Jim Clark became a legend driving for the Lotus team
It is 50 years since the Scottish legend was killed in an accident. This is how Autocar paid tribute to a grand prix great
Fifty years ago today (7 April) Jim Clark was killed in an accident during a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in Germany. The Scotsman was just 32 when he died, but his incredible list of achievements, including two Formula 1 world championships, marked him out as an all-time great.
Born in Kilmany, Fife, Clark began competing in local road rally and hill climb events in 1956, but quickly rose through the ranks. His career really took off when he linked up with Lotus founder Colin Chapman, and in 1960 he made his F1 debut in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.
He claimed his first F1 race win in the Belgian Grand Prix at the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 1962, and the following year claimed the championship, winning seven of that season’s 10 races. He claimed another F1 crown in 1965, and in the same year won the Indianapolis 500 in America.
In total, Clark claimed 25 grand prix race wins, 32 podiums and 33 pole positions from just 72 race starts.
Autocar’s sports editor in 1968 was Innes Ireland, a grand prix driver who was briefly team-mate to Clark at Lotus. He wrote this moving tribute to Clark.
Jim Clark OBE: 1932-1968
It all started as a subdued whisper – as if the whisperer was afraid to utter the words in case they were true: and even if they were, he would be reluctant to believe them. I was at Brands Hatch for the BOAC 500 race when I heard the rumour which finally contained such tragic truth – “Clark has had an accident at Hockenheim.”
At first I thought it was a motor racing incident; for even Clark has had those before; the possibility of anything more serious had never entered my head. In the scramble for accurate information, the hope that it was all a mistake dwindled rapidly until only the stark unreal and unbelievable fact was confirmed – Jim Clark was dead.
At first my mind refused to accept that this could be true. Drivers like Clark are indestructible, despite the fact that he may have had previous accidents. As confirmation piled upon confirmation, I reluctantly remembered having the same feelings about Alan Stacey, and slowly the finality of death impressed itself upon me. The inevitability of this realisation shook once more, the rules by which I have lived.
When the life of a young driver, so much in the public eye, is cut short at the height of his career, the man in the street begins to wonder: “Why do they do it – what’s it all about – what are they thinking of?”
To begin with, all those who engage in The Sport, do so from a love of driving a fast car. This is something intangible, as is the feeling of conquering a mountain peak, or skiing down an Alpine slope over virgin snow, or jumping out of an aeroplane at 20,000ft and pulling a ripcord at 1000ft, or sailing around the world single-handed.
It is a sensuous thing and as such, it is perhaps indefinable. The longer they do it, the more they realise the fact that there are risks involved, but without the risks there would be nothing. And so they adopt a fantastic outlook on life, which is the only code by which one can live – or die.
I well remember a book that Peter Garnier wrote about the Monaco Grand Prix. In it he asked himself if a racing driver ever thought, as he closed his hotel bedroom door on the morning of race day, “I wonder if I shall be alive to open it tonight?” Peter felt that this was a question that he could never, ever ask.
I can tell him the answer now: it is “yes”- or certainly in my case. But it is a thought that lingers for but an instant, to be put aside with more important and realistic things, the belief in one’s own ability, the countless races that have gone before – the narrow squeaks, the accidents one has survived when all the indications were one shouldn’t have done, the raison d’être as it were brings us back to the fantastic outlook.
I have known Jim Clark for perhaps longer than any of his contemporaries, for my father was a veterinary surgeon in the area of Clark farms in Scotland – in fact, I bought one of my first racing cars from his brother in-law, another farmer nearby.
We spent two good years together with Team Lotus in 1960 and 1961. But to my great regret, I did not know him as well as I might, for our early friendship was later clouded over by the circumstances surrounding my leaving Lotus.
His past performances need no recollection here – they are indelibly printed in the record book for posterity. He had a great love for his heritage, which was the basically simple, rustic life of farming and animal husbandry: but his dedication to motor racing was even greater, for he forced himself to leave all this behind to concentrate on his chosen profession. And it is in this light that we must regard him, for he died as he lived, giving his all in a racing car. I am sure that he would express no regrets at the violence of his passing, and surely this is answer enough for us who are left.
I know, from past experience of being with Colin Chapman during such a trial, how utterly futile life and effort must seem at this time. But to him, and to Jim’s parents, relatives and friends, I can only say to look at it as he would have done – otherwise his life has been in vain.
And to those who still question the wisdom of people who wish to risk their …read more