LEAVING WITH LOVE, AND THE LOOT
Often of a morning these days, Jackie Stewart (see cover), the retired World Driving Champion, wakes up laughing. "It comes on like a giggle," he says, "irrepressible, like champagne bubbles at the back of your nose—and I lie there in my big, wide bed in the Connaught, say, or the Plaza or the George V and I laugh and laugh and laugh." Nor does the mood end with Stewart's rising. He likes to run for half an hour every morning ("except in New York, where a running longhair can get in trouble"), and frequently the giggles catch him in midstride. Imagine it: the wee, shaggy figure pelting down the wet streets of London in the first light of day, past gleaming, darkened shop windows full of expensive goods, past bobbies rearing back in outraged amazement until they recognize Britain's great hero at his morning exercise, past the solemn statues of earlier heroes, huge and immobile now while Stewart winks past beneath them, skipping almost, his hair flying back in a contrail of immoderate laughter.
Why is this man laughing?
Because, you nits, he did it! He got away with it! Not just the fortune but the fame as well. The love and the money! John Young Stewart, who dropped out of school at the age of 15 to pump gas at his father's filling station in Dumbarton, Scotland, stands now, 19 years later, at the pinnacle of success in the most dangerous game known to man: Grand Prix motor racing. Over nine seasons encompassing 99 races that counted for the championship, Stewart won 27 Grands Prix—more than any other driver in modern racing history. Those victories produced three World Driving Championships, a total exceeded only by the five held by Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio, who drove in an earlier era (1940-1958) and thus at much slower and less deadly speeds. In Europe, where road racing is not only a major sport but a daily way of life and death to everyone from bakers to barons, charwomen to chanteuses, winning the World Driving Championship is roughly equivalent, in American terms, to winning the Masters, the Indy 500, the Super Bowl, the World Series and the heavyweight championship—all in the same season.
December 24, 1973
That adulation, which is based not on simple, sports-loving hysteria but rather on a keen and often poignant appreciation of the risks involved in Grand Prix racing, has opened the way for Jackie Stewart into the closed ranks of the world's high and mighty. He has dined, if you will, with the Queen; he has escorted his good friend Princess Anne to the movies and was one of her 1,200 invitees to the royal wedding. He hobnobs regularly with the likes of the Aga Khan and his Begum; with Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate; with Fiat's Gianni Agnelli and Ford's young Edsel; with such cultural dignitaries as Truman Capote, Roman Polanski and Andy Warhol. Count Freddy Chandon, of the champagne dynasty, is a valued consultant in matters vinous: when Jackie was at a loss as to what kind of wedding present to give Princess Anne, Count Freddy suggested just the right vintage—and glasses to go with it. On his own, Stewart sent a backgammon set. Lest the gift seem less than royal, he had the doubling dice made of gold; replacing the number 64 is a picture of his racing helmet.
Needless to say, such a rise to eminence has been immensely gratifying—it could have been stupefying—to a young man of humble origins. But Stewart is too much the canny Scot for it to carry him away. He is a master of repartee who gives as good as he gets in any company, but more than that he is a superb money magnet. Though Grand Prix racing pays little in the way of prize money, Jackie has taken more than $850,000 a season out of the sport in recent years in a complex web of endorsements, personal appearances, television commentaries and the like, the spinning of which keeps him busier even than the 14 to 17 races he runs per season.
Why is this man laughing?
Because he got away with it.
Yes, his life.
Those who follow motor racing can argue endlessly over such minutiae as what was the best car ever built, where the most exciting race, which the most difficult track, when the most dangerous season. But nearly all will agree that there have been only six truly grand Grand Prix drivers. Even before his retirement Jackie Stewart was one of them. And in a way, as the latest of its members, he embodies more completely than any other driver the best traits of them all. This is a cruel, tough sport, spattered with blood, reeking of oil and plumed with the orange and black feathers of cars broken and on fire. It has been peopled with men of great dash and courage, lean and elegant men who would not have shirked at Armageddon, much less the Causeway Heights above Balaklava, where the Light Brigade rode. Fools, perhaps, counterphobes so afraid of death that they had to try it every weekend to get over their fear. But they have all tested what Jackie Stewart calls "the edge of experience." By which he means the place where physical action—reflex, eye, muscle, nerve ends—blends into the realm of the immeasurable—daring, courage, skill, judgment.
