Jody Scheck­ter

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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

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