Jim Clark

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Jim Clark Pencil Portrait
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Hockenheimring, built in 1932 for motorcycle racing, was expanded for use as a test track for Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union in 1936. After the war, the German Grand Prix motorcycle racing event alternated between Hockenheim and other tracks. The original circuit was almost eight kilometres in length and consisted of two long straights with an extended “Eastern” corner in the forest and a U-turn inside Hockenheim joining them together. In 1965, when the new Autobahn Bundesautobahn 6|A 6 separated the village from the main part of the track, a new version of the Hockenheim circuit was built, complete with the “Motodrom” stadium section.

Unfortunately, in 1968, the circuit did not have any chicanes, an artificial feature that creates extra turns in a road, which are usually located after long straights, making them a prime location for overtaking. They are placed tactically by circuit designers to prevent vehicles from reaching speeds deemed to be unsafe. Even more importatntly, there were no armco safety barriers on the straights which absorb the impact of a car at high speed and prevent it from crashing into spectators or in the case of the Monaco Grand Prix, into the harbour.

Any race at Hockenheim in the late 60’s was unimportant to the Formula 1 World Championship, yet this venue remains synonymous for an entire generation of people like myself, with the death of Jim Clark, arguably the greatest motor racing driver of them all.

April 7, 1968 was a sunday and the weather in Hockenheim was awful. Persistent rain and a misfiring Lotus were adding to Clark’s miserable weekend. There was now no chance of taking the Deustchland Trophey having finished well behind the front runners during the first heat, and achieving a respectable finish was all that concerned the ‘Flying Scot’ as he commenced his second run.

1968 was going to be the year to banish the disappointments of the 1966/67 seasons in which he had finished 6th and 3rd respectively in the World Championship. As Andrew Tulloch wrote in his 2008 biography “Jim Clark – Grand Prix Champion”, ‘he was so quick it seemed at times that it was only mechanical failure which stood between him and victory.’ Yet it was precisely an escalating number of such problems that had stood between Clark and a third world championship and were contributing to his worsening relationship with Lotus team founder, Colin Chapman.

I was nine years of age when I heard that he had been killed at Hockenheim. His car had left the track at high speed smashing into a tree. Apparently his neck had been broken, killing him instantly. I suppose, even at that tender age I had appreciated how dangerous the sport was but Jim seemed indestructible out there on the course. Perhaps it was his cool exterior, his seemingly effortless way of driving with any type of car and the manner in which he excelled in rainy conditions; for whatever it was, it seemed unthinkable that a burst tyre could claim the life of the ‘Flying Scot.’

The pain of the day Jim Clark died :


Born James “Jim” Clark, Jr on 4 March 1936, the scot won two World Championships, in 1963 and 1965. He was a versatile driver who competed in sports cars, touring cars and in the Indianapolis 500, which he won in 1965. He was particularly associated with the Lotus marque. At the time of his death, he had won 25 Grand Prix races and achieved 33 Grand Prix pole positions, more than any other driver. ‘The Times’ placed Clark at the top of a list of the greatest Formula One drivers in 2009.


He was a shy retiring man, essentially uncomfortable with any form of media scrutiny and without doubt, disconcertingly out of step with the swinging 60’s. Pictures of him from his most successful racing seasons show a slim, vaguely distracted man almost permanently in deep thought; when pictured away from the track, he is suited in pre Beatles fashions with a severely swept hairstyle more in tune with demobbed soldiers returning home to Britain at the end of the war. In 1965, without doubt his greatest ever season, Clark was only 29 yet the feeling persists that had he been racing five years later, the man would have remained just as sartorially out of step with his times. We may safely presume he would have eventually retired to his native Scotland to work the land as a farmer, wary of continuing press intrusion whilst avoiding racing punditry work.


The Labour Government’s punitive income tax regime in the 60’s necessitated a change of residence and Clark duly moved to Paris in 1967, the change in his daily life necessitating an enforced absence from the UK for one complete fiscal year.

