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Jim Clark, in his own words

In 1964 Jim Clark, in association with Graham Gauld, published "Jim Clark at the Wheel" (Clarksport). Jimmy had just been crowned world champion for the first time, and was remarkably candid about racing and his own life. I have drawn out a few sections of the book, under my own headings, to give some idea of his frame of mind that year.

Direct to: Fireball Story      

On school

I think my father realized I wasn't very keen on studying, and I believe this quite suited him, as it meant he had no qualms about taking me away from when I reached the age of 16. He thought I would learn more, he said, on the farm than I would from school books.

I came back to the farm and started work as a shepherd immediately. One of the farm's two shepherds had just left. My father gave me a dog and a stick and said: "Right, get on with it!".

But during the years at Loretto until 1952 the seeds of an enthusiasm for racing had been planted. While I was there I started buying motoring magazines, and I read the three books on motor racing in the school library from cover to cover several times. I remember those rather special mornings when it was time to collect my weekly motoring magazine. I cannot quite explain today how this early interest began.

On learning to drive

During the war years the family ran a little Austin Seven. This was the first car, as distinct from a tractor - that I ever drove, and at the tender age of nine! One day, without anyone's knowledge or encouragement, I crept into the Austin, having memorized how my father handled it. Without much trouble, I was able to complete a short run in safety.

On taking up racing

Most people who excel in a sport or a profession seem to have been bred to it from the cradle. For me it was precisely the opposite with motor racing. Nobody in my own family had the slightest interest in racing, and I got less than no encouragement through my early years when I was trying to establish myself in the sport. As the only son in a farming family, in a traditionally rural area, I was expected to have no other ambition than farming. This was quite natural and I used to feel guilty when I was doing anything that was not connected with farming. Now, of course, things have changed, and a lot of people who made no secret of the fact that they thought I was a young idiot come up to congratulate me. These days, half of Berwickshire seems to have predicted years ago that I would one day be World Champion!

On his first event

Having qualified to drive, I soon became anxious to take part in a competitive event. The opportunity came almost at one, when the Berwick and District Motor Club organized a driving test meeting down at Winfield. I was persuaded by local garage owner Jock McBain to take part in this event, and remember after the meeting going over to Alec Calder's home in the evening. While I was there, Alec had a telephone call to say they thought I had won the event. But I was destined to hear no more about the result of my first competitive effort. Apparently, it caused the Club some confusion because I was not officially a member and therefore ineligible to compete.

On family attitudes

Family opposition to my racing was becoming stronger, but I on my part was growing more and more absorbed by it. I was hopeful that my parents would learn to live with my racing and that I could devote more time to it. But, at the same time, I was still virtually inexperienced. At 23, I had not undergone anything like the racing that, say, Stirling Moss had at the same age. The sheer fun of racing, however, had taken a hold of me, plus a certain curiosity which I still retain about the handling qualities of a car. I wonder how that car would handle? What would it be like driving against those fellows?

On racing different cars

Many people have asked me why in 1963, for instance, I drove so many odd cars. Why was it that I once tried an American stock car at Daytona, and drove a Galaxie at Brands Hatch? The reasons were simple: I just wanted to experience those vehicles at first hand. In the early days I had to take what was offered. Now, things are different and I am in a position where more cars are offered than I can possibly cope with in a season.

On motivation

In those days there were many people who had a much greater appreciation of my driving ability than I had. Both Jock and Ian Scott Watson kept pushing me on. I'd say to them on many occasions: "Och, no, we won't do that," - and they would turn round, look me straight in the face, and say: "Och, yes you will!" I used to retire from motor racing regularly but they always managed to talk me round into driving again. They both really deserve a lot of the credit for the fact that I am World Champion today.

On fitness

When at home I wanted to keep reasonably fit, so I played a few games of hockey for the local team. I am often asked how I keep fit during a season when I am dashing back and forth here and there, and the answer is that racing keeps me fit. But I don't have as much time as I would like to devote to other pastimes such as water ski-ing. If you are racing every week, though the very exercise of handling the car keeps you in trim and physically you naturally develop all the muscles you use in driving. The fact that I don't smoke and rarely touch anything to drink helps a lot, too, I think.

On first contact with the USA

We flew out via the United States, for John Cooper wanted to consult with the Halibrand company who make transmissions for the Indianapolis roadsters. John planned to enter Jack Brabham for the 1961 Indianapolis race with a Cooper Climax and therefore wanted to stop off at Los Angeles and sniff out the competition. We all went with him for the ride and the first stop was to the Meyer-Drake factory where they make the Offenhauser engines which power the big Indianapolis roadsters. I was really impressed at Meyer-Drake for their engine was the accepted thing for track racing over there and had been for many years.

