Jim Clark, 4th March 1936 – 7th April 1968
James “Jim” (or “Jimmy”) Clark, Jr. OBE (4 March 1936 – 7 April 1968) was a British Formula One racing driver from Scotland. Clark was considered the dominant driver of his era, winning two World Championships, in 1963 and 1965.
Clark had a reputation as a versatile driver and he competed in sports cars and in the Indianapolis 500, which he won in 1965. He even competed in American NASCAR stock cars, driving a 7 litre Holman & Moody Ford on the banked speedway at Rockingham, North Carolina on October 29, 1967.
He was killed in a motor racing accident in Hockenheim, Germany in 1968. At the time of his death, he had won more Grand Prix races (25) and achieved more Grand Prix pole positions (33) than any other driver. The Times recently placed Clark at the top of a list of the greatest Formula One drivers.
James Clark Jr. was born into a farming family at Kilmany House Farm, Fife, the youngest child of five, and the only boy. In 1942 the family moved to Edington Mains Farm, near Duns, Berwickshire, in the Borders. He was educated at primary schools, first in Kilmany and then in Chirnside, and then following three years of preparatory schooling at Clifton Hall near Edinburgh he was sent to Loretto School in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh.
Although his parents were opposed to the idea, Clark started his racing in local road rally and hill climb events driving his own Sunbeam-Talbot, and proved a fearsome competitor right from the start. On 16 June 1956, in his very first event, he was behind the wheel of a DKW sonderklasse at Crimond, Scotland. By 1958, Clark was driving for the local Border Reivers team, racing Jaguar D-types and Porsches in national events, and winning 18 races.
Then on Boxing Day 1958, Clark raced against the man who would launch him to superstardom. Driving a Lotus Elite, he finished second to Colin Chapman in a 10-lap GT race at Brands Hatch. In 1959 he drove a Lotus Elite, finishing tenth at Le Mans partnered with John Whitmore, and the ex-Bruce Halford Lister Jaguar, winning the Bo’ness Hill Climb. Chapman was sufficiently impressed to give Clark a ride in one of his Formula Junior cars.
In March 1960, the first race for the newly introduced Formula Junior took place at Goodwood. The result was:
- J. Clark (Lotus Ford), 1st
- J. Surtees (Cooper B.M.C) 2nd
- T. Taylor (Lotus Ford) 3rd
Clark had made an earlier FJ appearance in a one-off race at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day, 1959, driving a Gemini-B.M.C. for Graham Warner of the Chequered Flag garage.
Clark and Lotus
Jim Clark made his F1 Grand Prix debut, part-way through the season, at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on June 6, 1960. “Lotus had lost Surtees, as he had gone to the Isle of Man to do some serious motorcycle racing, so they had Ireland, Stacey and Clark, the last-named being an acceptable substitute.” He retired on lap 49 with final drive failure.
Early in his career in the 1960 Belgian Grand Prix, his second ever Formula One race, at the extremely fast and dangerous Spa-Francorchamps circuit, he got a taste of reality when there were two fatal accidents at that race (Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey). Clark was later quoted as saying in a 1964 interview: “I was driving scared stiff pretty much all through the race”, even though he finished 5th and scored his first points finish. The next year, Jim Clark was involved in one of the worst accidents in the history of Formula 1 racing. In the 1961 Italian Grand Prix on September 10 at Monza, Wolfgang von Trips in his Ferrari collided with Jim Clark’s Lotus. Trips’ car became airborne and crashed into a side barrier, fatally throwing von Trips out of the car, killing fifteen spectators.
His first Drivers’ World Championship came driving the Lotus 25 in 1963, winning seven out of the ten races and Lotus its first Constructors’ World Championship. That year he also competed in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, and only the oil on the track from winner Parnelli Jones’s car prevented him from winning, as he finished in second position and won Rookie of the Year honours. In 1964 Clark came within just a few laps of retaining his World Championship crown, but just as in 1962, an oil leak from the engine robbed him of the title, this time conceding to John Surtees. Tyre failure damaging the Lotus’ suspension put paid to that year’s attempt at the Indianapolis 500. He made amends and won the Championship again in 1965 and also the Indianapolis 500 in the Lotus 38.
He had to miss the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete at Indianapolis, but made history by driving the first mid-engined car to win at the fabled “Brickyard,” as well as becoming the only driver to date to win both that race and the F1 title in the same year.
At the same time, Clark was competing in the Australasia based Tasman series, run for older F1 cars, and was series champion in 1965, 1967 and 1968 driving for Lotus. He won fourteen races in all, a record for the series.
The FIA decreed from 1966, new 3-litre engine regulations would come into force. Lotus were less competitive. Starting with a 2-litre Coventry-Climax engine in the Lotus 33, Clark did not score points until the British Grand Prix and a third place at the following Dutch Grand Prix. From the Italian Grand Prix onwards Lotus used the highly complex BRM H16 engine in the Lotus 43 car, with which Clark won the United States Grand Prix. He also picked up another second place at the Indianapolis 500, this time behind Graham Hill.
During 1967 Lotus and Clark used three completely different cars and engines. The Lotus 43 performed poorly at the opening South African Grand Prix, so Clark used an old Lotus 33 at the following Monaco Grand Prix, retiring with suspension failure. Lotus then began its fruitful association with Ford-Cosworth. Their first car, the Lotus 49 featuring the most successful F1 engine in history, the Ford-Cosworth DFV, won its first race at the Dutch Grand Prix, driven by Clark. He won with it again at the British, United States and Mexican Grands Prix; and, in January 1968, at the South African Grand Prix.