Clark’s best-known girlfriend was a blonde English model called Sally Stokes. Their fix-up first date was the London premiere of the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie ‘Cleopatra’ in 1963, where they walked the red carpet and Jim was interviewed on live television.

The couple broke up in 1966 and Stokes married another race-car driver, Dutchman Ed Swart the following year. She has lived for more than thirty years in America and her regard for Clark remains undimmed. His photo sits among an array of family pictures in the Swarts’ living room.

“When I go to the East Coast, or to Monterey and Elkhart Lake, the vendors always have a lot of books and paintings and things,” says Swart; “and I’m always thrilled to see that, but I’m slightly biased. I say to them, “But he drove a long time ago”’ and they tell me “We put out what the customers request, and they all ask for Jim Clark. It’s very comforting and inspiring that the American public wants to know about the greatest driver ever.”


Many of those closest to Clark expected him to wed his longstanding girlfriend and eventual fiancee. However, the summer before they broke up, he went on record as saying “I won’t make her a widow – It isn’t right, I tell you. I won’t wed and drive.”

He kept his promise but as to whether that was the real reason behind his procrastination over marriage is another matter. Obviously I cannot say with any degree of certainty but my theory goes some way to explaining those very qualities that made him an exceptional driver.

Clark’s headstone lists him as being a farmer ahead of him being a driver, at his own request. He ran a farm in Berwick, and was regarded as an expert on cattle and pedigree sheep. Sally Stokes became, at his own request, a fixture on the F1 circuit when he was competing. She lived the good life with him, the best hotels and restaurents, foreign holidays, everything one might associate with a jet set life. She was a popular person at the races and mingled well with the other drivers and their partners. Even though she was married at the time of the Hockenheim crash, I wouldn’t dispute for a moment that the news of his death must have upset her greatly. Interviewed for the BBC documentary “The Quiet Champion,” she reflected on the break up of her relationship with Clark by simply alluding to his failure to commit. Undoubtedly her biological clock was ticking and her desire to settle down was perfectly understandable. Perhaps Clark felt married life rearing sheep in the Scottish midwinter would be too harsh a contrast for her from racing in sunny Monaco. He was reportedly always uneasy with fame and since attractive women have always persued famous men, Jim may subconsciously have felt that Sally was always going to end up with a racing driver. If that were to be the case, then why not someone else? Significantly, as it transpired, she was married to another racing driver within a year of her split from Clark.

During their courtship, conducting her life as a farmer’s wife may or may not have been on her agenda and Clark may have been one of those men who preferred to step back and observe how important issues developed. She knew he was a farmer – did she reassure him that such a life was agreeable to her? She must deep down have known that such a post racing career figured heavily in his thoughts. Perhaps he sensed she was entirely focused on the question of commitment rather than the life to follow. Of course many women view relationships in the form of rungs on a ladder, secure in the belief that each rung can ultimately be tailor made to their own requirements; Clark was perhaps too much of a thinker to be that acquiescent, a pragmatist who realised that whilst he could live the good life with hundreds of women, only one was likely to share a life working the land.

Sally Stokes was obviously more philosophical about the dangers associated with motor racing as she still ultimately married a driver, and however much her recent involvement in activities designed to sustain his memory, she must have been angry and hurt at the time of the breakup. Marriage to another individual within months of the end of a purportedly important relationship is always indicative of a need, nay even agenda on a woman’s part. Hearing the news of her nuptials – as I suspect he did whilst living in Paris as a tax exile – was probably a moment for quiet reflection; a resolve to attain his still outstanding professional goals and then to permanently retire from racing. Perhaps Clark would have eventually returned full time to his native Scotland to marry a local girl well versed in agricultural life. Naturally, I accept I could well be wrong for after all, many closest to him will testify to his appauling indecisiveness, even on trivial matters such as the choice of movie on a night out in London’s West End. True focus existed solely in his mind when he was behind the wheel of a car.

