Some Background on Jim Clark’s Last Race

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Jim Clark at the 1967 U.S. Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Rtsanderson via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday, I published my first longform feature for Bleacher Report. It is the story of 1963 and 1965 world champion Jim Clark’s final Formula One race.

I pitched the story two months ago and my editor was immediately interested. I had been searching for a while for a topic for a longer feature, but everyone in modern F1 is so inaccessible—and the market is so over-saturated with coverage—that I decided to look elsewhere. My degree is in history, so it was natural that I would look to the past.

It has always fascinated me that Jim Clark won his final F1 race (his last three, actually!) before he died at an Formula Two race in Germany. Only one other driver, Luigi Fagioli, won his last F1 grand prix…and his was a shared drive with the great Juan Manuel Fangio (guess which one of them actually took the chequered flag).

One day, I was looking for some info on that last race before Clark’s fatal accident, the 1968 South African Grand Prix, and realised almost nothing had been written about it. That is partly because it was not a particularly significant race at the time—yes, Clark broke Fangio’s record for wins, but everyone expected many more—and partly because the focus naturally fell on the race where Clark died, three months later.

I quickly figured out that there were only eight drivers still living from the 23 who started the race, so I started tracking them down. Most did not have a ton of vivid memories of the race, but everyone had memories of Clark, even the guys who didn’t know him well.

One of my favourites, which didn’t make it into the final story, was from Basil van Rooyen, a South African driver who was making his F1 debut at his home race. Van Rooyen was at Brands Hatch for a saloon car race and he aquaplaned off the track at Hawthorns Bend, flipping his car on its side.

After climbing out, the next thing Van Rooyen saw was Clark coming around the curve in his famous Lotus Cortina, one hand on the wheel, the other giving a thumbs-up sign to Van Rooyen, checking to make sure he was OK. I could just imagine Clark doing the same thing on the farm roads in Scotland, checking to make sure a neighbour was OK as he drove by.

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Jim Clark at the Nurburgring in 1965. (Photo credit: Lothar Spurzem via Wikimedia Commons)

I ended up talking to five of the eight living drivers for the story. Dan Gurney declined, as he is working on an autobiography and didn’t want to scoop himself. I got one of Jacky Ickx’s representatives to contact him to ask for an interview and he never responded—she said that is not unusual (and had warned me that would probably be the case beforehand), as he is enjoying his retirement. And the last one I did not interview was Jackie Stewart, Clark’s fellow Scot, who—astute businessman that he is—charges for his interviews.

But five out of eight is pretty good—I could go to every F1 race for a year and not get half-an-hour alone with 60 percent of the current drivers.

There were two major challenges for the story. The first was that I wanted to capture some of Jim Clark’s voice, but, as Robert Daley told me, “You could talk to him any time you wanted, but he didn’t have much to say.

“Phil Hill was the best talker of them all and [Stirling] Moss was second…and Clark was down in 25th or something.”

I still managed to get a few good stories, like Clark telling Brian Redman about his exercise regimen, or discussing farming with Chris Amon while they fished off the coast of New Zealand in the last weeks of his life.

Dave Sims, Clark’s mechanic at that fateful F2 race, also had a great story about Jim Clark, talentspotter:

Jimmy came back from America once when he was doing some Indy testing and he said, ‘There’s a guy over there called Mario Andretti. That guy—his car control’s incredible. If he ever goes into F1, he’ll be the world champion.’

And we all laughed at him…’Yeah, yeah. They only turn left over there, you know.’

Jimmy was spot on with that one.

The other problem with reporting this story was that most of the main characters were dead. Clark, obviously, but also his team-mate, Graham Hill, and Lotus boss Colin Chapman. Luckily, I was able to speak with Bob Dance and Tony Rudlin, who were both working for Lotus that weekend.

I re-read two of my all-time favourite stories a couple times while reporting and writing mine: Sebastian Junger’s “The Storm” and Chris Jones’ “Animals”. I found Junger’s piece relevant to my story because all of his protagonists had died by the time he started reporting his story, too. As for Jones, well, I was trying to channel his ability to create and build suspense, even in a story where many of his readers probably knew (or could at least guess) the final outcome.

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Jim Clark (in blue) at the 1966 German Grand Prix. (Photo credit: Lothar Spurzem via Wikimedia Commons)

I wrote some of the story as I was still interviewing—the section about the perils of racing in the 1960s, for example, came to me as soon as I heard Daley’s story about Jackie Stewart and his wife. Same with the ending. Brian Redman was one of the first people I interviewed and when he told me how he found out about Clark’s fatal accident, I knew immediately that’s how the story would end.

The lede, on the other hand, changed as I wrote. Originally, I was going to set the scene with what was happening around the world on that New Year’s Day. Then I decided to start right at the beginning of the race, with the tension building immediately. Hopefully it carries right through the story.

