Autosport 70: How Clark went from club racing prodigy to F1 star

An up and coming youngster by the name of Jim Clark generated headlines when he landed a test with Aston Martin. It paved the way to greatness for one of F1's best ever drivers, as Autosport reported in the 12 February 1960 issue of the magazine

Autosport 70: How Clark went from club racing prodigy to F1 star

When a famous works team like Aston Martin gives a young man with only three years' club racing experience a trial in a grand prix car, it must mean that the young man in question possessed of the latent qualities that many, many people would like to possess themselves, but very, very few in fact do - i.e. those of a brilliant racing driver.

Recently Aston Martin invited Jimmy Clark down to Goodwood for testing, and Jimmy, who had only sat in a single-seater twice before in his life, covered about 50 tours, lapping between 1m30s and 1m31s, his fastest being 1m29.8s, and all this on a damp track. From this, you will appreciate that Jim obviously has what is takes to become a grand prix driver. All he lacks is experience with really fast machinery.

It was in June 1956 that Jim first set wheel to track at Crimond, where he drove a DKW. Three months later, he drove the DKW and a Mk2 Sunbeam at Brunton Beadnell High Speed Trials. That was the sum total of his '56 racing. The next year, he used the DKW again at Charterhall in June, and then in the October meeting he won three races in one day, this time in a Porsche. He also did a few rallies and sprints in the DKW and the Sunbeam.

In 1958 Jim joined Border Reivers. It was through Ian Scott Watson that Jim got his first taste of racing, for they met in '55 and quickly struck up a friendship. Jim used to go along as Ian's mechanic when the latter went racing. When Jim joined the Reivers, they had just purchased the ex-Murkett Brothers D-type Jaguar and it was in this machine that he started out on the '58 season.

His first race was at Full Sutton in April where he gained two firsts with the Jaguar and a sixth with the Porsche. At Winfield a few days later, he claimed a first and a second with the Porsche. Then came his first continental race: the Sports Car Grand Prix of Spa, where he came home a very creditable eighth in the D-type. He didn't like Spa very much - "it was too fast for me then!"

PLUS: Jim Clark: Defining a Legend

His final race that year, a second at Boxing Day Brands in a Lotus Elite, was his first in the Hornsey-built car. Jim and Ian Scott Watson caught the night train to London from Scotland, picked up the car at Green Park and drove it straight down to Brands. There, they stuck some numbers on it and Jim went racing. For eight out of the 10 laps he led, but then a Sprite lost it and hit the side of the Elite. Because of this, Jim lost the lead to Colin Chapman, but nevertheless managed to come second.

His final score at the end of the season was 20 wins, eight seconds and three third, from 33 races, an almost-incredible total that won him the 1958 Scottish Speed Championship.

In March 1959, Border Reivers purchased Bruce Halford's Lister-Jaguar and on the 30th of the same month Jim had his first race in the big car at Mallory Park. In fact he had three races in it and won them all! He also won the 1000-1600cc class in the GT race with the Elite, making the day's total four wins in four races.

His next appearance was at Oulton Park for the British Empire Trophy Race meeting. Here he didn't do so well, coming 10th in the up to 1500cc race in the Elite and eighth in the over 1500cc race with the Lister.

The Clark family are notable stocksmen of the district, having three different pedigree breed flocks of sheep at Edington Mains. He is a very keen farmer and has not yet made up his mind whether he can devote his time to a really full season of continental racing, should that happy situation arise

This latter race provided an amusing incident for Jim. It was pouring with rain, so much so that he could hardly see where he was going. In fact, he missed the chequered flag and went blindly to complete another lap. The next time round he noticed a couple of cranes pulling Bruce Halford's Lister out of the lake at Cascades. Then on the back straight he passed a Continental Bentley, which bothered him a little, for, as far as he could recall, Bentley hadn't returned to racing.

Finally he came up behind John Bekaert and noticed that John had taken his crash hat off. Suddenly it dawned on Jim that the race must be over, so he came into the pits to investigate, much to the relief of Ian Scott Watson, who could foresee his driver continuing well into the night!

His first continental event of the year was at Le Mans, where he drove the Elite with John Whitmore. These two made a very good partnership, both being able to lap fast and consistently, for from a driving viewpoint they were pretty evenly matched. In the race they were plagued with starter-motor bothers, but they managed to finish second in class, 10th overall and 11th on index.

Jim moved on to Zandvoort for the Autosport World Cup race, where he was forced to retire when in the lead. At the British GP meeting at Aintree, he came second in the over 2000cc sports car race after a very fine drive in the wet. He followed this up with two firsts and a second at the Winfield sprint.

At Brands Hatch for the second part of the Autosport World Cup, Jim came first in the first heat and second in the second. He also won the over 3000cc class in the sports car race with the Lister. At Mallory Park a fortnight later he gained two firsts, a third and an eighth. At Oulton Park he won the up to 1600cc race for GT cars.

The next day he went to Charterhall and collected a first and a fifth, then at another Charterhall meeting a couple of weeks later he gained three first and a fourth. Finally, he won the Autosport Three Hours Race at Snetterton in the Elite.

