BOOK OF THE WEEK: Worthy reminder of Clark's stature

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The Independent Online
Jim Clark -Tribute To A Champion by Eric Dymock (Haynes Publishing, hardback, pounds 24.99)

For those above a certain age, an uncomfortable but unavoidable accompaniment to any race meeting at Hockenheim is a reminder of Jim Clark's death and the seemingly meaningless mission that took him to the circuit that fateful day in 1968. It was, after all, a Formula Two event. Try to imagine some of the more mediocre performers in yesterday's German Grand Prix on such a mundane errand.

But then that is how different the world of motor racing was then, and had Clark not been so contractually and psychologically controlled by Colin Chapman, the creator of Lotus, he would have been competing instead in a sportscar race at Brands Hatch.

Those who find it difficult to comprehend such a racing scene may be unfamiliar also with the story of the Border farmer who ploughed a furrow through almost every conceivable form of motor sport to reap a harvest equalled by very few.

Clark's stature is measured not merely by results but affection. That is probably reason enough for the publication of this splendidly illustrated book. Clark's fatal crash had much the same effect on fellow drivers and racing fans as Ayrton Senna's in 1994.

The 30th anniversary of Clark's victory in the Dutch Grand Prix, on the debut of the Ford DFV engine, provides another valid peg. This is, however, far more than the rewind of an engaging tale of a shy, naive young man who became world champion twice and winner of the Indianapolis 500.

The petrol heads will doubtless welcome Dymock's technical diligence; others may consider it overpowering. But all should appreciate the loving, yet critical, analysis of a driver so natural, confident and decisive in the cockpit, and so uneasy, vulnerable and indecisive out of it.

Dymock, with the help of those who knew him best, describes how Clark developed a safety mechanism to cope with the outside world but could not contain the mounting anxieties as more of his friends and colleagues perished on the track.

Clark began to wonder, as others had long done, whether Chapman had not taken too many risks in the design of racing's fastest cars. Dymock examines the work and character of Chapman, and the huge and lasting impact of Ford's involvement in racing, without losing the main thread of the book. Not that he claims fully to understand Clark, an essentially simple but also complex man.

He has, however, presented a most enlightening study of a driver readily ranked alongside the greatest of all time. He does not wash over Clark's frailties and the one conclusion to be drawn is that Jim Clark was human after all.