The Bookworm Critique

By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Atlas F1 Columnist

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Trying to get a manuscript that you've written about any racing driver published is no mean feat (unless your name is Christopher Hilton). It is especially hard if you are writing about a driver from an earlier era: publishers are first and foremost in the business to make money, and that means that rarely will they have trouble keeping their enthusiasm for a biography about any driver other than, say, Senna, Schumacher, and perhaps Fangio and Moss under check, no matter how well written, thoroughly researched, and insightful it may be. It's a sad, sad, sorry thing. When something else does manage to slip through the cracks, it makes you hope all the more that it was worth the effort. It's this that makes books such as Chris Nixon's account of the life of Richard Seaman admirable for the sheer fact that they exist, even if, in that particular case, Nixon seemed to have been firing on only seven cylinders.

No such problems with 'Jim Clark' though. This is a good book. A very good book, even.

This book first hit the shelves four or five years ago, and it's a little embarrassing that it has taken until now for it to reach this column. Better late than never though.

Dymock had a long association with Clark, as he states in his preface: "Scotland is a small country. Anybody closely connected with motor racing or rallying in Scotland sooner or later met everybody else, which is how I came to know Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart before either of them ever got into a racing car, and also before I wrote a single word for publication anywhere." (p. 9).

He maintained ties, both on a personal level and in his duties as a motorsport journalist, with Clark right up to that rainy day at Hockenheim in 1968, when the double World Champion and Indy 500 winner was killed in an accident during a Formula 2 race. The benefits of his knowledge of Clark as a person are richly apparent throughout this book, even if Dymock's feelings for his subject occasionally overstep the boundary between admiration and hero-worship.

The focus of the book is very much on Clark the man, as opposed to Clark the racing driver, which should come as a relief to those who are tired of purchasing biographies only to find that they are little more than extended race reports interspersed with the odd birth, death, and marriage.

Clark was an enigmatic character, that much I knew before I read the book. Just how enigmatic, though, was something of a revelation. I'm struggling to think of any biography that so successfully gives the reader an insight into how the subject's mind really worked. An example:

"The only way Jim Clark could prove to himself that he was more skilful or more adroit was to win. His means of applying the control he craved was to raise his level of stress which thus improved his powers of perception and reaction in accordance with the British Journal of Psychiatry findings I described. His powers of concentration must have been enormous, probably evidence of a keen intelligence and immense self-control

It was from this self control as much as natural ambition that his hunger for victories stemmed. Pressing forward his attack in the early stages of a race, the Clark hallmark of race tactics, was how he could best display control and ease the psychological longing that was now compelling him towards the next big step in his career, the Lister, Lotuses, and single-seater racing." (p. 120)

Such insights come in large part from the author's own observations, like his accounts of how, even after having known Clark for several years, he was still careful to tiptoe around certain subjects in conversation. But in the process of his research, Dymock also spoke to a startling array of people who knew Clark intimately - some on a personal level, some on a professional level, and some who were exposed to both sides.

The end result is intriguing - a man who seemed totally confident in his own ability, and yet commonly became extremely nervous prior to races, a man who refused to discuss money and yet often seemed to have no clue about his own financial value - and subsequently drove for substantially less than he was really worth. A guy who, literally, seemed to have no real idea just how talented he was, and found it hard to figure out why everybody had such a hard time keeping up with him.

To some extent, this all comes at the expense of Clark's actual on-track achievements. Landmarks such as World Championships usually represent the crescendo of these types of biographies, but in the case of this book, there's a very real danger that if you blink, you'll miss his world titles altogether. This is no bad thing. It's easy enough to look up Clark's career results - there are any number of books and websites that will give you his racing stats. But genuinely insightful information about the character of a driver who has been lost to the sport for more than three decades is not so easy to come by.

Coupled with some intriguing photos (albeit occasionally accompanied by excessively reverential captions), this book represents a worthwhile investment of both your time and your hard-earned. Dymock has writing style that's accessible and easy to read without being lightweight, and he brings Clark back to life in a way that few biographers manage to do.

In the process, he also paints a clear portrait of the atmosphere in mid-1960s Grand Prix racing. Enthusiasts of the era will no doubt have already checked this book out, but this book would also be worth a look for those more familiar with the wings and slicks era. Who cares if Clark died before you were born? This is one of the best available introductions to the racing of the era, and a brilliant account of the story of one of motorsport's greatest talents.

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Volume 8, Issue 7
February 13th 2002


The FIA's Court of Appeal: Part III
by Thomas O'Keefe

Speed Limits
by Karl Ludvigsen


Rear View Mirror
by Don Capps

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

The Weekly Grapevine
by The F1 Rumours Team

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