ICON SERIES: JIM CLARK
Updated: Jan 25, 2021
This article was originally published on September 4th, 2019.
For more than 50 years after his death, Scottish racing legend Jim Clark has continued to fascinate new generations of racing fans.
Now Clark's life and legacy have been honored with his own museum, in the Scottish in the borders town of Duns. The museum was officially opened this past week (Thursday 29 August) by Formula One legend, Sir Jackie Stewart OBE.
Stewart a close friend of the late racing driver, nicknamed the "Flying Scot", recounted stories of the only driver ever to win Indianapolis 500 and the Formula One World Championship in the same year.
James Clark, junior, was born on March 4, 1936, in the small Scottish village of Kilmany in the county of Fife. He was the only boy in the family and the youngest with four elder sisters born into the farming family.
By the age of six, the Clark family had moved to Edington Mains Farm, Duns in the Scottish Borders, where he would receive much of his earlier education, before being sent to study the private schools at Clifton Hall School near Edinburgh and then Loretto School in Musselburgh. It was during this time that his love for motorsport blossomed, after reading about the subject in books and magazines.
In 1952, he would leave school to work on the family farm. At this time he started to practice driving in secret, by driving the family car around the fields.
As soon as he was able to legally drive, the following year, Clark began to enter rally and hill climb events, usually in his own day-to-day car, a Sunbeam-Talbot. Even though his parents were opposed to the idea, as it was not the sort of activity suitable for someone who was expected to take over the family farm. Furthermore, they perceived motor racing to be frivolous, expensive, and dangerous.
Undeterred, he continued to enter local rallies and driving test events, however nothing that would be considered an actual race. His first real race came in June 1956 when close friend Ian Scott-Watson secretly entered his DKW Sonderklasse in a race, in the village of Crimond.
Clark's next race came in September 1957. This time he competed in three races, winning the final one, the BMRC Trophy. Where he defeated Jock McBain, a local garage owner, but one who was also a very experienced racing driver. As the experienced driver, racing in the most powerful car McBain was the clear favorite.
In 1958, McBain created the Border Reivers racing team, named after raiders who plagued the border regions between Scotland and England, during the 13th-16th centuries and asked Clark to be his main driver.
During his time with the Border Reivers, Clark raced Jaguar D-types and Porsches in events throughout the UK and Europe, winning 18 races. One of the highlights of his time with the Reivers was his win at Full Sutton, in April 1958, when Clark became the first driver to average 100mph, in a British sports car race.
In 1958, he was given a Lotus Elite coupe to race Brands Hatch. He would finish second to Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who ran the exact same Lotus Elite, in the race. Chapman was sufficiently impressed, that he invited Clark to offer him a place driving his new "Formula Junior" cars.
Clark immediately excelled and was promoted to Team Lotus for the latter part of the 1960 Formula One season.
Clark would make his Formula One debut, part-way through the 1960 season, at the Dutch Grand Prix. Coming in as a replacement for John Surtees, who was racing motorbikes on the Isle of Man. The race was an uneventful one, as he would end up retiring on lap 49, due to a seized gearbox.
His second taste of a Formula One race was the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, held at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, famous for being the most dangerous racing circuit. Clark would get a taste of reality when the Grand Prix took the lives of two drivers, including Clark's teammate Alan Stacey.
Clark was later quoted as saying in a 1964 interview: "I was driving scared stiff pretty much all through the race." Despite this Clark would manage to finish fifth and score his first points in Formula One.
In 1962, Colin Chapman revolutionized the Lotus' single-seater car designs. Introducing the world to the monocoque Lotus 25. Clark would go on to win four Grand Prix races that year, coming second in the World Championship missing out to Graham Hill in the final race, in South Africa, when an oil leak forced him to retire.
During the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix, Clark produced one of the most remarkable performances in the history of the sport. After suffering gearbox problems during qualifying, he would line up his Lotus on the third row of the grid. Clark made an extraordinary start to make up seven places and lead on the opening lap, surging past the likes of Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, and Bruce McLaren. Amidst torrential rain that saw 12 of the 20 drivers retire, Clark managed to lap the entire field and took the checkered flag, Clark was a monumental four minutes and 54 seconds. All the while only using one hand to steer as he was having to use the other to keep the gear stick in place, due to the earlier mentioned gearbox problem.
He would go on to win seven out of the ten Grand Prix races that year, to secure his first World Championship. At the same time becoming the youngest ever Formula One World Champion, at 27 years old.
Clark's seven wins in a season would not be equaled until 1984. When Alain Prost managed the feat for McLaren, although the Formula One season had been expanded to 16 races by that time.
Today top drivers are judged, almost solely on their abilities in Formula One but in the 1960s a racing driver had to be an all-rounder, comfortable in most forms of motorsport. In 1965 Clark would prove his skills by competing in 63 races, over a number of different disciples. He would start the year competing in the Australian based Tasman Series, winning 11 of 15 races. Next, he would go on to win both the British Formula 2 Series and the French Formula 2 Series. While in his spare time he would compete in British Touring Car races. He would further go on to add another Formula One World Championship, winning 100% of points available to him that season. The only points he would miss out on were from the Monaco Grand Prix, which he chose to miss out on so that he could compete at the Indianapolis 500. This would turn out to be a successful venture, as he dominated the race, leading 190 of the 200 laps and finishing over two laps ahead of his nearest rival. Again making history by becoming the only driver to date to win both the Indy 500 and the F1 World Championship in the same year.
Motor racing in the sixties was a dangerous sport, safety would often consist of a few bales of hay at the side of the track. In the year of 1968, 128 racing drivers would lose their lives while behind the wheel of a racing car. On 7 April 1968, Clark became one of the 128 after his car came off the track at the Hockenheimring in West Germany. During the 4-month long gap between the first and second races of the 1968 Formula One season, drivers would compete in other racing formulas. Clark was originally slated to drive in the BOAC 1000 km sportscar race at Brands Hatch, but instead chose to drive in the Deutschland Trophäe, a Formula Two race, for Lotus at the Hockenheimring, primarily due to contractual obligations with Firestone. On the fifth lap of the race, Clark's Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees beside the circuit. He suffered a broken neck and skull fracture and died before reaching the hospital. His death, at the age of just 32, was one in a long line that spurred Jackie Stewart into action to demand better track safety.
During his career he competed in 73 Formula One Grand Prix races, winning 25 of them. In percentage terms that is much more than Hamilton, Vettel or even Michael Schumacher. He qualified for pole position on 33 of the 73 races. This percentage again puts him in second place of all time, only behind Juan Manuel Fangio. Finally, looking at Grand Slams, when a driver qualifies in pole position, receives the fastest lap and leads every lap of the race. Clark comes out on top with 8 Grand Slam races, beating out Schumacher with 5 and Senna with 4. Clark's ability was often hindered by the unreliable Lotus' that he drove, as some of the only reasons why he did were because he had often not finished the race. In his Grand Prix career, he only had one second-place finish.