Jim Clark won the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in extremely wet, foggy and rainy conditions. After starting eighth on the grid Clark passed all of the cars in front of him, including early leader Graham Hill. About 17 laps into the race, with the rain coming down harder than ever, Clark had not only lapped the entire field except for Bruce McLaren, but he was almost five minutes ahead of McLaren and his Cooper. This would be the first of 7 victories for Clark and Team Lotus that year.
In the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza after starting from pole, Clark was leading in his Lotus 49 (chassis R2), when a tyre punctured. He lost an entire lap while having the wheel changed in the pits. Rejoining sixteenth, Clark ripped back through the field, progressively lowering the lap record and eventually equalling his pole time of 1m 28.5s, to regain the lost lap and the lead. He was narrowly ahead of Brabham and Surtees starting the last lap, but his car had not been filled with enough fuel for such a performance: it faltered, and finally coasted across the finish line in third place.
In his Indianapolis 500 win, Clark led for 190 of the 200 laps, with an unprecedented average speed of over 150 miles per hour (240 km/h), to become the first non-American in almost half a century to win the famous race.
The fatal crash
On 7 April 1968, Clark died in an racing accident at the Hockenheimring, in Germany. He 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. Although the race has sometimes been characterized as a “minor race meeting” the entry list was impressive with top-running Matras for the French drivers Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo, Tencos for Carlo Faceitti and Clay Regazoni, Team Brabhams for Derek Bell and Piers Courage, a Ferrari for Chris Amon and McLarens for Graeme Lawrence and Robin Widdows. Team Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Clark were in Gold Leaf Team Lotuses and a young Max Mosley was also in the race, moving up from the Clubman series. The event was run in two heats. On the fifth lap of the first heat, Clark’s Lotus 48 veered off the track and crashed into the trees. He suffered a broken neck and skull fracture, and died before reaching the hospital. The cause of the crash was never definitively identified, but investigators concluded it was most likely due to a deflating rear tyre. Clark’s death affected the racing community terribly, with fellow Formula One drivers and close friends Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Chris Amon and Jack Brabham all being personally affected by the tragedy. People came from all over the world to Clark’s funeral. Colin Chapman was devastated and publicly stated that he had lost his best friend. As a sign of respect, Chapman ordered the traditional green and yellow badge found on the nose of all Lotus road cars to be replaced with a black badge for a month following Clark’s death.[dubious – discuss] The 1968 F1 Drivers’ Championship was subsequently won by his Lotus teammate Graham Hill, who pulled the heartbroken team together and held off Jackie Stewart for the crown, which he later dedicated to Clark.
There was initial speculation whether as the accident was caused by a driver error or a deflating rear tyre, and the Lotus was investigated thoroughly by aircraft crash investigators for 3 weeks. Many drivers including Surtees and Brabham were convinced that the crash was caused by a deflating rear tyre and were adamant that it was not a driver error- simply because they believed Clark was not capable of making such a mistake. According to Andrew Marriott of the classic journal Motor Sport who was covering the race as a young reporter “Deaths in the sport were a regular occurrence in those days, but surely someone of Clark’s sublime talent and skill? People reckoned that the rear tire had deflated, and there is another theory that the mechanical metering unit on the Cosworth FVA engine had seized and caused Clark to crash.”
There is a large memorial to Clark at Hockenheim today, but because the track has been reduced in length and the old course reforested, the actual location of the crash is in a heavily wooded area and only marked by a small wooden cross.
Clark achieved 33 pole positions and won 25 races from his 72 Grands Prix starts in championship races. He is remembered for his ability to drive and win in all types of cars and series, including a Lotus-Cortina, with which he won the 1964 British Touring Car Championship; IndyCar; NASCAR, driving a Ford Galaxie for the Holman Moody team; Rallying, where he took part in the 1966 RAC Rally of Great Britain in a Lotus Cortina and nearly won the event before crashing; and sports cars. He competed in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1959, 1960 and 1961, finishing second in class in 1959 driving a Lotus Elite, and finishing third overall in 1960, driving an Aston Martin DBR1. During his time in Formula One, he only had 4 major accidents from 1960-1968- which is perhaps the fewest ever of his generation of drivers.
He was also able to master difficult Lotus sports car prototypes such as the Lotus 30 and 40. Clark had an uncanny ability to adapt to whichever car he was driving. Whilst other drivers would struggle to find a good car setup, Clark would usually set competitive lap times with whatever setup was provided and ask for the car to be left as it was.
Sir Jackie Stewart on what made Clark such a good driver:
He was so smooth, he was so clean, he drove with such finesse. He never bullied a racing car, he sort of caressed it into doing the things he wanted it to do.
He apparently had difficulty understanding why other drivers were not as quick as himself. After Clark’s death, his father told Dan Gurney that he was the only driver Clark ever feared. When Clark died, fellow driver Chris Amon was quoted as saying, “If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we’d lost our leader.”
Jim Clark’s grave in Chirnside, lists him as being a farmer before racing driver as he had wished.
Jim Clark is buried in the village of Chirnside in Berwickshire. A memorial stone can be found at the Hockenheimring circuit, moved from the site of his crash to a location closer to the current track and a life size statue of him in racing overalls stands by the bridge over a small stream in the village of his birth, Kilmany in Fife. A small museum, which is known as The Jim Clark Room, can be found in Duns.
He was an inaugural inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.