SI Vault
Robert Daley
August 15, 1966
Growing impatient as the understudy in a two-man Grand Prix team, Scotland's talented young Jackie Stewart has begun charging ahead to make headlines—win, lose or crash
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August 15, 1966

When You're No. 2 You Drive Harder

Growing impatient as the understudy in a two-man Grand Prix team, Scotland's talented young Jackie Stewart has begun charging ahead to make headlines—win, lose or crash

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Within this decade a curious thing has happened to the world of Grand Prix automobile racing. The changing shape of race cars has dropped the drivers so deep inside that they have become all but invisible, as if the search for ultimate design had instead produced ultimate automation. And with invisibility has come silence. Jimmy Clark is a magnificent racing machine himself, but who really knows Jimmy Clark? Graham Hill, who looks like a riverboat gambler in flameproof coveralls, turns out to have a British reserve matched only by that blond Californian, Dan Gurney. And what do you hear lately from John Surtees and Jack Brabham? It would all be very discouraging, except that the designers have suddenly met their match. The car has yet to be built that will hide Jackie Stewart.

If international motor racing is truly in desperate need of a new face and voice, there seems little doubt that that face and voice belong to this 27-year-old Scotsman with the hot-rod personality. In an extraordinarily short space of time Stewart has proved that he is a potential winner of any race—and also that he can make as much news when he loses as when he wins. At Indianapolis, driving in his first 500, Stewart held the lead with only 10 laps to go. He lost when his oil pressure failed, but he won enough newspaper ink to float back to Scotland. At Monte Carlo it was Stewart who defeated the ranking Grand Prix drivers in the first world-championship race of the season. At Spa in Belgium it was Stewart who crashed most dramatically in a deluge of rain—and another vat or two of ink.

Stewart drives for British Racing Motors, whose No. 1 man for half a dozen years has been that same able but publicity-shy graham hill who won the grand prix title in 1962 and, of course, the 500 this year when Stewart's car failed to finish. Stewart is young. Stewart is ambitious. Stewart is not convinced that graham hill is the fastest BRM team driver. Moreover, Stewart is not at all reluctant to shove his foot into the accelerator of a race car when all about him are easing up on theirs.

This quality of fearlessness, if that is the word, was evident at the Belgian Grand Prix in June. As the starter flourished his flag, the sky was dark but dry. The flag whipped down, and Jackie Stewart surged off the line, engine screaming. As the cars roared down into the valley below the starting line and then up the steep curving hill opposite, he was in second or third position; there was too much exhaust smoke boiling up to tell for sure.

Two minutes later and four miles away, at a point halfway down the Masta Straight, a squall of rain came down. Stewart, making 150 mph—perhaps more—saw the squall ahead and did not lift his foot. Or if he did lift it, he did not lift enough.

In the rain Stewart could neither see nor steer. There was a centimeter of water between his tires and the road, the car was aquaplaning and it spun wildly round and round, hurtling down the road sideways, then backward at tremendous speed.

In the middle of the Masta Straight there is a kink, and when the out-of-control BRM reached this kink, it sailed off the road and began to hit things. Both front wheels were torn off. The car walloped a low brick wall, staving in one side, battering Stewart in the cockpit and bathing him in gasoline. The car dropped nine feet into the bottom of a concrete driveway beside a barn, and there came to rest.

The storm moved on over the speeding race cars, embracing all of them, wrecking seven. Seven more got through, one the red 3-liter Ferrari of Surtees, which was to win this race easily, but at an average speed of only 114 mph. Meanwhile the rain pelted down on Stewart, who lay pinioned for 15 minutes in his crushed car, up to his hips in gasoline, that part of him which was conscious terrified of fire. Hill and the American, Bob Bondurant, who had crashed closest to him. finally dragged Stewart out after unbolting his steering wheel and carried him into the barn. His skin was being scalded by the fuel, which is dosed with chemical additives, and even after Hill stripped off Stewart's fireproof coveralls Jackie was writhing with pain. They waited half an hour for the ambulance to find them. Later, as he lay naked on a table in the emergency room behind the pits ( Jim Clark was there, and Stewart's wife, Helen, was blinking back tears), Stewart was still squirming from the burning liquid on his skin and begging two nurses to "wash me all over." Clearly he was lucky that the crash happened on the first lap, with nothing on the car very hot, and in the pouring rain.

Stewart also was lucky enough to emerge with only painful, not critical, injuries: various hairline bone fractures, bruised kidneys and surface chemical burns over much of his body. However, there clearly was no serious damage to his ambition or nerve. By July 16 he was well enough to enter the British Grand Prix. He followed that up with the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on July 24.

In his return race Stewart was rolling in fourth place but retired with piston failure. In Holland he again was hit with "thick engine" but finished fourth behind Brabham, Hill and Clark.

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