Little did I know then that in 1963 I would be competing against the Meyer-Drake powered Indianapolis roadsters at their own "Brickyard".

On mechanical knowledge

The Lotus 25 confirmed to me Colin Chapman's great genius for designing racing cars. By now I was learning fast, and Colin was a first class teacher in the rudiments of chassis design. He could explain to me just why the car handled the way it did, and with his assistance I found that I was taking much more interest in the mechanics of the car than ever before. I was never really mechanically minded but now I was beginning to see what Colin was driving at.

On Lotus durability

I will not say that the car was in good condition at the end of every race, but nobody could deny the brilliant design of Colin's Lotus 25 monocoque chassis. This and the reliability of the Coventry Climax engine were the real secrets of our success. If I hadn't had our mechanics behind me probably would never even have started in half the races I won. Winning a World Championship is a team effort, and in 1963 we had the best team.

He is no more keen to have anyone hurt in one of his racing cars than I am to hurt myself in a Lotus. This is a confidence Colin and I have built up over the years - the confidence a driver must have in a car to be able to drive it to the limit. Years ago I said to him: "You build a car that is going to hang together, and I'll drive the thing. But if I think it is going to fall to bits, I am going to be just two seconds a lap slower!" "That's fair enough," Colin said, and we have had this understanding ever since.

On having fun in touring cars

I again drove a saloon car, this time a racing Lotus Cortina at Snetterton towards the end of the 1963 season and this proved to be a real laugh. I kept finding the inside front wheel lifting of the ground. This set me thinking, so I started going closer and closer to the semi-circular rubber tyres which mark the inside of one of the bends. Eventually I found that I could tricycle the corner with the front wheel well over the tyres on the inside.

I had the chance of driving Alan Brown's Ford Galaxie. This was an opportunity to drive a different car and I was intrigued with the prospect. I agreed and found in practice that driving a Galaxie can be fun.


On driving fears

Apart from this type of experimental risk, one of my greatest fears on a track is getting on oil. Oil is just like black ice - you just don't know where you are going to go. You have got to pussy-foot it over the oil and try and slow the car down. If you come on it suddenly and unexpectedly, what's when the big trouble starts. Suddenly you arrive at the same corner, at the same speed, expecting to have the same limitation of adhesion. But you find that it has gone down 100 per cent and you need another 200 per cent of road which you just haven't got. This is one of the few times when you feel almost helpless.

On morale

It is terribly easy to get depressed when driving a car. Even one meeting can put you off. For instance, before the crucial Monza race in 1963 I was very depressed. I was truly beginning to doubt my own ability and I remember thinking "Hell, what will happen if I can't get this car to go any faster?" Mind you it was still the quickest Climax engined car but it was half a second slower than Graham Hill, and about two seconds slower than John Surtees (Ferrari), and normally I had been as quick.



On racing in the USA

The 1964 season promises to be the busiest and most challenging of my career. I shall be travelling a great deal, principally because of the large number of appearances which I have contracted to make in the United States. I expect to spend more time there than in any previous year. The main reason for this is the variety and challenge which the United States offers in sports car and Grand Prix racing, and at Indianapolis. It is the challenge and opportunity of driving new and different cars which is drawing me increasingly to America. Nowhere in the world is there such variety, such enthusiasm, such capital and such driving as on the contemporary American scene.

On new experiences

Then there is stock car racing which has nothing at all to do with the crazy biff and bash sort of thing which we call stock car racing. These boys are really racing. They race on oval tracks or, as at Daytona, on tri-ovals with production type saloon cars all modified from chassis to wheels in one of the most sensational forms of motor racing I have ever seen.

I befriended "Fireball" Roberts who that year reportedly earned 20,000 in this form of racing along. He asked me if I would like to have a go at it in practice and I grabbed a helmet and set off. Well frankly this was the end. These cars are as right as a Grand Prix car with no give in them. They accelerate like made and seem to hang on at the corners. The big scare comes when someone starts "drafting" you down the straights. To do this they tuck into your slipstream as in Grand Prix racing, only with these big cars they get mighty close. It is not uncommon to see two of these cars "drafting" along the straights with only six inches between them and it scares the living daylights out of you.

On the Indy 500

To me Indianapolis is almost indescribable. It is one big holiday fair and motor race rolled into one, a national institution with the circuit almost a shrine. I was totally unprepared for it and, as it turned out, Indianapolis was totally unprepared for me.

