Jackie Stewart: The Flying Scot of Racing
Also known as the “Flying Scot,” Jackie Stewart is a renowned Formula One driver from the 1960s and 1970s. Stewart took home 3 world titles and participated in the Can-Am championship. After his career as a race car driver ended, he went on to become a popular commentator, consultant, and racing team owner.
Sir John Young Steward, OBE* was born on June 11, 1939 in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Stewart’s interest in cars piqued at an early age, as his family owned Dumbuck Garage in Milton. Racing was in the Stewart’s family blood, as Stewart’s father has previously a motorcycle racer and his brother, Jimmy, was a popular race car driver.
*(OBE is a designation for Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. The designation merits people in the public eye who make major impacts locally, whether it has to do with the media, business, or a well-known charity.)
In 1953, Jackie Stewart competed in the British Grand Prix with the team, Ecuri Ecosse. Although his parents discouraged their sons from racing after Jimmy was injured, Jackie accepted an offer by Barry Filer to test his cars at Oulton Park.
During the test runs, Jackie Stewart left a major impression on the spectators. Ken Tyrrel of Cooper soon heard of Jackie, and quickly contacted his brother to arrange a tryout. Tyrrel was suitably impressed by the fast times Stewart showed and asked him to join the team in 1963.
In 1964, Jackie Stewart participated in Formula 3 racing, and experienced his first win at the Snetterton Motor Racing Circuit. In 1965, he joined the British Racing Motors (BRM) team to complete in Formula One (F1). He debuted South Africa, and later gained a victory at the Formula 1 Silverstone Circuit in England, winning the BRDC International Trophy.
Unfortunately, in 1966, he would have won the Indianapolis 500 had it not been for a mechanical glitch. To compensate, race officials awarded Stewart with the Rookie of the Year award. During the Belgium Grand Prix of 1966, Stewart was involved in a terrible crash as the result of rainy weather. Well-known race car driver and team mate, Graham Hill , rescued the driver.
Because of this Belgian Gran Prix experience, Jackie Stewart was inspired to campaign and promote better safety measures in the sport of auto racing. Some of the improvements included removing the steering wheels and main electrics switch, and the BRM provided a medical truck to serve during crashes or emergencies.
In 1968 and 1969, Jackie Stewart drove F1 for Ken Tyrrell. Behind the steering wheel of a Matra MS80, he became the 1969 World Champion. He again became an F1 World Champion in 1971 and 1973.
During his racing career, Jackie Stewart received wide-spread recognition, including the Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year,” and BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Year,” awarded in 1973. The title “Sir” was given to Stewart in 2001. Even after retiring as an F1 driver, Jackie Stewart, the Flying Scot, has exerted a great deal of influence on the sport of auto racing.
Announcing His Retirement – 1973
On October 14, 1973, Jackie Stewart announced his retirement from the world of auto racing. He left the sport a champion, as he won 27 Grand Prix events, a record. At the time Stewart said, “As of today, I am no longer a racing driver. I have retired and . . . am very happy about it. At the time of his retirement, Jackie Stewart was 34 years old.
The retirement of the world champion driver did not come as a surprise. Even though he made around half a million dollars racing at the time, he had several commercial commitments – commitments that still would keep him close to the field of racing. Also, Stewart suffered from bleeding ulcers during the 1972 racing season, which forced him to cancel several races for treatment.
Jackie Stewart was profoundly saddened by the deaths of racing greats, especially the passing of his close friend, Jim Clark, who died in 1968 on the Hockenheim, West Germany racing circuit. Close to Stewart’s retirement, yet another driver and a team mate, Francois Cevet, died during a practice lap in Watkins Glen, New York. At that time, Stewart withdrew from the race. It would have been his hundredth Grand Prix racing event. Stewart said he had decided to retire in April 1973. He just delayed making an announcement until he felt he was ready, and it was the right time.
Needless to say, Jackie Stewart had a lot of influence on and off the race track. You cannot help but commemorate a man who won 27 Grand Prix events in the span of only 8 years. That is an astounding, if not incredible, record of achievement. One wonders what would have happened if Stewart had decided not to enter the racing field. After all, his first sport, where he did well, was clay-pigeon shooting. He shot for both Great Britain and Scotland during his youth, between 14 and 23 years old.
While most sports people struggle to fill the void left by their glory days, Jackie did not worry about filling any type of space between racing and the work he did after retirement. He quit as a world champion and that designation stayed with him and has followed him ever since. He claims that his wife, Helen, has been a major support in his life. They married in 1962 when Jackie worked as a mechanic in his father’s garage.
The couple raised two children. One son, Mark, became a TV producer while the other son also became a racing driver. Jackie and Paul founded the Stewart Grand Prix racing team. In addition, Jackie Stewart has actively served in a variety of charities – causes that are associated with dyslexia to dementia. Stewart, himself, has dyslexia, and dictated, instead of wrote, his autobiography. He has also worked tirelessly to make safety improvements in the auto racing field.
Improving Racing Safety
Stewart said that race cars did not come with safety belts when he began in Formula 1. He added that he was the first driver to wear seatbelts as an F1 driver in 1966. Both the tracks and cars are safer now because of Stewart’s early efforts.
Stewart believes that F1 Grand Prix racing is now safer than any other sport in the world. On one recent practice run, a car rolled over 6 times with pieces taking flight and the sounds of the crash reverberating in the air. Still, the driver of the vehicle got out of the car and walked away, thanks to innovations and the conscientious efforts of people, like Stewart, in the auto racing field.
Jackie Stewart’s Life Today
Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen, who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, live in Ellesborough, a Buckinghamshire Village, where they reside on a 140-acre farm. The land was once the hunting ground of Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country house. Before then, the couple lived in Begnins, close to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The house in Begnins was sold to entertainer, Phil Collins.