The Notorious #F1 Godfathers: The Shy Champion

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Dane Hansen

Britain has had some fantastic drivers over the years. Jackie Stewart, James Hunt,  Damon Hill, and in recent years, Lewis Hamilton. The introduction to Scotland’s unique involvement began with a quiet, unassuming young man. Jim Clark, his “innocent talent” and gentlemanly stature was greatly respected and was luring for his fellow peers and fans.

James Clark junior was born into a farming family in Kilmany, Fife, Scotland. As a rural boy, he shared his childhood with four siblings, all of which were girls. Clark was educated privately in institutions on the peripheral regions of Edinburgh.  As with any young man in his adolescence, partaking in sport was, and still is much the norm in school. But road racing never teased his thoughts.  Clark excelled in field sports, where he enjoyed the modest pleasures of cricket – a likely reflection of his personality, being a gentlemen’s game. But at the age of 16 James was forced to return home after the sudden deaths of his uncle and grandfather.

Clark 6B

At 17, Clark achieved his driving license, and much to the resistance of his family, James went against their wishes and entered his own personal car, a Sunbeam Talbot, into a number of rallies and hill climbs where he perfected his sense of car control and skill. These would be the steppingstones that would lead him to glory. His raw, yet refined natural talent was easily recognised, and through the support of motorsport enthusiast friends, they equipped Clark with sports cars to race in at club events. James reaped the benefits from his natural ability to drive instinctively and without blunder.

In 1958, Clark was given a Lotus Elite to sew his way around the topography of Brands-Hatch, a beautiful undulating circuit in the wooded Kent countryside. He was quick to catch the attention of Colin Chapman, the brain behind Lotus. It was in 1960 that Jim made his debut with the British team, but aside from his skill and contract to drive for Lotus, it was his sheer will to compete that drew him into the sport. He didn’t have ideals to “prove anything to anyone”, but it was his curiosity for driving on that thin line we call the limit, which catapulted him into success. Even he couldn’t explain where his apt speed came from.

Formula One World Championship

During the 60’s, Formula One was plagued with death and danger. The Belgian Grand Prix of Clark’s inaugural year is considered to be one of the worst in the sport’s history. Stirling Moss was involved in an enormous shunt and seriously injured. On race day, Chris Bristow suffered a large accident and was killed. Jim needed to swerve his race car around the mangled body and continued the race with a blood stained Lotus. Just laps later, his friend Alan Stacey was killed after a bird struck him in the face and veered off track for the last time. A year later, Clark was involved in a tragedy that killed Ferrari driver, Wolfgang Von Trips, along with 14 spectators.

The Scotsman was held accountable by many for the deaths. Thwarted by the demise of his fellow compatriots, and his conscience stained with their blood, Clark nearly quit racing entirely. But the precarious world of Formula One was not enough to stop his curiosity and he was persuaded by Colin Chapman to continue his endeavors.

Belgian GP, Spa, 13 June 1965 Winner Jim Clark, Lotus 33

Belgian GP, Spa, 13 June 1965
Winner Jim Clark, Lotus 33

Jim Clark’s style and grace on track was slick and unmatched. Colin Chapman’s innovations helped propel Clark and the Lotus family to winning ways, and succeeded in awarding Clark with his first driver’s title in 1963, and again in 1965.  Both in 1962 and 1964 Clark was the champion favorite going into both finale races before retiring from an oil leak on both occasions. He could have won four championships had luck been on his side.

Clark 4

By Clark’s second title, his friendship with designer Colin Chapman became like no other. Jim’s mechanical knowledge somewhat lacking, but his ability to translate his sense of feeling in the car into simple English gave a re-imagined driver-to-mechanic relationship. During his racing career Clark also invested his talents into other spheres of racing. The Flying Scot drove to success in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on three occasions in Lotus and Aston Martin machinery.  In 1965, he found glory at the Indianapolis 500 where he led 190 of the 200 laps. He also competed in the Tasman series.

April 17th, 1968 saw a cool, foggy day in Baden-Württemberg, (West Germany of the time) the home of the daunting Hockenheimring. Jim Clark competed in a minor F2 race. In those times it was more than common for drivers to take part in an array of different motoring events. As often as they were to compete in F1, so would they compete in other spectacles of racing.

Clark and Chapman

That weekend, the Hockenheimring experienced a soaked grand prix, and Clark struggled to be competitive. Starting 7th on a wet track, he drove with his usual intuition and immense feeling for the car, but he had already dropped one place. An issue with the car was evident. He continued to race around for a third lap, a fourth lap, and a fifth, but never returned for his sixth. Where had Clark’s Lotus gone? It disappeared off the track like a ghost – swallowed by the thick fog that surrounded the grounds.

Bystanders later concurred that they had seen Jim’s car twitch slightly before being thrown off track by an unexplainable circumstance. Tearing through the sinister wooded land at over 150mph, Clark slammed into those very trees sideways, ripping his aluminium car apart, killing the Scot instantly. Drivers and aircraft investigators conducted thorough investigations for three weeks. With no definite findings, they later agreed that the probable cause for the accident was a deflated rear tyre, and not driver error. None could believe that a driver of his caliber could make a mistake like this. He was seen as virtually errorless.

Clark 2

His death certainly shook the foundations of Formula One. Many believed he was the single greatest driver in history. His great departure instilled fear into all other drivers. Chris Amon, a fellow farmer come racing driver later put it “If it could happen to him, what hope did the rest of us have?” Many felt that a certain warm, curious light of F1 was now extinguished.

