land, and he bought Laverstoke Park in Hampshire, a rundown, 200-year-old ‘stately home’ in need of renovation but with some beautiful parkland and an attached farm. Jody, well supported by Clare, has never been one to do anything by halves, and he threw himself into learning about true organic farming, not at a level to just scrape through as ‘organic’, but to take food production back a couple of centuries in quality, while applying modern thinking to the process to allow it to be commercially competitive.
He built a fully-equipped biology and chemistry lab with a doctor specialising in microbiology studying soils. Inevitably not all from the farming world understood what Jody was aiming to achieve, a few fell by the wayside, but the Scheckter juggernaut ploughed on. An amazing range of produce followed, now a little rationalised but not by much. A headline product is mozzarella, including buffalo mozzarella from the 2,500-strong herd of buffalo.
There is also ice cream, cheeses, beer, sparkling white wines and amazing meat, sold directly to end users or online via the Laverstoke Park website.
It is no coincidence that Jody and Clare are long term friends with many of the best known chefs, usually taking Laverstoke Park produce straight into their restaurants, and otherwise through some supplier outlets for ‘best in class’ produce. Their awards are so many that I cannot list them here, whether it be for lamb or other meats, or the many dairy products. Clare meanwhile started the Laverstoke Park Education Centre, which is committed to teaching all generations the importance of natural farming, healthy eating and animal welfare. It represents total commitment, a Jody trait, equally held by Clare.
Laverstoke Park Farm now hosts Carfest, in partnership with Chris Evans, and after seven years is well established family entertainment, attracting 28,000 visitors a day for three days, with around 15,000 campers, raising more than £1.5 million in 2018 for children’s charities. It is impossible to describe in a short article the intensity, the amount of learning, the financial commitment and the Formula One-inspired ‘can do’ approach Jody applied to farming.
Jody Scheckter with Gilles Villeneuve close behind at Monaco in 1979
Pressing hard in the Tyrrell 007 in 1974
On the limit as always. In the Wolf WR1 in 1977
With Gilles Villeneuve, team mate at Ferrari in Jody's 1979 championship year
On the podium at Monaco in 1979, receiving the trophy from HSH Prince Rainier, with HSH Princess Grace on his right.
Food quality comes from the soil Just some of the many awards for Laverstoke produce