So that was the end of another year, which had been even more successful than the previous one. Jim had gained 23 wins, nine seconds and two thirds. In addition to no fewer than five championship awards: the Scottish National Speed Championship, the over 3000cc class of the BRSCC Sports Car Championship, the over 1200cc class of Mallory Park Sports Car Championship.

Jim was educated at Clifton Hall prep school and then went to Loretto public school in Edinburgh. He left Loretto in 1952 and then went to work on his father's farm as a shepherd for 18 months, after which he graduated to looking after the farm.

He is now in partnership with his father running the 1250-acre arable farm in Duns, Berwickshire. He also had his own farm of about the same size 20 miles away. The Clark family are notable stocksmen of the district, having three different pedigree breed flocks of sheep at Edington Mains. He is a very keen farmer and has not yet made up his mind whether he can devote his time to a full season of continental racing, should that happy situation arise.

In his spare time, he likes to go shooting and is a pretty good shot. He is also quite a good hockey player and a fine sprint athlete. He is a committee member of the Berwick and DMC and is assistant secretary to Ian Scott Watson in the Border MRC. Photography is also one of his hobbies and he likes listening to music: Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald being among his favourite artistes.

Ian himself is, of course, a very capable team manager for Border Reivers. Apart from this, he has known Jim for longer than most people and so is well qualified to talk about him.

"As his best friend - we've been mistaken for brothers before now, much to his chagrin - and 'tame Ken Gregory' [Scott Watson is referring here to Stirling Moss's manager at the time], I probably know him as well as anyone outside his family circle. As anyone who meets him must realise, he really is one of the nicest chaps one could wish to know and is absolutely free of any tendency to show off or get conceited. He knows his own limitations and underrates his own driving abilities.

"One of the most remarkable things - which I think marks him out as a potential champion - is his wonderful consideration for the car he's driving. He can always come in from a race and tell me exactly what every gauge and dial has been reading, how many revs he has used at what point, whether there are any queer noises, etc. He has only spun a car once this year - the Porsche - when trying to keep up with the much faster Shepherd-Barron Alfa at Charterhall.

"He keeps an incredibly cool head when driving and is just about the only fast driver I can sit beside without having any qualms, but he himself is a very bad passenger. I think he has exceptionally fast reactions and coordination between the eyes and limbs, and his eyesight at both day and night is quite exceptional.

"His weak points? Girls, perhaps! Drinks little - not that he can't - and is always particular not to the night before a race. He does not smoke. He works very hard at home, literally. No London Chelsea playboy stuff or anything like that" Ian Scott Watson

"As one who watches him in every race, and I've done a little bit of club racing myself, I know something of what is involved, and I've come to the conclusion that he can drive much nearer the limit of the car than almost anyone, without using anything like the revs that others would or losing control of the car.

"For instance, for half of the season we had a faulty rev counter on the Elite and discovered that Jim and been doing his fantastic lap times without going over 7000, whereas everyone else was using 7500 or 7800. This did not apply to Le Mans, where our rev counter was slow, not fast.

"His weak points? Girls, perhaps! Drinks little - not that he can't - and is always particular not to the night before a race. He does not smoke. He works very hard at home, literally. No London Chelsea playboy stuff or anything like that."

So there you are. That's Jim Clark, as seen by his best friend and constant companion!

Jim very much wants to drive single-seaters this year if he can, for he is not very interested in the new formula [for 1961]. "I don't think it will help me at all," he says. "It will certainly be no safer, and a lot more expensive than the current formula, which, I think, should be continued."

Reg Parnell, who watched Jim's handling of the Formula 1 Aston with a very critical eye, is considerably impressed by the young Scotsman's driving.

"He does, of course, lack experience," says Reg, "but nevertheless he put up a very fine performance. His style is very reminiscent of Tony Brooks; he sits well back and drives calmly and without fuss. His cornering is very neat and he gives the impression that, given time, he could become very good indeed."

Encouraging words from one of the shrewdest judges of driving ability there are, and it is worth bearing in mind what Roy Salvadori said in an earlier 'Profile', which was to the effect that what is needed is a team or teams willing to give a place to somebody like Clark to enable him to gain the necessary experience. This, Roy felt, would surely pay dividends in the end.

However, whatever Jim drives this season, his relaxed and precise style is bound to reap reward. Watch him, for he is definitely, as our French friends say, a "coming man".

2020 vision

Jim Clark's ambition of racing single-seaters at the top level was realised less than six months after this article was published, when he made his Formula 1 debut at the 1960 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort driving for Colin Chapman's Lotus team.

Having qualified 11th on the grid, Clark produced an impressive debut performance until he was forced to retire on lap 49 with transmission failure.

That was the start of greater things to follow for Clark as he scored a points finish with fifth place at the Belgium Grand Prix in his second F1 race, on a weekend sadly remembered for fatal accidents that claimed the lives of both Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey.

A podium at the Portuguese Grand Prix later that year cemented Clark's place in the Lotus fold, and once he gathered that much-needed experience in single-seaters, the Scot quickly established himself as one of the leading names on the grid.

A total of 25 F1 grand prix wins, two world championship crowns and an Indianapolis 500 victory would follow, before his tragic death in a Formula 2 accident at Hockenheim in 1968.

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