To finish this off, here is one final, random memory, courtesy of Andrea de Adamich, who drove for Ferrari in South Africa: “Jim was not very, very slim like the drivers of today. He was with a little bit of meat around his body.”

Grazie, Andrea. Now, get reading!

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Princesses, Cars and Nature vs. Nurture Parenting

halloween

Hallowe’en 2014.

We have two kids: a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. We try not to push them in any specific direction when it comes to their interests. They have lots of different toys and books and whatever they are interested in, we help them learn more about it.

My wife always tells them, “There’s no such thing as girl toys or boy toys…you can play with whatever you want.”

But here’s the thing: Our daughter spends about 90 percent of her day playing with dolls and princesses and ponies—”girl toys”—and our son spends the same amount of time playing with cars and dinosaurs and whatever he can find that looks vaguely like a weapon—”boy toys”.

Of course, there is nothing unique about this. I saw Elizabeth Banks on The Tonight Show this week night talking about how her two boys are obsessed with trucks. Jimmy Fallon acknowledged that his girls, well…not so much.

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Ready for a football game. Note the improved ball security from the previous photo—we have been practicing. Everett Golson could take lessons.

What I find fascinating is that, with almost no pushing in either direction, both kids automatically gravitate towards the things they are “supposed” to be interested in. There is some cross-over—Ava loves Star Wars and F1 racing and Michael has a favourite My Little Pony, Pinkie Pie (apologies to Mike if his friends find this post in 10 years)—but their favourites are definitely princesses and car, respectively.

Ava’s latest game is “adoption.” She sets up all her stuffed animals and dolls and pretends she is adopting them and that she has to take care of them as their mom. Michael likes to set up his dinosaurs in a circle around one smaller dinosaur and pretend they are all mauling it to death (his response if you tell him some of them are plant-eaters: “Not I care.”). When he plays cars, the cars mostly just smash into each other and flip upside down (“Them have crash!”).

We can tell them there are no boy or girl toys all we want (my wife said it this morning), but—in this case, anyway—nature has defeated nurture.

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Beauty and the Beast Live-Action Movie Casting

So, Disney is making a Beauty and the Beast live-action film…not exactly a surprise, given the recent success of other animation-to-live-action crossovers and the long-running Beauty and the Beast Broadway musical.

Last week, my wife and I had a long discussion about untitledcasting the movie…

OK…I had a long discussion; she nodded politely and then made it clear that she didn’t want to hear about it anymore. So hopefully she doesn’t see this post.

I was born just before the Disney Renaissance began, so I grew up watching The Little MermaidAladdinThe Lion KingBeauty and the Beast and all the others over and over with my brother and, later, my sisters.

Now, with two young kids, I’ve been re-watching all of those late-80s and early-90s classics (with a healthy dose of Cars and Frozen mixed in).

Anyway, my favourite moment in Beauty and the Beast is the one verse sung by the Beast in the song Something There. In fact, those 35 words are the only ones sung by the Beast in the entire movie. It’s true—don’t believe me, ask the dishes! (Sorry.)

Despite only having four lines to showcase it, the actor who voiced the Beast, Robby Benson, has a fantastic singing voice. Here, listen:

In addition to acting, Benson is a director, professor, composer, producer and a bunch of other stuff. What he is not—or what he will not be—is the Beast in the upcoming live-action film. Instead, his role will be taken by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame.

Photo credit: robbybenson.com

Photo credit: robbybenson.com

Now, maybe Benson doesn’t want the role. That would be understandable. He is 59 and he might be tired of being known as “The Beast”.

But when asked about reprising his role as the Beast in a 2012 MovieWeb interview, Benson said, “I’m always honored. They always come to me. They are very loyal. But I am sure, one day, they will find a sound alike. And pay them cheaper, and kick me out of the loop (laughs). Until that happens, I want to be the guy.”

So then maybe Disney thinks Benson is too old to play the prince in his human form—but that is only about two percent of the film. The other 98 percent of the time, he is in Beast Mode, as it were, and it could be Benson or Dan Stevens or Marshawn Lynch in the costume and the audience wouldn’t know the difference. Although I’m sure we will when those four lines are sung.

About 14 different actors combined to play the role Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader…we can’t have two guys playing the Beast/prince?

But hey, at least they nailed Josh Gad as LeFou.

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Realistic Dreams

My daughter Ava is always talking about her dreams. “It’s my dream to do this,” or, “It’s my dream to do that.” She has lots of different interest157s and her dreams reflect that, but her “dreams” are not what we think of as dreams—winning the lottery, a dream job. Her dreams are just so…realistic.

Example: When she was three, her dream was to see a rainbow. She told us that, repeatedly. One summer evening, we were driving home through a rain shower. As it started to let up, I said it was the perfect time for a rainbow. Sure enough, one appeared. We grabbed Ava and ran across the street so she could see it…and she was so happy to see it.

Last year, we were talking about airplanes and how they can fly right through clouds. She said it was her dream to touch a cloud.

