It was exactly 40 years ago today that Britain lost the man who, to me and countless others, will always be the greatest racing driver of them all.
On the face of it, that’s a preposterous statement for me to make. Clark died seven years before I was born and precious little archive footage of him racing survives. Pretty much everything I knew about him is based on books, photographs and the good fortune to have spoken over the years to various people who knew him.
As a kid, with no knowledge of 1960s grand prix racing, my dad used to drive us between various relatives in the Scottish borders through the area that Clark grew up in – the town of Duns, which has posthumously adopted him as its most famous son, and the village of Chirnside which was actually closest to his family’s farm at Edington Mains.
Hearing about Clark, and seeing some of his trophies in the small museum in Duns, triggered my interest in a driver who was the antithesis of the sponsor-clad automatons of modern racing. This was a man who could make any car fast and who raced in numerous different disciplines. He took pole in over a third of the grands prix he started, won 25 of them (despite the shaky reliability of the Lotus cars he raced), took two drivers’ championships and won the Indy 500. On top of that he raced touring cars and other minor formula and was well on his way to a top-three finish in the 1966 RAC Rally when he crashed out.
He died in what can’t seem like anything other than a pointless crash, leaving the barrier-free track at Hockenheim in a Formula 2 race after what was most likely a rear tyre failure. He was killed just four days after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated; two icons of the era, dead within a week.
Clark was a modest man, and that’s how he’s remembered, without towering memorials or eternal flames. His grave in the Chirnside kirkyard is no bigger than those that surround it, its legend of “Pembroke Bermuda” testament to the tax problems that plagued the later part of his career. The village’s memorial clock, complete with a wireframe Lotus 49, is so understated that casual visitors are unlikely to even notice it.
But that’s no reason not to make the pilgrimage, and to experience some of the local roads on which Clark’s supreme talents were formed. Four decades on, his legend is undimmed.