Over the years a long procession of headstrong, audacious drivers has stamped auto racing as a sport of rare adventure—and adventurous sports. No driver made his mark more indelibly than Tazio Nuvolari, the granite-jawed Italian hero of the 1930s who, often half-choked by exhaust fumes, hurled a bright-red Alfa Romeo along perilous roads as if storming a fortress singlehanded.
Now along comes a low-pressure driver who is so different from the romantic figures of racing he hardly seems to belong to the same breed. Yet today he is the world's No. 1 road-racing man, and there are many racing followers who will tell you he is among the best of all time. He is Jack Brabham (see cover), a self-effacing, good-natured, soft-voiced Australian whose most distinguishing characteristic is his prudence. His philosophy of driving, which in his mild way he has repeated to any who have asked him, is "to win a race in the slowest possible time."
Suiting deeds to words, he narrowly won the world driver championship last year with the most deliberate brand of speed yet seen in racing. He recaptured the title this year by taking no fewer than five of seven races. None of the victories was spectacular. All were as precisely competent as a Rolls-Royce clock. Perhaps his finest race this year was in the Belgian Grand Prix. Ruthlessly pursued for a time on the fastest, most hazardous course in Europe, he coolly led from start to finish. His average speed was a record-breaking and rather staggering 133 mph. Fittingly enough, he won in probably the least glamorous car ever to move away from a starting grid—the tiny, rear-engined Cooper-Climax from the tiny shop of Britain's John Cooper (SI, Aug. 1).
In some respects Brabham resembles that quiet giant of postwar racing, Argentina's five-time world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio was also a firm believer in making haste slowly. But on occasion Fangio would let his heart rule his head and unleash a galvanizing display of bravura driving. Outwardly nerveless, he seethed inwardly with the tensions of racing; he rarely could sleep the night after an event. Brabham has no trouble sleeping.
It is Brabham's very easy nature that has, until recently, detracted from his stature. People could not accept his refusal to go fast merely for the sake of speed—although that really was the reason for his success. In truth, he seemed a pale imitation of that romantic idol of British racing, Stirling Moss.
Moss was giving Fangio all the competition he wanted as long ago as the mid-1950s, when the little-known Brabham was slogging imperceptibly forward. Even today Moss is acknowledged by everyone, including Brabham, to be slightly the faster in getting around a race course.
After Fangio's retirement in 1957 it was assumed that Moss would promptly ascend his throne for an extended reign. However, his countryman, Mike Hawthorn, beat him in 1958; it was Brabham in 1959; and this year a crackup in practice for the Belgian race removed Moss once more from the running.
Moss's followers are convinced that he would have won in 1958 and 1959 if he had not been unnaturally tormented with unreliable cars. His critics are equally sure that Moss's damn-the-torpedoes style contributed to their fragility.
On and off the race course Brabham and his chief rival are as unlike as Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. Brabham, 34, is three years older than Moss. Nearly 6 feet tall, broad-shouldered and darkly handsome, he walks with the lazy shamble of a boy bound for school. All of his movements are deliberate, as is his conversation. On the speaking platform he does not shine. Reporting an English affair at which he was honored for his 1960 championship, the British press noted his "usual bashful speech."
Except for a taste for practical jokes (he specializes in the unexpected "banger," or firecracker), Brabham has none of the eccentricities or foibles that mark other drivers. One has grown a beard. Another dips snuff. A third chases skirts. Brabham is clean-shaven, neither smokes nor drinks and has been married to the same wife for nine years.