Well, a few months later we went on a road trip through the U.S. and drove along the Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was an overcast, drizzly day and at a fewava cloud points we were high enough that we were driving through the clouds. We rolled down the windows and, well, look.

Dream accomplished!

Just before the Academy Awards last month, she was asking about them and my wife and I were explaining. Ava said, “One day, I really want to make a movie.”

“Cool,” I told her. “Do you want to be an actress? Or the director, who tells all the actors what to do?”

“No,” she replied. “I want to make a movie…like the case the DVD comes in.”

Another realistic dream.

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 7.33.30 PMTwo weeks ago, I took her to Montreal to see Frozen Disney on Ice. On the way, we crossed over  a small bridge and I pointed it out.

“But Dad,” she said, “I’ve always wanted to walk over a bridge.”

“We’ve walked over lots of bridges,” I reminded her. “On hikes, at the sugar bush…”

“No. It’s my dream to walk over a bridge with water under it.”

I guess it won’t be long before we can fulfill that one, either. There’s something to be said for dreaming small.

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If You Write It, Will They Come?

I think this is a universal feeling for writers: You write something you are really happy with—really proud of—and then no one reads it. No one shares it. No one talks about it. You try to tweet it out to a few strategic people, but it doesn’t get any traction, and you don’t really know why.

A few months ago, four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel had his first test with Ferrari, the most successful team in the history of the sport. It was a big story, as Vettel had been hired away from Red Bull—the team that had nurtured his career since he was 11—to restore Ferrari to glory.

The Ferrari test track is in the town of Fiorano, Italy, near the team’s factory in Maranello. Although the test was private, I started seeing people posting photos and videos of Vettel in the car on Twitter.

Ferrari fans—the tifosi—were literally climbing the fences around the circuit to catch a glimpse of Vettel in the scarlet car.

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I thought that was really cool and provided a unique angle to the story, so I tracked down a few of the guys who were at the track that day and got their stories. I got a few really good quotes about what Ferrari and Vettel’s arrival meant to them and I wrote this story.

I thought it was one of the best pieces I had written in my year as an F1 columnist at Bleacher Report, but it didn’t even garner the average number of reads one of my B/R stories does (even though I spent much more time promoting it than I do with a regular column).

Even if no one had read it, I would still be really proud of my story, but…well…it’s just kind of a bummer.

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Blog saga

And now, the moment no one (other than me) has been waiting for: I finally have a personal blog up and running!

I have another blog, The Parade Lap, but it’s all Formula One, all the time. This one will only be some F1, part of the time—promise.

Anyway, I tried to set this up a few months ago using the blog macro from Webs, where my website is hosted. The functionality was, let’s say…underwhelming.

This is an inelegant work-around, with links back and forth between my site and WordPress, but at least now I can get the blog the way I want it. The first post, just below this one, is a carry-over from the first attempt, but now I will start posting new stuff here.

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Marie Antoinette

Like most girls her age, my daughter loves princesses. Of course, she likes BelleScreen shot 2015-03-12 at 5.20.57 PM and Rapunzel and Elsa—all the Disney princesses—and even Princess Leia (who is now a Disney princess, I guess).

But a while back, she got a book from the library about real princesses (and queens) like Cleopatra, Princess Diana and Marie Antoinette.

Ah, Marie Antoinette. For some reason, she latched onto her and the infamous Queen of France quickly became her favourite. But just knowing the basic story of Marie Antoinette was not good enough for her. She pumped my wife and I for as much information as we were willing to give her (do four-year-olds really need to know the mechanics behind the guillotine?) and then she moved on to her grandparents, her teachers, any other available adults…

It wasn’t enough for her to know that the French people were angry at the monarchy for their decadent lifestyles and that they threw them in jail.

What happened next?ma

It wasn’t enough for her to know that they eventually killed the king and Marie Antoinette.

How did they do it? What’s a guillotine? How does it work?

Well, eventually she learned exactly what the guillotine did to them and then proceeded to describe it to her teachers. We reminded her that her friends didn’t need to hear the story.

It got to the point where I couldn’t keep up with her questions. Finally, I told her she would get one Marie Antoinette fact each day—she had a pug named Mops; she never actually said, “Let them eat cake!”—which slowed the flood of questions.

Screen shot 2015-03-12 at 5.28.01 PMShe also had a Marie Antoinette/Versailles-themed party for her fifth birthday, although I think as far as her friends were concerned it was another in the endless string of princess parties. The nuances of 18th century French court life were somehow lost on them.

Obviously there are some things kids don’t need to know, but I am always fascinated by what fascinates them. My son just turned three, so he is not yet pushing those intellectual boundaries the way my daughter is. But whenever they do push them, I want to give them as much information as they can handle…and maybe just a bit more (*wife shakes head*).

(In case you’re wondering, I found that last photo on the wall outside my daughter’s class. I asked her why she picked Mary to dress up as and she said, “Because she’s the queen of Heaven.”)

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