Jim Clark never thought that he would probably become a race driver ever. The Scotsman was a genius behind the wheel who was loved by one and all. Clark was as incredible behind the wheel of the race car as he was shy out of it. Never one to embrace his celebrity status, Clark was always looking for ways to downplay his brilliance. Unfortunately for Clark, his dominance of the sport was such that not only could it not be matched, it was unbelievable.
Clark was born in a farming family amongst flocks and flocks of pedigree sheep. His family’s moderately affluent background meant that he was able to attend a private school in Edinburgh, when he was 13. A star at Hockey, Jim merely wanted to race as a hobby and the thought of being a professional had never ventured close to the man. His parents were opposed to the mere thought of him driving at reckless speeds and only allowed him to drive the farm tractors. At 17, he got his drivers license and also a Sunbeam Talbot. By the time he turned 20, he was already racing in local rallies as well in a variety of skill tests.
Jim had a number of wealthy friends who started investing in his driving ability. They would regularly enter cars into club racing competitions where Jim wouldn’t disappoint them. Jim’s friend formed a major chunk of the encouragement that got Jim to where he did. Although reluctant, Jim was constantly pushed and persuaded by his friends to do something that he seemed to be a natural at. A race in 1958 proved to be he turning point. Racing with another one his “sponsored cars”, a Lotus Elise Coupe, at Brands Hatch; Jim won the race beating none other than Colin Chapman, founder of the company who’s car Jim was driving. Chapman bought Clark in for the Lotus Formula Junior series where Clark began to excel. Within two years, Jim Clark was a member of Team Lotus for the 1960 Formula One Championships.
In the same year, at Spa, Jim Clark would have one of those weekends that almost put him off of racing. Chris Bristow’s Cooper crashed and Chris lost his life but that wasn’t enough. Chris’ body lay across the tracks in a bloody mess and Jim barely managed to avoid hitting the mutilated body and a few laps later, Jim was to lose his friend, and team mate Alan Stacey after he lost control of his car when a bird smashed against his face. Jim almost quit racing but stayed on and despite his utter hatred for the Belgian circuit, he was to come back again and win 4 consecutive races there.
He got his first complete Grand Prix season in 1961. A collision with Ferrari’s Wolfgang von Trips became a haunting memory. Although Clark was unhurt and totally innocent, von Trips’ car flew into the crowds and killed 14 people including the German driver himself. Jim again decided to stop at the sport but it was Chapman who persuaded him to continue.
In the next four seasons, Lotus only lost a race when Clark’s car had some mechanical failure. The car was fast, extremely fast, but equally unreliable. In 1962, Clark looked set to win the title but an oil leak played spoilsport. He won seven races in the 1963 championships and took the title with ease. In 1964, lightning struck again, same place-same time. Again, on the final race of the season, an oil leak killed any chances of a second title. But the title was just as far as the next season where he won 6 of the 10 races and got his second championship title.
Clark was not technical at any level and it was only his description of the problems that Chapman, now an extremely close “brother-like” friend, would translate to the engineers and explain what the problem would be. The car was hardly close to perfect but the incredible ability that Jim had made it seem like it was.
Clark was extremely shy and hated press conferences. A man who was extremely calm and confident in the car, was nervous, indecisive and fidgety outside of it; to the extent that he had trouble deciding a restaurant to eat in.
Clark was extremely wealthy but evaded tax by staying in Paris. He often drove to races in a Lotus Elan but later shifted to a Piper Twin Comanche airplane that he bought from Chapman. He never married but he always had a girlfriend in whom he confided the desire to do so. All his contracts were only for a year, in case he felt the need to leave. In 1966, Lotus was not competitive and a frustrated Jim wanted to quit but stayed on and was back with a bang. He had 25 race wins in just 6 seasons at the top level, more than the great Fangio. Clark, like Fangio, rarely had accidents and made even fewer mistakes.
On the 7th of April, 1968, Jim’s Lotus had a tyre failure in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in Germany, and died. The world was in shock as a man who was known to be a master at controlling the car, died in a terrible accident. Chapman came out and said that he had lost his best friend. The world lost one of the most consistent men to ever drive a Formula One car and also a great champion.