The heroes came in all configurations. There was Tazio Nuvolari, The Flying Mantuan, who started racing in 1921 when he was 30. And then he raced a lot, for nearly another 30 years, compiling 49 Grand Prix victories back when that term loosely meant any road race in the biggest of cars. Nuvolari was a dink of a driver, only 5'5" and 130 pounds soaked with oil, yet he handled the heavy machines of the era like a wrestler. He was the inventor of the four-wheel drift, taking a car sideways through a corner to scrub off speed. Nuvolari never wore out his brakes; indeed, he rarely used them.
Rudolf Caracciola, despite the Italian name, was a German who drove for Mercedes Benz in the same era as Nuvolari, and his main successes came in the 1930s when Hitler was using Grand Prix racing as a stimulus for Nazi pride. A colorless, tightly self-disciplined man, Caracciola was noted for his ability to drive "in the wet," earning the sobriquet of Der Regenmeister (Master of the Rain). Until 1938, his toughest German competition came from young Bernd Rosemeyer, who also had a claim to fame: he was known as Der Nebelmeister (Master of the Mist), thanks to his dominance of early-season races at the N√ºrburgring, when fog usually shrouded the 17.5-mile course.
Their competition ended abruptly Jan. 28. Early that day Caracciola had set a new speed record of 268 mph on a stretch of the Frankfurt-Darmstadt Autobahn. Rather than let rival Mercedes hold the mark past sundown, Rosemeyer wheeled out in his Auto Union Special and got the streamlined car up to 275 mph. Unfortunately, a gust of wind got the car airborne. It hit a bridge abutment and the Master joined the Mists.
Juan Manuel Fangio is by common agreement the best racing driver who ever lived—and he still lives, in Buenos Aires at 62. Fangio raced Chevys in the bullrings and road races of South America until he was 38, when he undertook his first full season on the European circuit. Perhaps because he came that late to the game he was wiser, tougher and less romantic than his younger rivals. Fangio was stern and enterprising; he jumped from team to team to get the best cars—but he came out of it with 24 Grands Prix and five championships.
If ever a driver deserved to be a world champion it was Stirling Moss, who had it all: the dash, the timing, the ability to feel a race the way the car feels it. Continually experimenting, ever charging, Moss ran up an amazing also-ran record in Grand Prix and seized countless top-ranked sports car victories as well. And then came a smashup in a 1962 race: Moss was left with brain damage and though he tried to race again, his keen, quick edge was gone.
Jimmy Clark came on to be a world-beater. By 32, mere striplinghood in racing terms, he had already won 25 GPs, exceeding the fabled Fangio's total by one. In fact, had Clark jumped marques in the manner of Fangio and his fellow Scot, Stewart, he might well have won 40 Grands Prix and six world titles. Still, by 1968, with two world titles, plus an Indy 500 victory behind him, Clark's career seemed still ahead: he was so smooth and deceptively quick a driver that nobody much feared for his life. He won convincingly in South Africa, first race of that season. But the end came in a Formula II race at Hockenheim. On a track slippery with rain he slid off into the woods at 150 mph; the car shattered against an unyielding tree. Clark was dead and the racing community still has a hard time comprehending that fact fully half a decade after it happened.
Jackie Stewart, in a way, is a composite of all those earlier champions—and then some. Like Nuvolari, The Flying Mantuan, Jackie the Flying Scot is short, rather ugly and very colorful, what with his mod clothes and his distinctive black corduroy cap ($12.95 at any racetrack stand). Like Caracciola, he is a Master of the Rain, driving superbly in any kind of road conditions, fair or foul. Like Fangio he is ruthless when it comes to choosing a car, having driven for four separate marques—BRM. Matra, March and Tyrrell—in accumulating his record of 27 GP victories. Like Moss, Jackie is a splendid seat-of-the-pants engineer, aiding immeasurably in the arcane areas of design, aerodynamics, tire structure and grooving, and the like. Finally, like Clark, he is a consummately smooth and intelligent driver, perhaps not as quick as Clark was, though that difference is virtually immeasurable to the layman, but a masterful conservator of his machinery, the sort of driver who can almost intuitively feel what is going wrong with a car, and knows precisely how to keep it running to the end. It is in that realm that championships are won, not solely on quicks. "In this sport," Stewart says with hardboiled lament, "the quick are too often listed among the dead."
