A god-given talent

2y ago

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In 1938 Clark was born in the Scottish village of Kilmany. The only thing that reminds the villagers of one of the world’s biggest racing talents is a statue which was unveiled by Sir Jackie Stewart in 1997. It’s a near life-sized statue of the young Scot, walking confidently with his hands in his racing overall, looking down the horizon. Nonchalantly, which pretty much sums up Clark as a person: a man without any scruples, predominantly shy, who tried to stay out of the spotlights as much as he could while scarcely giving interviews. A young man who stood in the corner most of the time, except when there was a race to win. It was his racing that did all the talking.

Jim Clark driving the Lotus Cortina in the 1964 British Touring Car Championship, which he won. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

'Jim Clark was able to drive a Formula One car in a way others could only dream about'

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His palmaris? Grand slam record holder (pole, fastest lap, and victory after leading every lap): eight times; highest percentage of possible points scored in a Formula One world championship: 100%* in 1963 and 1964; highest percentage of laps lead in a Formula One world championship: 71,5% in 1963. Besides that, Clark won the BTCC in 1964, four Formula 2 championships, the 1965 Indy 500 -the only person to have won the Indy 500 and the Formula One world championship in the same year, to the girls a heartbreaker and one of the most written about Formula One drivers. In other words: Jimmy Clark was and still is a legend, even though he was first and foremost a farmer. To Jackie Stewart, Clark was the best driver he ever got to race with, and also a good friend. TIME magazine placed him on the cover of their 1965 issue, describing him as the ‘fastest man in the world’. The same magazine placed him on top of their list of biggest Formula One drivers. Just to say.

Jim Clark driving his tractor at his farm. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a time when drivers weren’t cutting their way round a track, but danced instead, Jim Clark was able to drive a Formula One car in a way others could only dream about. He won a Grand Prix for every three races he entered and started from pole position in nearly half of his Grand Prix entries. Today we remember the young Scott, who was so tragically killed at the Hockenheimring on the 7th of April, 1968.

TWO LEGENDS LOST

Sure, you could go and visit the Jim Clark memorial stone at the Hockenheimring. It’s a beautiful set of stones with gold lettering showing his championships and the Lotus logo. Worth a visit? Absolutely! But for a lot of fans, a memorial is simply not enough, mostly because they want to visit the actual place were Clark was killed during that seemingly innocent F2 race. Right up until today no one knows exactly what happened in those final moments. Former Lotus mechanic Dave Sims stated that a rear right tire deflated and made the Lotus uncontrollable when Clark curved the car at high speeds. Personally, I find it hard to believe that one of the most professional drivers of all time, someone who was able to notice a loose bolt from a mile away, couldn’t feel a deflating tire. Anyway, this is most broadly accepted. Other theories involve a misfiring Cosworth DFV. Fellow driver Derek Bell, who was also participating in the race, noticed the Cosworth misfiring all weekend. He was sure the engine stalled, consequently sending the car out of control. Whatever happened, Clark spun out at around 140 mph in the long right hand curve that led up to the Ostkurve.

The remains of Jim Clarks Gold Leaf Lotus 48.

According to a track marshal, Clark’s Lotus 49 hit the dirt and the treeline, rolled over twice and disintegrated in what he described as ‘’a thousand’’ pieces. Because the drivers were not wearing any seatbelts at the time, Clark was thrown out of his Lotus and was killed instantly. The place where Jimmy found his match a wooden cross was placed shortly after the fatal accident in remembrance: ‘Zur erwigen Erinnerung an Jimmy clark’. At first, the cross was easy to find. It was right alongside the track, easily accessible for fans and journalists. However, the Hockenheimring was reconstructed in 2002, tearing down pretty much everything that made the track so iconic. Drivers, fans and other officials weren’t really able to hide their disappointment, and quite rightly so. The magic of the Hockenheimring was intertwined with the magic of the dense Schwetzinger Hardt forrest of Baden-Württemberg through which the drivers reached dazzling speeds.

The contours of the fabled Ostkurve are still visible, but it is in an advanced state of nature taking back what was hers. Credits: Malau, Wikimedia Commons.

Fair enough, it wasn’t the safest of tracks, but then again it isn’t the safest of sports. Anyway, if you want to go and search for the little wooden remembrance cross at the site where Clark lost his life, you still can. It requires a set of walking shoes, a little backpack with some food in it, a map and good eyesight. The original track was deconstructed and new trees were planted. So basically you need to walk right until you come across a ‘younger’ forest. Then you’re sure you've reached the old outline of the track. It is somewhere there, halfway between the Nordkurve and the Ostkurve, where you can find the cross. It is only fitting, two legends of Formula One that tragically found their end. Even though the memory is still there, the natural way of life took these memories and turned them into bittersweet nostalgia.