Clark never warmed to the limelight of being a successful racing driver. In fact, he was embarrassed by it and rather chose to spend his free time incognito and if possible, he’d return to the simple life that awaited him in Berwickshire. He loved occupying his time on the rolling green hills of cultivated Scottish farmland, where sheep would graze soundly and soft clouds gently kissed the tops of Pines.

Off track, Jimmy was an unassuming, modest gentleman. He consistently bit his nails and was so indecisive that friends of his often paid reference to that even choosing which restaurant to dine at would spiral him into deep, inescapable confusion. Most people who he encountered remember his humble nature, humility and graciousness, Although he never maintained many friends, at least in Formula One, most people who he encountered remember his humble nature, humility and graciousness. His closest relationships were those of fellow countryman and teammate Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill respectively, who were likely his best competitors, but even to them, Clark remained a mysterious and closeted young man.

Monza 1967


The Shy Champion – Life in Numbers

Name Jim Clark
Country  United Kingdom United Kingdom
Place of Birth Kilmany, Fife
Date of Birth Mar 4th 1936
Date of Death Apr 7th 1968 – 32 years old
Races 72
Drivers’ Titles 2
Victories 25
Poles 33
Podiums 32
Points 274
Fastest Laps 28
Laps 3930

33 responses to “The Notorious #F1 Godfathers: The Shy Champion

  1. Somehow I totally overlooked this one ( and apparently I’m not the only one) too much posts in a row (the new format) this was bound to happen. Nevertheless enjoyed reading it. Thank god for the usher on social media or I would have never seen it…

  2. I had the great honor of sitting in Jim’s Indy 500 winning Lotus in Daytona, early 1970.

      • Winning from the front in the best car, from season 3 after a fast track to F1.. the lack of a challenge from a 2nd driver, a close team mentor relationship, 44 (total) vs. 40 wins, 126 vs. 146 races.. 4 titles in a row each (but for 23 laps), plus a 5th that got away via unreliability (1967 vs. 2009). Clark wins Indy, Vettel wins RoC.

        Both are also reserved and private away from the track. Clark would have won ’68 and probably retired not long after (for Stewart), but lets see if Vettel gets the chance to win again with Ferrari, or if this period will thus be the ‘Hamilton’ era.

          • Yep, by 1 lap! in 1964 and for the same reason, by 20 laps in 1962.. those seasons were like 2010 and 2012, while 63 and 65 were domination like 2011/2013.

        • I think of it as Fangio – Schumi, Surtees – Alonso, Clark – Vettel, Stewart – Hamilton. Moss – Rosberg, always 2nd.. Rindt – Bottas?

          Farina – Prost? Wimille – Senna? Fagioli/Villoresi – Mansell/Piquet? Ascari – Hakkinen? G.Hill – (D.Hill :P) Webber/Ricciardo?

          Hawthorn – Button? P.Hill – Irvine. Brabham/Hulme – Kimi/Massa.. Hope that helps anyone green on F1’s history!

    • Fantastic bloke. Gone way too soon. Even for people who never grew up in his era, its still a tragedy! Thank you for your kind comment Tuj!

      • It was a tragedy – one of many I have witnessed in my years of following F1. I grew up in that era and all drivers were approachable – in those days you could (whisper it) get into the paddock and see your heros and their cars close up – even touch them and ask questions.

  3. “the sudden death of his uncle and grandfather.”
    Well that implies a side to the Clarke family I never wanted to know.

          • Err…. It’s possible that you need to have in mind certain intra-familial practices allegedly prevalent in days gone by in the backwoods of some southern states of America (hint: imagine the sound of ‘dualling banjos’ twanging away in the distance). Beyond that I cannot possibly comment…….

  4. Bomboi indeed, because their deaths were written in the singular form.
    And it was just a jest.

    • Yes, I realise that – but I would have expected most people to pick up on the possible ‘other’ meaning. Hey ho, maybe it’s just me that remembers ‘Deliverance’ for being a window on that rather twilight world 🙂

  5. Again, another nice peice. I enjoyed reading this. I’m a massive fan of Clark too.

    F1 lost a huge amount when it lost Clark, and in my opinion I think there was substantially more left in Clark’s career than, for example, that of Senna when the great Brazilian unfortunately passed in 1994 – though it’s probably crass that I even compare… My point is, the level of lost potential and subsequent “what if” analyses is no greater than that associated with Clark; again, in my opinion.

    Definitely one of the giants of F1.

    • Thank you! Yes you make a good point. People also forget how unlucky he was not to have won more championships.

      Its funny you mention Senna as well. As for as I have gathered, one of Senna’s driver idols (or really just a driver he had huge respect for) was in fact Clark, if my facts are straight

      • great piece. thank you! he was my childhood hero after buying my first Sports Car Graphic magazine in 1962. was lucky to see him race at the ’64 and ’65 Indy 500 and at the first Canadian GP in ’67. many do not know that Chapman said Jimmy (and also Mario) could drive faster and farther than anybody on a gallon of gas and a set of tires. many do not know that had the black flag been thrown (as was being begged by many teams) for Parnelli’s oil leak, Jimmy would have won Indy in ’63. a likely winner in ’64 as he was effortlessly pulling away until the Dunlop blew. there is still a heated debate that in fact, Jimmy won in ’66 but the USAC officials failed to score one of his laps.
        yeah. a little luck and 4 WDC and 4 Indy’s in a row. can you spell domination?!

        • Thank you! And many thanks for the further insight, it is always fascinating to receive some information and facts that are little known to the greater F1 community

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