IN HIS nine-year career as a Formula One driver Jackie Stewart won three world championships and 27 Grands Prix, but his most significant race may well have been one in which he failed to finish a lap. In the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix a sudden rainstorm caused half of the field to crash, including Stewart, who aquaplaned off the unprotected Spa-Francorchamps course at 170 mph, knocking down a woodcutter's hut and a telephone pole. Stewart was trapped in the wreckage and sat in fuel-soaked clothes for nearly half an hour before being carted off (two fellow drivers loaded him onto a hay wagon).
This is an article from the Jan. 21, 2008 issue
Miraculously, Stewart's worst injury was a broken collarbone and he was driving again within weeks, but the accident left the young Scot, in just his second season of Grand Prix racing, determined to bring a measure of safety to what was then an appallingly dangerous sport. "What we have in F/1 motor racing today is heaven," writes Stewart, 68, in Winning Is Not Enough, his eminently readable autobiography (which, at 548 pages, is bigger than the Wee Scot himself but moves just as quickly). "What we had in the late 1960s and the early 1970s was hell."
Stewart—who counts 57 friends and colleagues lost in racing accidents from 1963 through '73—was largely responsible for that transformation, helping to found the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and pushing relentlessly for improvements in circuit safety even as he stamped himself as the finest driver of his generation. Stewart's own transformation, from remedial student in rural Scotland to jet-setting sports superstar (he was SI's Sportsman of the Year in '73) to international businessman and motor racing elder statesman, is no less remarkable, and he tells the story with candor and charm. Indeed, his familiar piping brogue is almost audible on the page as he recounts racing adventures and drops names (George Harrison, Queen Elizabeth, Jordan's King Hussein) with relish.
There is genuine emotion as well. Recalling the moment in 1973 when he told his wife, Helen, that he was retiring from driving, just hours after his friend and protégé Fran√ßois Cevert was killed in practice for the U.S. Grand Prix, Stewart writes, "'Now,' she replied, through her tears, 'we can grow old together.'" That such a prospect once seemed so unlikely shows how far the sport has come.
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