But where Stewart transcends the greatness of drivers past is in his ability to lift the sport of motor racing out of its bed of clichés, out of its heroic silences, its dehumanized preoccupation with technology and high-speed technology's concomitant death. With his pipy voice and his peppy, gregarious ways, Stewart has become a supersalesman, not only for the products he endorses but for the sport itself. Who can believe in the myth of the gentleman driver any longer—the Portagos and Tripses with their monogrammed silk nightshirts and traveling wine cellars—with the evidence of Jackie around to refute it: a latter-day long-haired Harry Lauder, yet quicker and smarter than any gentleman driver? How can any driver or owner or team manager any longer fall back on the posture of stoical silence in the face of the horrors (and heroism) of racing death after Stewart's eloquent plaint in his book Faster! when he describes his reaction to the death of his close friend, Jochen Rindt? "I lay there thinking how stupid the whole business is, how futile and painful...how there is always the grief and the terrible pain that people go through when a thing like this happens. I kept seeing Jochen lying in the ambulance and I saw his left foot and I remember [his wife] Nina screaming that we were all mad when we wouldn't let her go to him and then her sitting all alone, with her eyes empty."
That was written in 1970, and since then Stewart has not only endured three full seasons of racing but won two more world championships. If courage consists of the ability to press on regardless of doubt or fear, then his career is how the word is spelled. "I've never felt cocksure," he says, "never felt overconfident. I've never gone into a race feeling I was better than the next man." That career began in 1961 when Jackie switched to motor sports after a highly successful beginning as, of all things, a trapshooter. Born in prime grouse shooting country, he was the son of an inveterate outdoorsman and sometime motorcycle racer who also ran a garage.
Jackie's brother Jimmy, eight years his elder, had raced sports cars with moderate success until a back-to-back set of wrecks convinced him that racing was too bloody risky. Jackie, the younger brother, had to take up the challenge. His mother would have none of it, having seen her older son hurt too often, so Jackie first raced anonymously, under the nom-de-course of A.N. Other. After a series of successes in sports cars, he was given his first test ride in an open-wheel car at Good wood in 1963, and broke the track record. Signed on the spot by Ken Tyrrell for his 1964 F-III team, Stewart was on his way. The next year, 1965, was his first full season in Grand Prix racing, and at Monza, driving for BRM, he won his first GP, ending up third that year in world championship standings. In 1966 Stewart won Monaco and then jumped over to Indianapolis—a popular move for European drivers in the mid-'60s, following Clark's success—where he was leading the race before an oil pump broke 10 laps from the end. Jackie pushed his car into the pits, a gesture of élan that won American approbation and set him on his way to immense popularity on this side of the Atlantic.
At Spa, for the Belgian Grand Prix that summer, Stewart had his only serious accident. Following the leader of the field on the first lap, he hit the rain-slick Masta Kink (track marshals had failed to post a yellow caution flag), skidded off "through a few trees and a stone wall and then ended up in a house." Trapped inside the cockpit with a broken rib and a separated shoulder, he felt gasoline rising through the ruptured fuel tanks—up to his armpits. "The electrics were still on and I couldn't shut them off," he recalls. "I was stunned and Bob Bondurant, the American driver, came running up, along with Graham Hill, and they couldn't free me. Then I heard a helicopter and I told them, 'It's O.K., here come the medics.' But it was only a cinema chopper. They were filming the movie Grand Prix that race, and they got some splendid footage. They very nearly got a wonderful bonfire, too, but the car didn't burn. Sitting in the gasoline that long, about 35 minutes, cost me all the skin from my chest down. It was painful to sit for the rest of the season."
Not that Stewart had been distant from death during the balance of his career. "I've had maybe six or eight close calls," he says, "incidents where something failed, maybe even myself, and the car has gone where I didn't want it to go. Just last March in South Africa, the brakes failed in a high-speed corner and I went into a dirt embankment, airborne part of the way. I recall thinking in a cold flash: Yeah, this is it. But it wasn't."
