Gray stone buildings loomed in the headlights' glow. Suddenly a sickle-horned ram trotted out onto the narrow road. The small sports car swung past the ram, past the barns and cottages and into the courtyard of a massive stone farmhouse. It has been called Edington Mains (Eed-ington) since time out of mind. Keeping a vigil there for almost as long is a ghost known as The White Lady. The Scottish night was cool. A light went on in the house; and a housekeeper, dressed in sweater and slippers and smiling, came to the kitchen door.
"Well, Jim, you've come home," she said.
"Aye," said Jim Clark, racing driver and farmer. He walked into the kitchen and the welcome nimbus of heat from a great coal cookstove. "Well, Helen, I wonder if we might have some tea."
In the summer of Clark's leap to fame, this was to be his last journey home as a reasonably private citizen. A little more than a fortnight later, he was to capture the Italian Grand Prix and thus, at 27, become the youngest world champion driver in history. His had been a year of achievement. In May, Clark had come close to winning the Indianapolis "500." He had then triumphed in four European Grand Prix events and, shocking American racing men, had returned to the U.S. and easily won a national championship event at Milwaukee. This week, though he does not need the points, he will race in the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
October 6, 1963
If he thinks of it at all, Jim Clark accepts his reputation casually. Others do not. Stirling Moss, foremost among Grand Prix drivers between 1958 and 1962, thought of Clark as something special. "Clark," Moss said, "has possibly the greatest born ability of any world champion. Of Clark and myself, I would say that he is the more talented. He is not Juan Fangio. I would not put him in that class. Fangio was the one absolute of driving, but Clark may be close."
Says America's Dan Gurney, whom Moss ranks (with Britain's John Surtees) just beneath Clark at the peak of present Grand Prix competition: "Racing drivers try to spot weaknesses in one another. Offhand, I can't see any in Jimmy. If you ever should beat him when he is not having problems with his car, then you have done something worth mentioning."
A perceptive Indianapolis man, viewing the results of last spring's "500," said, "Clark showed us things that we had never seen before." It had been an article of faith among U.S. specialists that foreign road-racing men were severely handicapped at Indianapolis. But Clark finished only 34 seconds behind winner Parnelli Jones and, at one stage, before Jones's oil leak ended a remarkable chase, Clark was but 4½ seconds back and closing fast. What Clark, in his revolutionary Lotus-Ford, showed was an uncanny mastery of Indy's 140-mph corners. Once he raced side by side into the first turn with Rodger Ward, a two-time winner. Ward had the groove, the fastest, safest line through the turn. Clark went inside Ward and simply motored past him. He was relying, of course, on the road racer's technique in fast corners. "Unless you are concentrating hard," says Clark, "you either go too fast and go off the road or too slow and lose the race."
However, concentration is not always enough. Two days after Milwaukee, something snapped in the steering gear of Clark's Lotus-Ford during a test run at the Trenton, N.J. speedway. He crashed into a wall at 100 mph, but walked from the wreckage unhurt. That night, he was on a jet back to London. He spent the next day going over his mail in London and late in the afternoon climbed into his Lotus Elan sports car and drove like the wind over 350 miles of twisting English roads to reach Scottish soil by midnight. He might have been seriously injured or killed the day before. Had the memory of this slowed him down? No. I accompanied him, and he amply proved during the journey from London that Trenton had impaired neither his courage nor his skills.
Except in sharp turns, at traffic circles, in cities (where Clark scrupulously respected speed limits; there are none on the open road) and when overtaking dawdlers, Clark's foot was all the way into the Elan. The road was the A-1, a main highway, but one with more kinks than a boa constrictor, and there was a moderate amount of traffic. During the entire trip, most of it in darkness, Clark's touch was sure. Not once did he have to hit his brakes for a panic slowdown. Never did he put the tail of the Elan out in an incipient slide—and more often than not he was driving at 100 to 110 mph. Moss has said that he regards "the ability to drive fast cars a little faster than most people as an intangible, almost abstract thing, like an ear for music, but with a motor car perhaps it is balance." Those who have analyzed Clark's driving insist on the point: his balance is phenomenal. It is. "Jimmy," the English driver Sir John Whitmore has said, "is the best driver who ever lived." He just might be, I thought, as English hedges whizzed past in a blur, although when dismounted I am inclined to second Moss on Fangio.