Without a doubt, Jim Clark was an intuitive racer, competing in all classes and disciplines. He won four straight Belgian GPs at the tremendously difficult Spa-Francorchamps circuit, a track he despised, and was masterful in wet conditions. His dominant 1965 season in the Lotus 33, in which he led every lap of every race he finished, is unmatched in F1 history. But the single fact which tells the most about him is that only once did Clark finish second; in other words, if he made it to the flag, he invariably made it before anyone else. His total of 25 career Grand Prix wins broke the record set by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, and in the more than 40 years since has been surpassed only by six drivers (Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Aryton Senna and Fernando Alonso), all of whom benefited from a much longer Grand Prix season.

Whether Clark, a private and soft-spoken man, would have prospered in the modern era of F1 sponsorship and downforce will never be known, but his absence ended a time of relative innocence in Formula One. As Chris Amon, then with Ferrari, said in 1968, “If it could happen to him, what chance did the rest of us have? I think we all felt that. It seemed like we’d lost our leader.”

Recommended viewing

Jim Clark – The Quiet Champion (2009)

This portrait of Clark was broadcast by the BBC in 2009. It details his life from unlikely beginnings on a farm in Scotland, and charts his emergence as an introverted and media-shy personality who became the most successful racing driver of his time, and forged a reputation as one of the all-time great heroes of motor sport.

Using previously unseen archive footage, testimonials from friends, family and former colleagues, the film tells the extraordinary but tragic story of an enigmatic racing legend. The recollections of his sister and footage of his funeral are stark and extremely poignant.

I taped the programme which will be, by now, a totally unsurprising fact to my regular website visitors. I have become in recent times, an expert in archival storage facilities for DVDs which means my wife is never alarmed by my increasing collection. Jewel cases take up an inordinate amount of space and I realised several years back that I would need to address this problem. A little foresight keeps everyone happy – vive la détente!

Recommended reading

Jim Clark : Tribute to a Champion (Eric Dymock) 2003

Eric Dymock knew Jim Clark before he had ever stepped in a racing car, and his biography has been endorsed by the driver’s family. It looks beyond Clark’s motorsport career, and offers information about his farming background, his Scottish heritage, and the man behind the clean-cut boyish image. It celebrates his 1967 Dutch victory in a Ford Cosworth-powered Lotus which was the first time a new, untried engine won its maiden race, and his position as 1963 and 1965 Formula 1 World Champion and how in 1965 he became the first non-American to win the Indianapolis 500. The text is enhanced by colour photographs, Ford archive material, and pictures from the Clark family’s own collection – and interviews with Clark’s family and friends, his long-term girlfriend Sally Swart, Ian Scott Watson, Jackie Stewart and Rob Walker.

Dymock does a decent job of narrating the story of the Fife farmer’s boy. Motor racing was still a gentleman’s sport, and Clark could show great gallantry, for example, towards a promising young rival like Jackie Stewart. But in personal relations he could be ruthless, especially with the women in his life – of whom there seem to have been a paddockful. He refused to commit himself to his one true love, Sally Stokes, who eventually married another driver, Ed Swart.

Jim Clark – The Grand Prix Legend (Andrew Tulloch) 2008

More a photobiography with considerable emphasis on Clark’s professional career. His drive in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza is regarded as one of the greatest ever. Throughout his career, Clark drove only for the Lotus team in Formula 1 and formed a particularly close relationship with its founder and owner, Colin Chapman until his death at the Hockenheimring in 1968.

Sir Jackie Stewart has gone on record to express his opinion 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’.

Clark was also able to master difficult Lotus sports car prototypes such as the Lotus 30 and 40. He 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 vehicle to be left as it was. He drove in a manner indicative of his outward dress sense – in other words, like a gentleman.

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. Sadly, two of these accidents involved a fatality. 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. Clark was pilloried by the Italian press before amateur movie footage was able to conclusively exonerate him of all blame. Needless to say, he was badly affected by the tragedy and for a while, actively considered his future as a race driver. The second fatality, seven years later, was sadly his own.


His story is told here by the curator of the museum dedicated to his extraordinary exploits. There are many un- answered questions about his life and personality but within the limited objectives of this project, the author emerges admirably well.


The Jim Clark Room


The Jim Clark trust