Thursday, 14 October 2010

Jim Clark in 500 words

To attempt the distillation of one man's life, be it only a woefully short thirty-two years, into 500 words, may seem a little inadequate. But for someone who had achieved so much, had a character as complex and a story as interesting as James Clark Jr, it positively smacks of inadequacy bordering on the pathetic.

James Clark Jr

but here we go.

Born in Kilmany, Fifeshire in1936, the youngest of five, and the only son to a family of sheep farmers on the Scottish borders, Clark was brought into motor sport by local garage owner Jock McBain, who shortly after his 17 birthday encouraged Jim to enter a 'Driving Test Meeting' at Berwick and District Motor Club. He won, but was disqualified because he wasn't a member of the club. Shortly after this he met Ian Scott-Watson a local enthusiast who, alongside McBain was to prove instrumental in his early years through providing him cars, support, and encouragement. In 1956 Scott-Watson entered Jim in his first race driving his DKW Sonderclasse and he finished 8th.

In 1957 Scott-Watson exchanged the DKW  for a Porsche 1600 Super S in which Jimmy Duly scored his first race victory in the BMRC Trophy race at Charterhall on October 5th. By 1958 McBain and Scott Watson had re-formed the Border Reivers racing team (named after the lawless clans of the border valleys for whom looting and rustling both sides of the border was a way of life)  and had added a Jaguar D-Type to their stable for Jim to compete in.

Things now began to gather pace, against the wishes of his parents and despite his own desire to lead a peaceful farmers life, Jim was hopelessly hooked on motor sport. The Reivers entered the D-type and the Porsche in many events, mainly road racing and hill climbs during '58 and if Jim didn't win he was rarely outside the top 5, He made his first foreign trip to Spa in May of that year to compete in the GP de Spa for sportscars over 1500cc. This was Clark's first time out against his own Heroes and one of the seminal races during his formative years.

The Reivers D-type

'If I had known the kind of track it was I'd never have gone.' He said later of the race, but, as was to become his trademark at Spa he got down to business and began learning what he could, and despite admitting physically shaking before the start of the 'big' race he finished a lapped  8th and recalled watching in awe as Masten Gregory came by to lap him. 'He was well out in the lead with the Lister Jaguar all sideways, arms crossed up and fighting the steering.......I didn't think anyone could drive a car as quickly as that.' Sadly Archie Scott Brown was killed during the race, probably by spa's notorious habit of raining on certain parts of the circuit and not on others. The race initiated a lifelong hatred of Spa but it showed Clark that 100% commitment was neccesary to compete at the highest level and that small mistakes could cost him his life. It also showed him that he could overcome his fears and seriously compete against people he had previously held in awe.

In October of that year Jimmy had his first encounter with Colin Chapman and his embryonic Lotus company, McBain had decided to buy a Formula 2 Lotus for Jim to race in 1959 and it was arranged that Jim should try it at Brands Hatch. Also present that day was Mike Costin (of Cosworth) as wall as Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, Alan Stacey and a number of other high profile drivers of the day. Despite never having driven a single seater before or never having driven Brands Jim ended the day 2 and a half seconds off Hill's new unofficial lap record of 56.3secs, but when Hill went back out the car lost a wheel at Paddock bend and rolled over, Hill was thrown out and Clark had seen enough. He refused to have anything to do with a car that could break in such a manner, so he and Scott-watson started to persue the idea of buying an Elite instead.

The Elite was ready for the Boxing day Brands Hatch meeting and Clark actually raced it against Chapman in an identical Elite. The pair of them fought for the lead the whole race until Clark (in the lead) was clipped by a spinning back marker at Druids allowing Chapman to nip by to take the win with Jim second.
 'I have photographs of us going side by side round Paddock bend with both cars sideways on.' Says Clark in his 1964 book 'Jim Clark at the wheel.' I don't know about you but I would give one of my less important organs for a copy of that picture.

A Lotus Elite (and Innes Ireland)
 By the end of '58 Clark still viewed racing as a pleasant distraction and always assumed he would return to life on the farm at some point, Parental pressure was mounting and  Ian Scott-watson was having to work very hard to convince Jim that he was as good as everyone else thought he was. 1959 was just around the corner though and this was to be the year that Jimmy really started to make a name for himself.

It's quite clear that I'm not going to fit everything I want to say into 500 word or even one reasonably sized blog post so I'm going to split this into two parts. Check back soon for the second half of the Jim Clarke Story.