When I look back upon 1973, I can't say it was a good year. Sure, I won the races in England and Canada, and it is good for an American to win two GPs in one year. But it isn't enough. Even though I won those races I finished fifth in the world championship. I had done as well the year before.
On the USAC circuit the Indianapolis 500 was one of the worst races of my career. I started 10th, ran a few uncomfortable laps and finally lost it in the fourth turn and hit the wall at something like 150 mph. And that was the end of Indy, 1973.
Despite putting the car on the pole at both of the remaining 500s, Pocono and Ontario, things got no better. I failed to finish both races because of engine troubles. The two Grand Prix wins saved me from a very bad year.
A long time ago, when I was racing without much success or recognition and without encouragement from anyone, I used to think that if I persisted long enough I'd be sure to make it. I don't know how much persistence had to do with it, but the philosophy served me well. I'm making it now.
Fourteen years ago, even 10, I also was less tolerant. I thought that a racing driver's career was fairly short. I was very young and I figured that by the time I reached my so-called peak driving years, most of the guys at the level I was trying to attain would be retired.
And I was very cold about it, too. I knew some of those guys would be killed. But I also knew there were enough smart drivers around who would have retired from the sport so that not only would there be room, there would be the opportunity for me to prove that when I did reach a certain level of success the road wouldn't turn into a cut de sac.
I still feel that way. I'm almost where I want to be. This year can end with the world championship—given good luck.
Mentioning luck isn't to imply any lack of conviction about my own ability. In racing you need luck since you're working with a very complex mechanical device. You can have all the best people in the world and you still need luck.
You must be prepared to be apprehensive about being hurt or killed. That feeling exists. I know if I make any mistakes, it's going to penalize me in the race. I'm going to lose time. I'm going to lose. And that's as bad as anything I can visualize. It is the one thing I relate to most; the only thing I see as relevant. Understand, losing really hurts. To fail in the race is the most painful thing imaginable. The physical fear is another matter. You get shaken when various things happen on the racecourse, but during a race you are protected by a certain resilience. Perhaps if you gave much thought to some things that happened during a race you might faint...once the race is over. But those things don't register emotionally during the race itself.
The thought of being killed does occur to you if you're a racing driver. But if it occurred a lot, you couldn't drive. It can even be made to serve a purpose. What we do is fairly dangerous, and that's why I feel we should make as much money as we can.