In the 1969 season Stewart and his Matra blew past everyone, winning South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Britain, and then clinching the championship in the Italian GP at murderous Monza where, in a 200-mile drag race, Jackie barely nipped his teammate, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, and his archrival, Jochen Rindt, in the closest F-I finish in memory. The next year Stewart switched to a new March Ford and entered the combat with high hopes. But the season proved a disaster in more ways than one. In the Dutch Grand Prix, Stewart's good friend Piers Courage, scion of the British brewing family, crashed his de Tomaso at Zandvoort and died in the subsequent fire. Jackie was severely shaken, and his psychological state was not helped by the new March's recalcitrance: it balked at every setup and he could not coax it into a good performance. The year belonged to Lotus and Jochen Rindt, who won five GPs and had the championship virtually clinched when the GP circus arrived once again at Monza. Jochen was Jackie's best friend in racing, lived just up the hill from him in Begnins, outside Geneva, and when he died in practice at Monza Stewart was desolate. He swore never again to make close friends in the sport. Rindt won the championship posthumously, but it was small consolation.
By 1971 Team Captain Tyrrell had perfected his own F-I car, and it was strong enough to win Jackie his second championship, denying it to a resurgent Ferrari team that at the outset of the season looked like it had the prize in the bag. Stewart won six GPs that year, earned in excess of $825,000 and was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In addition to F-I he campaigned a full season in the Can-Am series, giving the then-dominant Team McLaren a run for the money and at the same time gaining even more fans in North America. That year he started in 21 races, won nine of them for the busiest big-time season in modern racing history. He paid the price, however, in 1972.
That year, with the Tyrrell-Ford acting quirky, Jackie developed a bleeding ulcer that kept him out of a cockpit for a full month. The championship went once again to Lotus, this time with Brazil's steady young Emerson Fittipaldi behind the wheel. Moreover, the doubts that had been growing since 1970 were now more insistent, despite a whirl of activity that scarcely gave Stewart any time for sleep, much less philosophizing. "I looked around and saw that I was no longer the young charger," he recalls. "All the faces were new, and so young. Emerson, Ronnie Peterson, my new teammate, Fran√ßois Cevert. And people kept urging me to retire. I had to begin thinking about it.
"In April and May of this year, I found myself in an area of confusion, of confusion and spiritual loss. Something had started to gnaw in me, something far more painful than the ulcer. There was no way out. I was literally up against a brick wall—no way to escape something that I had engineered for myself. I knew deep down that unless I made a move I was going to become a robot with no...no...versatility? Options? Not that, quite. I had exhausted the supply, it seemed, except for the sheer thrill of driving. I'll never stop getting that pleasure. If I were driving fast only for pleasure, I'd drive until I was 110. But the rest of it, no. The ego trip had stopped some time ago. Everything around me—the other drivers, the scene, my nonexistent home life—it had all become a paler shade of white, lost its color.
"The family, that was the important thing. Helen and I had worked it out a long time ago, but things were happening to the boys. Paul is only eight and Mark not yet six, and kids that age can be cruel to one another. They attend a little school about 4,000 feet straight up from the house. Jochen's daughter Natasha attends there, and so do Jo Bonnier's kids. After Jo died at Le Mans last year, the word got around that racing driver fathers die. It was only a matter of time, the other kids said, that I would be dead, too. That knowledge was getting to be too much for my sons....
"You know, you can go a whole career in racing without losing anyone among your close friends, or maybe just one or two. But for me, everyone went. Jimmy Clark, Joe Schlesser, Lorenzo Bandini, Jerry Birrel, Mike Spence, Ludovico Scarfiotti, Bruce McLaren, Piers, Jochen, Jo (Seppi) Siffert, Jo Bonnier, even Pedro Rodriguez, and then Fran√ßois at the end of this season—though I could not have known it would happen when I made this decision. You know, there's a pocket of fluid inside there, near your heart, that secretes a balm of some mysterious kind and eases the horror. But mine has run out. It can't be eased any longer. In April I made the decision to retire at the end of this season, win or lose. I decided not to tell Helen or anyone else. That would subject them to a countdown game, a horrible one. And if I were to die with only three more to go, or two more, or in the last one.... I'm not afraid of it for myself, I don't think any driver is, because it can't hurt for very long. But it is the survivors who hurt the most...."
