Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Jim Clark Trail in the Scottish Borders

The Jim Clark Room in Duns
He started 72 Grands Prix, won 25 of them, claiming 33 pole positions, and won the World Championship twice. And this in an age where F1 mechanical reliability wasn't anything like it is now. Indeed, he only finished second in a Grand Prix once. In other words, when everything held together he tended to win. He also won an Indianapolis 500 (and was probably swindled out of two more) in just five attempts. He won the British Saloon Car championship (the forerunner of BTCC), and his skills in driving saloons were comparable with his F1 abilities. Indeed, he could put virtually anything with wheels under his magical spell, he was an accomplished F2 driver, sports car driver, once finishing third at Le Mans, and once genuinely looked like winning the RAC Rally, before crashing out. He even did NASCAR on occasion. And he died, tragically, too young at just 32. His international motor racing career in its entirety didn't even last ten years.

I'm not making this up. This guy existed. And his name was Jim Clark.

I was visiting family in Scotland recently and took the opportunity, for the first time in too long, to visit the Jim Clark Room in Duns, a small town around 30 miles south of Edinburgh. While Clark was born in Fife, he and his family moved to Edington Mains Farm, near to Duns, when Clark was six, where he was to farm in adulthood, and he remains synonymous with the area.

The Jim Clark memorial clock in Chirnside
The Jim Clark Room, though compact, is a fantastic achievement and tribute and I would strongly recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in motor sport. It is incredibly well-stocked with trophies from throughout Clark's short and successful career, as well as contains an impressive collection of photos, paintings, awards, model cars and other memorabilia. Many of the trophies from Clark's 25 Grand Prix wins are here, from his debut win in Belgium in 1962 right through to his penultimate F1 victory in Mexico in 1967.

But the Room is also successful in outlining that Clark was far more than just a world class F1 driver. Throughout his active motor racing career he barely had a weekend off, as he turned his hand to racing almost anything in the weekends between F1 events, and was invariably just as adept in them. If it had four wheels Jimmy could make it sing. The Indianapolis 500 victory trophy is here, as are his various other trophies and awards from his five appearances there. And the spoils from Clark's many successes in the saloons with his beloved Lotus Cortina are well represented, as are those from his exploits in sports cars, F2 and a variety of other disciplines.

This all seems unthinkable now, in an age where the F1 fraternity took a collective fit at Robert Kubica taking part in rallying, and also an age wherein many good, and some great, F1 drivers often try their hands at other motorsport disciplines with rather limited success it seems.

Jim Clark's grave in Chirnside.
Note it says 'Farmer' before all else
The Jim Clark Room was visited by one Ayrton Senna in the early 1990s, and judging by a look at the visitor book it continues to attract fans from right around the globe.

After the visit to the Jim Clark Room it was time for a short drive to the neighbouring village of Chirnside to visit Clark's grave as well as the clock in the village's centre that stands as a memorial to his achievements. As you go, it's easy to be astonished that such peaceful, picturesque and affluent countryside, speckled with quaint, attractive small towns and villages, could have given the world such an amazing talent and international superstar, without doubt the driver of the 1960s. Possibly the best ever. But in some ways, it does make sense. Not only was Clark's driving talent remarkable, so was his personality. He was a man who, perhaps more than anyone the sport has ever known, let his driving do the talking. Never grandiose or ostentatious, usually quiet and modest, often seeming on the outside pleasantly surprised by his success, rarely complaining about his workload or travel. Amazing for someone who had so much to be immodest about.

Indeed, his grave at Chirnside Church gives one more clue. The headstone says 'farmer' first, before going on to matters such as being twice World Champion, 25 times Grand Prix winner and winner of the Indianapolis 500. Sums the man up.

'Nuff said - the plaque on the memorial clock
More details on the Jim Clark Room

3 comments:

  1. I was staying in Wooler the other side of the border about five years ago on a short cycling holiday. I cycled over the border to visit his grave and the museum. The museum was a good experience and I sat by his grave for about half an hour. Did make me gulp when I read the gravestone and he was a Farmer before all else. This guy was my first sporting hero when I was a kid in the sixties. He was a school playground hero, but only saw him race on a 12" B&W TV screen. I was aged nine when he died. I can remember vividly when his death was announced on the radio and feeling quite sad. RIP Jim Clark.

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    1. Thanks very much for this, very nice stuff. Yes seeing his grave is very moving.

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