Beyond Berwick-upon-Tweed and its fretwork of bridges, Clark entered Scotland. The blacktop roads were empty, and Clark was soon enjoying his tea. Thus began a few days seized from an insanely complicated professional life. Clark refreshed himself in his native land, and what follows has mainly to do with that interlude, because the biggest single fact about Clark is his Scottishness. Blood and bone of the strong, amiable, upright farming men of the Scottish Lowlands, James Clark, like the James Clark before him and the James Clark before him, is middle-sized (5 feet 7½) and slender, with thick dark-brown hair, gray eyes and a husky, slightly nasal voice. Somber at times, he seems suddenly lighthearted and boyish when he smiles.
At first, at home, he was grave. When he put down his cup, he turned wearily to another stack of mail. "Farming can be hard physical work," he said, "but I am so rarely home that it is mostly a matter of pushing a blooming pen."
He worked late. If The White Lady was abroad, she was discreet. Clark says her rustling has awakened other visitors. Her pedigree is lost in time, but word of her presence has been handed down through generations of farmers at fortresslike Edington Mains, parts of which are said to be 500 years old.
The next morning was vintage Scottish gray. Up early, Clark took what seems to be his invariable farm breakfast: Rice Krispies, tea, toast and a poached egg. He breakfasted in his office, a high-ceilinged Spartan room where an electric heater in the fireplace fended off the summer's cold. On the wall was a chart of the farm fields, each with an ancient name. From the bend of Whiteadder Water on the south, as the chart showed, the Clark farm stretched about two miles north to a parcel called the Wee Plough-lands, and at midsection extended one mile from the wood called Lazybeds Plantation to Big Howleas field. It is a farm of 1,200 acres.
"I was born north of here in Fife County," he said, "where Father first had a farm. I was 6 when we moved here. The North Sea is seven miles to the east. Father and I are partners in this place, which we own, and in another 1,200-acre farm 25 miles to the southwest, at Kelso, where Father and Mother live. It is called Kerchesters, and we rent it from the Duke of Roxburgh.
"This is very much a country community. Father took me out of school when I was 16, gave me a dog and stick and said, 'Get on with it!' "
At Edington Mains, Clark keeps up to 2,000 sheep, including Suffolk, Oxford and Border Leicester purebreds, assorted cattle to fatten for slaughter, and he grows beets for feed and grain for cash.
It had been a wet summer, even for Scotland. Clark got up from breakfast, put on high rubber Wellington boots and went out to consult with his steward, William Campbell, and shepherd, Peter Lawrie. With the assistance of Clark Sr., they run Edington Mains and supervise the 14 other hands when young Clark is away. Then Jim was off to nearby Duns, to see his accountants.
Later he set out from the farm for Edinburgh, 40 miles away, in an 80-mph sedan rented by a photographer. On the first sharp bend the car's tail swung out. "Deary me," said Clark disgustedly, "the left rear tire's low." And so it was, as we discovered when we reached Duns. We changed tires and proceeded to Edinburgh. While he called on his dentist, the car was hastily swapped at the rental agency for a 100-mph model, deemed more worthy of the chauffeur.
Clark has four older sisters, no brothers. We stopped at sister Isobel's in Edinburgh and picked up his mother, Mrs. Helen Clark. She is white-haired and matronly and thoroughly alarmed at the thought of the risks her son takes ("It is such a worry to me"). Clark and his parents have come to an uneasy truce in the matter. He drove briskly but not at top speed to the senior Clark's farm.
There hardly can be lovelier rural countryside than that extending from Edinburgh to the Cheviot H ills. The good lands were green with pasture or golden with barley, rolling in gentle undulations and marked here and there by patches of wood, and the bad lands, the moor lands, wore garlands of purple heather. The Clarks' stately ivied house, commanding a sublime view of Roxburgh's estates, bore the date 1839 on the lintel.
Clark Sr. appeared in the doorway, grizzled, mustached and ruddy of face, and moving slowly because of arthritis. It is on Jim Clark's conscience that he is not at home more to lift some of the burdens of his father's advancing years. But James Clark obviously has always been able to cope.
His broad Scottish speech flowed in hospitable welcome, and the "wee drap" offered turned out to be half a glassful of Crawford's best whisky. Jim abstained; he does not drink hard liquor. The elder Clark pridefully showed off the farm, driving a small, sturdy Rover. He presided at high tea in a dining room of a size that has nearly disappeared from the earth, poured additional wee drinks, talked of animals and crops and, finally and reluctantly, bade his son goodby.