So 1973 proved to be Jackie's greatest season. Not only did he know it was his last, but he was campaigning a car that was inferior to at least two other marques: McLaren and Lotus. Yet he scratched together his five GP wins, enough to put him ahead of Fangio and Clark in total GP victories, a fine note to end it on. Then, at Watkins Glen, Cevert died in a practice accident. "It was a motoring accident," Jackie says, "not mechanical failure. I had sworn I would never get close to another driver again, not after Jochen, but I cannot control my affections as well as I can a car. It hurt, it hurt so very much."
A few weeks after he announced his retirement Jackie Stewart returned to Dumbarton, where he had grown up. It had been a busy week, as busy as any when he was still racing. A luncheon in London honoring him as Man of the Year for the third time. Chats with Prime Minister Edward Heath, himself an avid sportsman (yachting). Tea with the Queen. Popping in and out of Buckingham Palace.
His future fell into place: despite energy crises and the growing move to cut back on racing, Stewart will travel widely as a product and safety spokesman for Ford and Goodyear, and provide TV color commentary at races, "though not really too many."
In Glasgow, Jackie and Helen opened the Scottish Motor Show. It was wondrous to see them moving so fluently among those great, cold, glittering hunks of tooled metal—hulking Leyland tractors, solid Maserati sedans, a sleek, D-type Jaguar from the days of yore ("my brother Jim used to drive that car") and a more up-to-date Ferrari 512. There were champagne glasses stowed in the cockpit of the Ferrari. "You must understand," Jackie told the audience in his Harry Lauder burr, "Ferrari drivers always drink champagne while they're racing. In fact, they drive at a speed that permits them to." It was the contrast of the silent cars and the glib man: one realized again that these machines are only tools, animated by men, and that Jackie Stewart is still the most facile animator among us.
That evening Jackie and Helen drove down to Dumbarton to visit their parents. Helen's are both still alive. Jackie's father died two years ago, on the day Stewart was winning the Argentinian Grand Prix. His mother suffered a series of strokes some years ago, which cost her a leg. She lives now in a nursing home on the outskirts of Dumbarton. Jackie stopped first at the old gas station where it all began. He chatted briefly with its current owner, his friend John Lindsay ("no kin to the chap in New York"), and then stood looking back up into the moors behind the house. Traffic roared past on the busy Clyde side highway. "I never heard the traffic when I was a boy," Jackie said. "It was so easy just to take the shotgun and hike back up into the moors. There are still wonderful grouse covers up there."
But the highlight of the trip was the visit to Jackie's mother. "She was a real hot-shoe in the old days," Jackie says. "Fastest driver in these parts. She had the first TR-2 in the vicinity, also an early Jag. I think that's where Jim and I got our racing genes. But after Jim was hurt, she never accepted the fact that I was racing, never acknowledged it. We've never even spoken about it, though she used to blame Helen for letting me continue. She doesn't know yet that I've retired."
Inside the nursing home, the old people totter up to Jackie and shake his hand and tell him how glad they are that he has had done with it finally. His mother is bundled in a shawl in the sitting room, chainsmoking cigarettes. Jackie brings her flowers, chocolates, a carton of Rothmans King Size, a new butane lighter which she finds difficult to operate. She is delighted. She praises Helen's beauty, then looks at Jackie's long hair.
"Your hair is longer than mine, Jackie," she says. "You should get a perm. It'll do you a world of good, and it lasts a long, long time."
The old folks laugh heartily at that one, and Jackie joins them.
"Mother," he says then. "Mother, I'm through with racing, Mother." He has to yell, because her hearing is not so good anymore. She stares at him, uncomprehending. "I'm finished with it, Mother."
"Jackie," she says, still not understanding what he is saying, "I canna' watch it on the telly. I canna' stand to see it. I fear I shall see you upside down."
"But, Mother," he yells, half laughing, "I told you, I'm finished with it now. Through with it. No more racing. I've quit."
Then it dawns on her, and the old face, wreathed in wrinkles and cigarette smoke, breaks into a wide, young grin. And then she begins to laugh, immoderately, and Jackie joins in, and the both of them are sitting there in the half light, laughing and laughing and laughing.
Because, yes, he got away with it.