The race was an absolute grind: broiling Midwestern sun and a bumpy track. A few of the drivers had appealed to cut the distance down from 192 miles to, say, 120, but the officials had insisted that they go all the way. Off they roared and, sure enough, the first driver gave up with heat exhaustion on the 27th lap, a number of others following. And as if that were not enough, his mechanics had shaken their heads sadly over the condition of his car, and had cautioned him to take it easy, which is not his usual style. Through most of the race he followed instead of leading. When it was over, he was drenched with sweat and had lost six pounds. But Jackie Stewart (see cover) won it. When world champion Jackie Stewart races, he races to win.
That was almost two weeks ago at the Mid- Ohio Canadian-American Challenge Cup race in Lexington, Ohio. In the days to follow, Stewart popped up in Cleveland for a business breakfast, in Toledo for lunch and a bit of golf, in Akron to screen a TV commercial, in Chicago for six or seven personal appearances, he can't remember exactly, and in Mosport, Ontario, to drive tire tests for Goodyear, running in two days the equivalent of two or three more races. When all that was over there was another quick plane trip. Finally, Stewart looked up last weekend and figured that—if this were Sunday, it must be Elkhart Lake, somewhere in Wisconsin.
It was: the sixth race on the 1971 Can-Am circuit, a high-paying series that stars big-horsepower, two-seater, 190-mph sports cars on road courses calculated to shake them to pieces. The Mid- Ohio race a week before had been Stewart's second victory in the Can-Am season, and the entire series serves as a sort of sporting punctuation to the Formula I Grand Prix races—in which he already has won five and the world championship.
One might think that winning the world title would be enough reason for a man to take it easy and count his endorsements. Besides, there appears to be no way Stewart can win this new round: Can-Am is dominated, practically owned and locked up tight, by an outfit called Team McLaren, whose cars are the pride of the circuit and whose chief driver is the formidable Denis Hulme. The McLarens, in fact, had won 33 of the last 38 events.
So why race in Wisconsin? What makes the world's best driver run? It is not money: Stewart has loads of the stuff and husbands it well. He owns a rambling villa in Switzerland and is festooned with high-paying contracts and investments; he has so much money, when he races in Europe he brings along his own personal physician, and when he feels tense he flies in a masseur from Amsterdam to give him rubdowns. Never mind money. Jackie Stewart races for all the usual reasons: he is very good at it, he is a qualified technician at the game, he is a professional. But finally—he admitted it after arriving at Elkhart Lake last weekend—he is a romantic.
Fellow race driver Tony Adamowicz, who doubles as vice-president of a puckish group called Polish Racing Drivers of America, attributed Stewart's appearance in the American boondocks to something more than that. "He's really great," said Adamowicz. "He brings racing a little bit of class." British driving whiz Jackie Oliver, who charges through the series in a lively American car called "The Shadow," figures Stewart is "the total pro." Says Oliver, "He shows it in various ways. He's got the solid driving technique. He gets the best equipment. And, finally, it's the way he looks at danger. People say he bitches and moans a lot about safety; they say his constant harping on safety has to affect his driving. But what they don't realize is that Jackie is simply making a total profession about driving."
That sounds more like it. But still, there was Stewart over dinner, with that carelessly coiffed, sort of runaway hair-do tumbling down about the collar of his yellow turtleneck sweater, admitting that—for all the dour qualities attributed to the Scots—he was still enthusiastic-over the scene. He likes to think of automobile racing, he said, the same way most fans do: "The crowds pressing in close around the twisting, winding streets of, say, Monte Carlo. The movie people are there, just back from the film festival at Cannes. The jetsetters are milling around the Casino. It is rubbing shoulders with Europeans who regard Grand Prix racing the same way American fans do the Indianapolis 500. The lights, the sounds, the smells." Stewart regards winning races as suitably romantic, but winning at Monaco as a special sort of treat.
"It's the start of the Riviera season," he says, allowing himself a smile that crinkles up his craggy face. "Everything is spring-fresh. Nothing is spoiled. Everybody's sparkling and new."
All right, then: the little corduroy newsboy cap Stewart fancies, the trick hairdo are certainly glamorous in their way, but how does one tie that in with being the best race driver in the business today?
Stewart figures it is because he is both smart enough and Scot enough to mix in a bit of innate pessimism. "I've never felt confident going into a race in my life," he said. "People are always saying that if you're not confident, you're not going to win. But a man who is that confident is never anyone up there where the strong competition is."