Remembering Jim Clark: Racer Brian Redmond reflects on the heartache of a life cut short
Tomorrow marks 50 years since the untimely death of racing legend Jim Clark, which racer Brian Redman reflects on in this excerpt from Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks. Copyright 2016, Evro Publishing Limited. Reprinted with permission.
The 1968 BOAC Six Hours at Brands Hatch was held on the same April weekend as test days at Le Mans in France and a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in Germany. Jacky Ickx and I were committed to drive at Brands Hatch in John Wyer’s Gulf Ford GT40 but, typically of the era, John had also entered a GT40 for the Le Mans test weekend. Jacky practised at Brands on Friday then flew to Le Mans, where he put in 44 laps on Saturday before returning for Sunday’s race in England. As Jacky set the fastest time at Le Mans during that testing, our hopes for a win in the 24 Hours were high, but they were dashed when he broke his leg in practice for the Canadian Grand Prix and I broke my arm at Spa. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi inherited ‘our’ Le Mans GT40 and drove superbly to take the win.
As I waited nervously in the Brands Hatch pit before my first stint of the race, a journalist edged into my line of sight to ask if I had heard about Jim Clark. ‘Killed at Hockenheim, mate,’ he reported. I acknowledged the news with a nod but tried to keep my mind on my upcoming responsibility of racing to win.
Compartmentalisation is self-protection. When my turn came, I put everything else out of my mind and bore down on racing with all of the finesse and determination I could muster. Jacky drove brilliantly, as usual, and we won the race, just 22 seconds ahead of the factory Porsche 907 piloted by Gerhard Mitter and my Cooper Formula 1 teammate, Ludovico Scarfiotti. The Brands Hatch Six Hours was my first win in the International Championship for Makes but the taste of victory soured in my mouth as I numbly absorbed the loss of the great Jim Clark.
In my early days of traipsing around Europe with David Bridges’ Brabham BT16, Jim Clark was my mentor and idol. He set the standard for excellence with grace and was the role model every racer tried to emulate. It was said of Jim that his driving was so naturally effortless it looked as if he were only half trying—as he rocketed off to win after win after win. He was the era’s superstar, a hero as worthy of peer esteem as he was of the adulation of millions of race fans. He was also my earliest and only fitness instructor, dispensing training guidance characteristic of the era. Clark’s routine? ‘I lift my legs each night as I get into bed,’ he said, and I have followed Jim’s exercise programme without missing a day since 1968.
It’s a bit of a shame that Clark’s gentlemanly reputation masked the fact that he was also a lot of fun. It was Jim who introduced me to the fine art of the ‘bunfight’ at the inevitable bacchanal following Il Gran Premio de Barcelona in 1967. Balancing a dab of butter on his knife, he gave it a quick flick, propelling it across several tables and onto the forehead of an attractive young woman. That was the signal for all of the assembled drivers and team personnel to uncork their tensions, turning dinner into chaos until every bread roll had been launched. As always, plentiful amounts of alcohol had been consumed before and during the meal in keeping with our post-race ritual of communal self-medication. Even cool Jim Clark was not immune to the private thrill of finding himself alive.
At the behest of Colin Chapman (boss of Lotus) or perhaps Firestone (with whom Clark had a contract), Jim opted out of the Brands Hatch Six Hours in favour of driving a Formula 2 Lotus 48 in the Deutschland Trophäe at Hockenheim. During the first heat Clark’s car lurched off the track at very high speed and into the trees lining that part of the circuit. He succumbed to multiple injuries before reaching the hospital. We all believed that some mechanical failure must have occurred—possibly the result of a deflating rear tire—as Jim simply didn’t make mistakes, and later our tire theory was proven to be true.
This gentle Scottish sheep farmer, twice Formula 1 World Champion and winner of the 1965 Indianapolis 500, was undoubtedly the outstanding driver of his era. When Jim Clark died, we realised that, if the unthinkable could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. No death ever shook us more.
Jim Clark was 32 years old and at the peak of his career.
For a deeper look into the racing life of Jim Clark, check out Jim Clark: Best of the Best from Evro Publishing.