Si­mon Tay­lor Full throt­tle

‘He never knew why he was the fastest. The tal­ent just ar­rived un­bid­den at his fin­gers and his feet’

Classic Sports Car - - Contents -

As with the shoot­ing of JFK and the at­tacks on the Twin Tow­ers, most en­thu­si­asts can re­mem­ber where they were when they heard the news of Jim Clark’s death. On 7 April 1968 I was at Brands Hatch cov­er­ing the BOAC 500. No mo­bile phones or lap­tops then – I had my usual spi­ral note­book and Biro – but some­how the news fil­tered through from Ger­many into the old press box un­der the main grand­stand.

Like a wave, si­lence rolled across the room. It seemed odd that the GT40S and Porsche 907s thun­der­ing past the win­dow hadn’t fallen silent too. The one man we thought had risen above the dan­gers was dead.

As dark­ness fell I was still at my Good Com­pan­ion por­ta­ble, ham­mer­ing out my 4000 words on the six-hour BOAC race for Au­tosport. Then I got my 850 Mini out of the now empty car park, drove back to my flat, and started the dis­mal task of try­ing to ex­press the world’s sense of shock and loss in an in­ad­e­quate obit­u­ary.

Fifty years later, on the an­niver­sary of his death, he has been cel­e­brated anew, not least in his home town of Duns (p118), near to the farm that he loved. And in the im­pos­ing sur­round­ings of the Mount­bat­ten Room at the Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club a trib­ute din­ner drew a host of peo­ple who knew, loved, worked with and un­der­stood the enigma that was Clark. In the car he was the supreme mas­ter, fo­cused, con­fi­dent, un­beat­ably quick and yet so smooth that he looked al­most slow; and out of the car he was shy, in­de­ci­sive, ill-at-ease, bit­ing his nails. He never seemed to know why he was the fastest. The tal­ent just ar­rived un­bid­den at his fin­gers and his feet.

Be­tween each course dur­ing the din­ner I had the priv­i­lege of in­ter­view­ing some of the no­table guests while the rest of the room lis­tened. From Jim’s early days there were his neigh­bour Ian Scott Wat­son, who lent him his DKW and then his Porsche and Elite to go rac­ing; and rally star An­drew Cowan, his school­friend who drove with him across the fields be­fore they had their driv­ing li­cences. Jimmy’s cousin Doug Niven told us about the work of the Jim Clark Trust, which has es­tab­lished a fine mu­seum at Duns.

Clive Chap­man de­scribed his fa­ther’s friend­ship with a man who in all his F1 ca­reer, his two World ti­tles, his 33 poles and 25 wins in 72 Grands Prix, only drove for Team Lo­tus. Af­ter Jim’s death the griev­ing Colin swore he would never again get that close to one of his driv­ers.

His chief wrench Cedric Selzer de­scribed how easy he was to work with, never blamed any­one when it went wrong, thanked them when it went right. Me­chan­ics love to work for a win­ner. Jackie Oliver told us how it felt step­ping into Jim’s F1 shoes at Lo­tus straight af­ter his death.

Dario Fran­chitti wasn’t born when Jimmy died, but through­out his rac­ing ca­reer he was his in­spi­ra­tion. Sally Stokes, Jimmy’s long-time girl­friend who in many ways knew him bet­ter than any­one, shared her mem­o­ries. She lives in Cal­i­for­nia now and had flown in spe­cially for the din­ner. And we learned that FIA Pres­i­dent Jean Todt has a pic­ture of Jim Clark on his of­fice wall.

Then I got Jackie Ste­wart up on stage and, in 20 min­utes’ con­ver­sa­tion, he took us back to a time when you could be best friends with a ri­val F1 driver from an­other team. It wouldn’t hap­pen to­day. Jimmy and Jackie shared a flat to­gether, trav­elled to­gether, hol­i­dayed to­gether. Jackie and He­len were dev­as­tated when he was killed, and it was his need­less death that started Jackie on his cru­sade to make cir­cuits safer.

One lovely anec­dote un­der­lined Jimmy’s hes­i­tancy out of the cock­pit. Said Jackie: “We were shar­ing a hire car on our way to Day­tona, driv­ing across flat end­less Florida, and we came to a rail­way cross­ing. Jimmy stopped, looked left, looked right. The ex­panse was empty to the hori­zon. Then he said, ‘Do you think it’s OK to cross?’”

And yet: the finest racer of his era, and one of the half-dozen finest of any era.

Be­low: Clark with long­time com­pan­ion Sally Stokes and, bot­tom, the days when F1 ri­vals were also friends – Ste­wart, Clark and Gra­ham Hill

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.