Proposed Jim Clark Museum. Images courtesy The Jim Clark Trust, unless otherwise noted.
Jim Clark was, by most period accounts, the best racing driver of his day, and quite possibly the best of all time. In 72 Grand Prix starts, Clark amassed 25 wins, 33 pole positions, and two F1 World Championships (plus an Indy 500 win), all before losing his life in a 1968 crash at the age of 32. Today, Clark is remembered with a modest single-room museum in Duns, Scotland, but the Jim Clark Trust is hoping to raise money, via crowdfunding, to construct a museum befitting his contributions to motorsport.
Clark was not born into a racing family, and didn’t learn his craft by attending racing schools or competing in feeder series from a young age. Instead, Clark honed his driving skills in the pastures of his family’s farm, and didn’t begin competing in local rallies until age 20. Just four years later, in 1960, Clark was driving for Lotus in Formula 1, after impressing company founder Colin Chapman with his ability to coax the absolute maximum performance from a racing car.
Clark nearly won the 1962 Formula 1 World Championship for Lotus, but an oil leak and an early retirement in the season’s final race gave the points, and the championship, to Graham Hill. The following year, 1963, Clark would storm back with a record-setting seven victories in a 10-race season, finishing with 54 championship points, compared to the 29 points earned by runners-up Graham Hill and Richie Ginther.
Jim Clark and crew at Indianapolis in 1965. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.
Reliability problems dogged Clark during the 1964 season, in which he finished third in points, but 1965 would be another banner year for the Scot. In addition to capturing his second Formula 1 World Championship (with six victories in nine races), Clark drove a Ford-powered Lotus 38 to victory in the Indianapolis 500, leading 190 of the race’s 200 laps and earning the first victory for a rear-engine (or, more correctly, a mid-rear engine) car at the Brickyard.
Clark was renowned for his car control skills, and in the days when driver deaths were a regular occurrence, managed to escape serious injury in eight-plus seasons of Grand Prix racing. On April 7, 1968, Clark entered a Formula Two race in Hockenheim, Germany, at the request of sponsor Firestone. On lap five of the event’s first race, his Lotus suffered a component failure (most likely a deflating rear tire), which sent him off-track and into a stand of trees. Clark suffered a broken neck and a fractured skull in the crash, and died of his injuries before reaching the hospital.
Clark’s death stunned the racing world, and as fellow driver Chris Amon (who drove a Ferrari at the Hockenheim F2 race) put it, “If it could happen to him, what chance do the rest of us have?” Perhaps better than any words penned before or after, Amon’s pensive reflection summed up the respect that other drivers, in numerous series, felt for Clark.
Artist rendering of new Jim Clark Museum.
Clark’s fatal crash ultimately helped to bring about changes that improved motorsports safety in the 1970s and beyond. Among the most vocal proponents of safer cars, tracks and equipment was Sir Jackie Stewart, a friend and contemporary of Clark who now serves as the Honorary President of The Jim Clark Trust. The organization is currently trying to raise £300,000 ($368,000) to construct a proper museum in Duns, one better able to tell Clark’s remarkable story to the world.