The little memorial found in the woods near the old track. Credits Stanze, Flickr.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS DEATH

’If Jimmy could die, my God everyone could get killed'

Jackie Stewart

Fair enough, Jim Clark wasn’t the first and only Formula One driver to have been killed in a race. It also happened to have taken place in a time when the sport was as dangerous as it could be. Clark's death was different though, in a way that he was the chosen one. The one with the God given talent: a more dramatic way to point out that he had an amount of talent for racing that comes only once every decade or so. He was in a different league. He was a masterclass in his own act. A fabled driver that wanted to be a farmer foremost. His tombstone shows exactly that.

Clark's tombstone

A more different way of approaching the sport than the other most naturally talented driver, Ayrton Senna, is almost non-existent. Senna was ready to die for his sport, Clark wasn’t. Even though he was the fastest driver for pretty much most of his career. Clark was able to dance with his car, he was able to control it so beautifully that death was never actually given a chance, a flirt, a kiss. The fact whether you were closing in on certain death pretty much meant that you were driving faster than your talent could keep up with. Needless to say, Clark’s enormous talent gave him the ability to run that Lotus faster round a circuit than any other person could. Don’t forget that he lost out on the 1962 championship due to a mechanical failure in the last race while in leading position. His death meant the following: if a person, who was able to handle a Formula One car so well as Jimmy could, were to die, something was wrong. Really wrong.

It might look as if he's battling massive oversteer, but he's actually whispering the car through the corner at the 1964 British GP. F1-History, DeviantArt.

Driver errors were common at the time, but because man and machine were still in a 50-50 balance, it didn’t mean that every accident was a life threatening situation. What did Clark’s death told us? The sport needed change, because the cars were becoming too much for a driver to handle without being completely subdued to the fact whether its mechanical and aerodynamic parts were working, or not. For Jackie Stewart this meant that the safety had to be upped. No longer could Formula One races be held on tracks that were pre-World War Two, lingering through forests and grass fields without barriers and attention to safety and proper medical facilities. The death of Jim Clark changed the sport to as we now know it. To quote Jackie Stewart: 'If Jimmy could die, my God everyone could get killed.’

IN THE PANTHEON OF LEGENDS

Clark is difficult to behold. Often memories are kept alive by all the amazing moments the one that is remembered has given us over the years. Clark hasn’t really given us a lot of these ‘golden’ moments. Exciting television? Not really, no. Well, except for that fabled victory he took in the 1963 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps in extremely wet conditions. Starting from eighth place, he managed to lap the entire field except for Bruce McLaren, who finished five minutes behind. Oh, and that 1967 Italian GP where he found himself dead-last after a tire blew. He overtook the entire field with lap-times equaling his pole position time, only to finish third after fuel problems.

He might have lost the 1967 Italian Grand Prix, I think he was in fine hands afterwards. Jim Clark, Italy 1964. Source: F1-History, DeviantArt.

He was so dominant that most of his wins were not the most exciting ones, hence his grand slam record. Hollywood behavior? None of that either. If he wasn’t racing, he was mostly farming. Sure he broke the heart of a girl or two, but then again which driver didn’t? He wasn’t exactly like James Hunt. Enigmatic behavior? On the contrary. He was so shy he had to ask for advice when it came to treating a nice girl on a night out. As a driver he was very practical about his approach to driving. He often helped his mechanics and wasn’t as picky as his colleague Graham Hill. Daring one-liners? Nope. Maybe when he spoke, but he was scarce in his words. Passionate? Well, apart from the fact that he was committed to driving a car around the track faster than anyone else, he wasn’t really flipping people off, punching track marshals, attempting to kill fellow championship threatening colleagues.

Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark, two brilliant Scotsmen, ehm Brits. Copyright LAT.

Next to Senna, Clark was downright boring. But all of that is not really important. Clark was so good at driving a Formula One car, that no one is bothered by the fact whether he had a specific crush on British Airways flight attendants. Some people deserve to live forever. Sadly, Clark was taken away. Of all people, the person who showed everyone what the best way to drive a Formula One car round a circuit without killing himself became a victim of the sport. Here’s to the Scot.

Jim Clark winning the inaugural F1 race at Clermont- Ferrand, French GP 1965.

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