Indianapolis is big and impressive, with quite the longest grandstands I have ever seen. Everything was laid on and everyone was very interested in our ploy. After all it was not every day that someone arrived with a puny little 1-litre racing car producing only 175 b.h.p. on their sacred track and just to see that I was a good little boy the officials had invited a number of drivers along just to watch me go round and see that I did the correct thing at the correct time. This is one thing which really annoyed me. They treated me like a kid who had never raced before.

On dirt tracks

The day before the race Colin, Dan and I went along to the Springfield dirt track to see a race for dirt track cars, yet another form of American racing A. J. Foyt, whom I knew quite well by then shouted: "Hi, Jimbo how's about bringing the Lotuses out for this type of race?" The race was hair raising and looked dangerous as the drivers power-slid their cars round in great style. When I was asked if I wanted to have a go, I, for once, declined, but this racing was really a spectacle.

On international experience

Both European and American drivers could benefit by a few more of the exchanges in which I have participated. Yet when in America I am left, once again, where I began, amazed at the variety of motor sport offered to the American race fan, and the relatively small part that European style sports cars or grand prix racing play over there.

But now, more than ever before, racing is becoming increasingly international, and the two motor racing worlds of Europe and America are being drawn closer together, though I doubt if we shall ever see complete unity.



On contracts

I have never contracted to race for more than a year at a time, for the simple reason that I prefer to be free at the close of each season to decide whether I want to tackle another year of motor racing.

More than once I have told a journalist that I have no commitments beyond the current season to discover a story the following day asserting that I am on the verge of retirement. Certainly, there is a constant tug for me between the sport and the attractions of returning to life on the farm, not to mention allaying the constant and understandable anxiety of my parents.

On marriage

I would like to get married and settle down like anyone else, but I have not felt free to do so during my years on the race track. Of course, this is purely a personal outlook, and I know many Grand Prix drivers who are happily married, and whose wives willingly accept the additional risks involved in their husbands' profession. But personally, I should not feel happy about asking any girl to share these risks with me, particularly since I would be thousands of miles from home for so much of the time.

At present, only two things are really clear in my mind: first that I will return to the farm as my main occupation and source of income, and second that I will retire comparatively young. I cannot see myself continuing to race for many more years until I become a veteran in the sport.

On commercialization

Racing is indeed a business today. The palmy amateur days of debonair, dashing drivers have gone. You have got to keep a cool, calculating head. You have to be a professional. There is no room for the characters of a few years ago - today's drivers are young, dedicated products of the scientific age.

On personal transport

I am not really the typical enthusiastic sports car driver with a penchant for spartan interiors and noisy exhausts. I prefer a good car that is fast yet comfortable and effortless for driving on ordinary roads. And if it is any comfort to the woman driver, my experience has been that they are just the same as men on the roads - some are good and some are bad.

On enjoyment of racing

Nowadays I seem to get less fun out of racing, and I sometimes yearn to get back to the amateur days. I had more fun in those early races than I have usually had since, although on the other hand I now have the tremendous satisfaction of being able to handle a car with really professional skill, and to compete with other fully trained who are also trying their utmost.

On participation

I feel sorry for people who are obviously keen on racing but who don't race because they can't afford to, or feel they do not have the ability. Anyone who is really interested in racing deserves to have the chance to at least try driving a car round a circuit as quickly as he can, if only to put his ability into perspective. It is true that many people become completely disillusioned with their first attempts at racing. I know exactly how they feel, for I went through these spells to begin with, and the only difference was that I had at least two people behind me pushing me on when I began to lose interest and faith.

On racing skills

This brings me to what I think is the most important thing you can learn in racing - how to brake. It comes as a great shock to find that you can brake much later than you ever thought was possible and all through racing in its every form braking is more important than most people think.

I must say that I have an advantage in being able to learn fairly quickly and once I know a circuit I never forget it. If you are lucky enough to be able to do this you can then get down to really studying it and making sure that you take each corner at the ultimate speed.

On race strategy

I am not controlled from the pits in any way, and Colin has never told me to speed up and only once told me to slow down - and we lost the race! All Colin does is he tries to give me information as to what is going on in the race. I pay close attention to his pit signals as to my nearest opponents, and I plan out my own races. Usually, I have a basic plan which I have prepared in practice by watching the other drivers and trying to take advantage of their mistakes. I have always told Colin what I intend to do, so that if I suddenly ease off and hold station, he knows that I am probably conserving my engine and playing a waiting game.

On a driver's death

When a thing like this happens you vow that you will never drive in a motor race again. You honestly lose all interest in racing, and just want to get as far away from a car as possible. Then your mind begins to function again and slowly everyday things start to crowd their way back. I don't think I am callous but I have somewhat been blessed with a bad memory for such things. A day later you feel a little better, three days later and you are packing your bags for another race.

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