Saturday, 14 January 2017

Jim Clark - Tribute to A Champion - Eric Dymock

Jim Clark is possibly the most gifted racing driver ever to emerge from British shores, yet his public profile was never as high as several of his contemporaries or near-contemporaries. Graham Hill was a charismatic extrovert who enjoyed the limelight and public affection, whilst Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart survived their racing careers to achieve a high media profile in the ensuing decades.

Clark's comparatively low level of recognition with the general public may be put down to his reserve and reticence, and these and other elements of his make-up are examined in Eric Dymock's book, first published in 1997. The common perceptions about him may have clouded a more complicated and nebulous picture. The book devotes much space to assessing Clark's character traits and psyche, in addition to his feats on the racetrack.

Much emphasis is placed on his upbringing in the Scottish Borders farming community, as well as his education, and all this provides a more rounded portrait of the man than is often projected by superficial and condensed television documentaries and internet "screenbites".  This once again reinforces my conviction that if you want to acquire a nuanced understanding of a subject, don't rely purely on "audio-visual" media;read books, too.

Dymock's book has a quirky flavour and structure to it which I found quite appealing, eschewing a dry chronological story, and occasionally going off on tangents to explore sub-texts. Don't expect an exhaustive documentation of race results and chassis numbers. There is some input from people who knew Clark well, and their observations merely serve to strengthen the enigma. 

What emerged for me was a sometimes melancholy tale, not a smooth and seamless fairytale. The contradictions inherent in motor racing come through;people were entranced by aspects of the sport, but also had to reconcile themselves to its more unsavoury realities, especially the dangers and risks. Also, the true nature of the sport in the Sixties was perhaps not as idyllic and wholesome as is sometimes made out.  Some of that era's most revered exponents were not as perfect and heroic as some might like to hope, and Dymock does not flinch from highlighting some of the flaws. 

An illuminating and intriguing read...

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