The next morning Jim Clark occupied himself with farm matters: shopping for a trailer, sending 10 head of fat bullocks (steers) through the auction ring at Berwick-upon-Tweed. As the white-coated auctioneer chanted prices, hefty steers entered, circled and left the ring, and Clark conversed with other farmers. He was enjoying himself, among his own kind. Each man wore what amounts to a uniform: tweed jacket and trousers, checked shirt, plaid tie and, for most, a sporting cap.
Whether Clark might give up racing entirely for the country life is often discussed. Sir John Whitmore, who perhaps knows him best, thinks not. "Jimmy does motor racing because he enjoys it. If he ceased to enjoy it, he would quit. But you just can't go back. The more you have seen of life, the more you see in life. When Jimmy gives up driving he will still be a farmer, but he will also have to have something outside."
Clark clearly enjoys both aspects of his life. About farming he says: "There is a kind of freshness in it. It is not routine. You feel that you are creating something. We are friendly here; everybody knows everybody else. In London I don't even know the people in the house next door. It was sort of a shock to realize one day that not everyone in London was friends.
"I started racing because I was curious to see what I could do. I found that I liked it. I am still curious, and I still enjoy it. I have raced nearly every weekend this summer in Europe and in America. There is nothing I enjoy more than fast cornering. When I am really going fast through a corner, it is as if the car and I are all molded into one."
This oneness with a racing car has been described before by other drivers, including America's 1961 world champion, Phil Hill, but coming from the taciturn Scot it seemed eloquent. Clark despises interviews, and the sum of his quoted remarks in print is scanty.
After the bullock sale Clark consented to pose for pictures in his kilt, which he seldom wears these days although he considers it a garment for any occasion, and after that to an hour or so of talk about racing. Clark began to race, sparingly, in 1956 and 1957. In 1958 and 1959, by winning no fewer than 45 sports car races, he began to attract the attention of top works teams. Fittingly, these successes were for a home-county group of farmers known as the Border Reivers, which means raiders.
In 1960 he signed to race a British Aston Martin Grand Prix single-seater that never really got going. He switched in midseason to the Lotus factory team of the alarmingly talented designer, Colin Chapman. It was Chapman who designed Lotus' Indianapolis chassis, which has made America's track roadsters all but obsolete.
Rarely has youthful promise been realized so quickly. In 1962 Clark won three world championship point races, including the U.S. Grand Prix, and led in every event in which his Climax-engined Lotus was functioning properly. But because a threepenny bolt failed in the final race, letting out the oil at a time when Clark was way ahead of his rival, Britain's Graham Hill, he lost the race and the world championship. This year, with commendable Scottish foresight, he clinched the championship early.
The issue was still slightly in doubt as Clark lounged in a sitting room at Edington Mains and reflected on a race in which he had been very, very good. It was this June's Belgian Grand Prix, run over a breathtakingly fast 8¾-mile course near Spa and the Ardennes country.
"I flew to Spa with Colin Chapman in his Piper Comanche," Clark recalled. "We were to practice Friday and Saturday and race Sunday. The circuit is so fast that I feel relieved when the race is over; I feel that way about no other course.
"At Spa you start downhill past the pits and then move through a series of uphill bends. Then comes a bit of wood. Quite fast through there—125 to 130 mph. Then comes a series of long fast bends, with trees alongside the road. You arrive at the second slowest corner, which is taken at 80 to 90. That is the start of a long downhill section through open country and around the 140-mph sweep of Burnenville corner, which leads onto a straight. With our cars the top speeds are 160 plus. In the middle of the straight is a fast S bend. Everybody lifts nowadays, and speeds drop to 150. If you slide, it is into a substantial house.
"There is a fair bit of straight into Stavelot corner, which you take at 120. That is where the circuit climbs to a point above the pits again in a series of very fast corners. At one place you go over someone's doorstep. At the second house an old lady always exercises her right to cross the road—it is a public road normally—to get a pail of water from her well. She reckons that she has been there longer than Jim Clark or Graham Hill. You have to be careful of that old lady tottering across the road. Then it is down to a 30-mph hairpin and the pits.
"I went out for the first practice and the gearbox wouldn't work. Before the race I had three different boxes in the car, all because of gear-selector trouble. Eventually I had just three laps in which to qualify for the starting grid and only just managed to get into the second row.
