LACar BOOK REVIEW: “JIM CLARK – The Best Of The Best”
By David Tremayne

Review by Doug Stokes

Jim Clark, a Scots farmer from Duns, Scottish Borders, and Berwickshire is considered by everyone who ever saw him drive a car in competition to be one of racing’s very best ever. He won two Formula 1 World Driving Championships, was the 1964 British Touring Car Champion, and won the 1965 Indianapolis 500. 

Clark raced in hundreds of sports and formula car races and was triumphant in more than half of all of the races he drove in regardless of the type of car or the venue. Jim Clark almost seemed to have some sort of magical power over his mounts.

Formula 1 World Driving Champion in 1963 and 1965, Clark died 50 years ago at age 32 on 7 April 1968 in a single car accident while racing in a minor Formula 2 race that he wasn’t even scheduled to compete in.

His death at the dark, foreboding, tree-lined Hockenheim circuit in Germany shocked racing world and saddened all of Europe where he had been hailed as a quiet, unassuming (almost shy) driving champion who had just about won everything in sight.

The stories are told that Clark was somewhat surprised that other drivers were not as quick as he. He always seemed totally at ease, concentrating on the task, calmly looking ahead, and simply going faster than anyone else on track. This shy, always-smiling young man never set out to intimidate other drivers, but he did it anyway with his ability to read a track and simply drive his race car at what racers  refer to as “10/10s” virtually every lap.

There are scant few stories (in this book and elsewhere) about Clark engaging in race-long, hammer-and-tongs battles with other drivers.  He (like the great Juan Manuel Fangio a generation before) always seemed to be racing the track itself almost not noticing the other drivers.

Author Tremayne’s new 520-page offering joins nine previous books (all listed in his excellent and useful bibliography) that have the name Jim Clark in the title, all chronicling this remarkable driving talent and tragically short life.

This oversize book would rightly be called a “coffee table” book, and this large format (9.5” x 11” and weighing just over four pounds) volume might require some reinforcement for some more spindly coffee tables. But for fans of the best of racing history this one will be well worth any minor carpentry required.  I must add that this book has a good bibliography and an extensive index that makes it not only a good reading experience but a strong reference source as well.

The choice of artwork for this one can only be called inspired. Every photo has a story to tell about Jim Clark and his life and times. Being a (very) long-time motor sports fan I thought that I had seen most of the photos of Clark. This book rocked me back on my heels with an incredible array (as noted above: 425!) of photos of this driver (in race cars and not) that I’d never seen (and could not help to simply rush into.*)

And the narrative is just as good as the photos that accompany it … David Tremayne’s 170,000 words here coming from the long perspective of history and the 50 years that have gone by since Hockenheim Ring, with a unique story about a quiet man who simply was the dominant racing driver of his day.

Whole race cars where literally built “around” him by the genius car designer Colin Chapman. Applying aircraft engineering and design principles to the chassis of a racecar, Chapman revolutionized the sport.  He built racing cars that were effectively light hollow tubes (like aircraft fuselages) which had mounting points for the engine and suspension and that carried their fuel load in rubberized tanks within the tubular structure.

Referred to as “monoque construction” the technique was a great step forward in design. And it was Jim Clark who effectively made it all work in perfect harmony.  Even today his name is inextricably linked to the name “Lotus”, the seemingly inappropriate name that Chapman gave his (anything but sweet and docile) creations.

And the words: “Lotus powered by Ford” here ring out loud and clear.  Clark was one of the drivers (along with American driver Dan Gurney) who made the “rear engine revolution” a reality at the Indianapolis 500.  Those tumultuous and challenging years are well-covered here.  In fact I believe that any student of racing history is well-advised to read this account of the struggle and eventual triumph that Jim Clark was a key player in.

This, as mentioned earlier, is a big book, and, as a serious history book it presents a lot of information about how the book was formed as well as a number of pages detailing with Jim Clark’s racing record from his first (ever) race (which he won by the way) at a place called Stobs Camp on June 30, 1954 driving a Sunbeam Talbot Mk3. On the other hand, and as a moving drama, this one reads with the same kind of fluidity that Clark showed in his driving. Here in a “D-Type Jaguar.

There’s a lot to read here for such a short life and Tremayne’s epilog may well be the toughest part to of this one to read and somehow be at peace with for a lot of this man’s fans.  Entitled: “What Might Have Been” it’s a poignant reminder of how nice a man and how great a driver Jim Clark had been.

Clark raced in competition with the very best of his time: Dan Gurney, Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Parnelli Jones, Jack Brabham, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bruce McLaren, Richie Ginther, Jochen Rindt, John Surtees, Innes Ireland, Chris Amon and many, many others who all respected his talent, and greatly relished racing with him.

To a man, they admired Jim Clark’s quick, clean driving style but even more they appreciated his friendliness and the sportsmanlike attitude that he brought to the highest levels of motor sport. He was as universally liked away from the cars and racing as he was feared on the track.  This was a nice guy who often beat the odds and finished first.

… No one really knows what really happened on the seventh of April 1968; Clark’s Lotus 48 spun off the road on a high speed corner and into the dense, ugly forest that surrounded the track.  It was over an instant and flatly unsurvivable. The greatest driver of the era was gone.

That was 50 years ago, and dwelling that one day when this young man had so many other triumphant ones seem a poor way to end his story, but that’s the way this one ended. What he accomplished is staggering, what might have been is not my cup of tea I’m afraid.

Again, this is a well-written and strongly illustrated book about a hero who died too young but who showed us what racing could look like when practiced at the very limits of physics. All in all a good read about a good man, and a truly great racing driver. –DS

 AFTERTHOUGHT: The subtitle of this book comes from another great driver who, in his day, was, like Clark, always the prime contender at every track, in any and all sorts track conditions and weather named Ayrton Senna.

Senna had dreamed up his all-time fantasy grid for the Monaco Grand Prix and a painting was to be made of his all-time racing grid he insisted that Jim Clark be painted as being in pole position, when he was asked why, the brilliant young driver simply said, “Because Clark was the best of the best.”

Comparing different drivers who raced in different eras to each other is likely a fun game often with endless running arguments.  When Jim Clark’s name is mentioned, it seems that no one really wants to play. I think that this book will explain why that happens.

 JIM CLARK – The Best Of The Best
By David Tremayne
Forward by Dario Franchitti
EVRO Publishers ISBN: 978-1-910505-16-8
530 Pages 425 photos $120.00 US

*By the way, it is not even a venial sin to page through a book as richly illustrated as this one. With a book like ‘Jim Clark’, one should not feel any pressure to start on the first page and march in a straight line from there. Looking ahead at the photos is OK and may even enhance the reading experience as one picks up hints of what’s to come. Besides, you’d have to have more self-loathing than self-disciplined to NOT pre-explore this one!