"On the way to the circuit for the race, rain came bucketing down, but at the start the sun was out and drying the road a little. I managed to get round the leading cars and into the first corner first. Graham hung on for quite a while. In one lap we got 15 seconds up on the rest of the field. About the fourth lap the car suddenly started popping out of top gear, which had been the trouble in practice. So I had to start holding it in gear through the fast bends, steering with one hand on a damp track, which wasn't fun.
"I lost five seconds to Graham while I sorted out how to drive one-handed at 140 to 160 mph. Then Graham's car blew up. At half distance it started raining on the back part, but not at the pits. The rain was so heavy at times that I could not see the road ahead and had to steer by telephone poles silhouetted against the sky along the road. It was like driving on black ice; at times it felt as if a solid wall of water was falling. Soon it was raining on all parts of the circuit. Everything became sort of opaqued by water streaming down my goggles. My lap speeds dropped from 125 mph to 78. At the end I was frozen through, it was so bloody cold, but T was a lap ahead of everyone else."
Thus, the glamorous life of a Grand Prix driver. Clark prefers better weather, used though he is to the damps of Scotland, and he especially relishes the sun, the view of snow-capped Pyrenees mountains and the tricky around-the-houses race-driving of Pau in southern France. He is not enthusiastic about Indianapolis and its 500-mile race.
Publicly, Clark has been a perfect sport and has not criticized the decision to let Parnelli Jones finish despite an obvious oil leak. Privately, he grumbles a bit. That letting Jones finish was clearly according to precedent was of little solace to Clark, who accepted at face value the often repeated official threat that any car leaking oil would be black-flagged. Officials have been saying that for years, and plenty of oil has been spilled without penalty. But in his heart Clark believes that he was the victim of a home-town decision.
At Edington Mains, Clark revealed a startling fact about the "500." He said, "I got into trouble from the buffeting my head was taking in wind currents set up by the other cars. At halfway, I could no longer hold my head up straight. I had to rest it against the side of the windscreen. It was a matter of sort of gritting my teeth and bashing on.
"Actually, I had no really sharp feeling about dicing with Parnelli; I just wanted to get past the bloke and get the race over with. I will go back to Indianapolis if Lotus wants me to, but, quite honestly, I have no great hankering to go back."
That evening we visited Clark's neighbor, Ian Scott Watson, leading spirit in the Border Reivers and a member of the farming gentry. He is thin, tweedy and bespectacled and has set Berwickshire tongues wagging by building a modern house and a swimming pool.
"Are you daft, putting in a swimming pool?" inquired Clark, as cocktails were served. "I thought we had enough of cold showers at school."
Scott Watson grinned and reflected on Clark's first taste of racing: "I had a DKW saloon car to race at Crimond, up north in Aberdeenshire, in 1956. Jim came along to change tires and generally help out. I thought I would give him a wee chance to have a wee go. Well, his first standing lap was three seconds faster than my best flying lap, and I had been practicing all morning. I thought then that he had the qualities to be a marvelous racing driver. Then I really studied Grand Prix racing and saw how extremely tough it is. I wondered if Jim could make it after all." Needless to say, no doubts now remain.
Clark had a date to kiss a beauty queen in the town of Galashiels, 25 miles away. It was dark, and rain was falling. Clark's preparations for rain driving at night consist of 1) switching on the headlights, and 2) starting the wipers. Then he drives exactly as in daylight on dry pavement. It was easy to see how he had sharpened his racing talents ("Dad wasn't able to understand why my car always required so much more maintenance than his"). The narrow, serpentine home-country roads he knows well could make a dozen fabulous race courses. In rain and darkness he cornered a big, heavy sedan at 80 and 90 mph with absolutely stunning security.
The beauty contest was held in a barnlike hall where, as we arrived, youngsters in pegged trousers and funny haircuts were beating out twist music for approximately 700 other youngsters, all happily twisting. It might have been Peoria or Kalamazoo. One girl was chosen as Billy Butlin's Border Princess, and to her went a kiss from Jim Clark.
As a national hero, Clark is the most sensationally eligible bachelor from the Cheviots to John o'Groats. Said one of the contest judges, operator of a beauty salon: "When Heather in our shop sees Jim's car passing by she is absolutely useless for the rest of the day."
Come-hither looks were flying at Clark from a hundred Border lassies as he stayed to watch the twisting. When he walked out of the hall into the cold Scottish rain, a hefty Wee Geordie type who had had a wee drap too many kept repeating, "Jim, lad, if ye don't win it this year, ye'll win it next, Jim lad."
Neither had long to wait. As Clark's tires sang over the wet roads to Edington Mains, the championship of the world was just around the corner.