Jackie Stewart’s early involvement with cars was in the family business, Dumbuck Garage, in Dumbarton, Scotland, where he worked as an apprentice mechanic.His family were Jaguar dealers and had built up a successful practice. Jackie’s brother Jimmy was a racing driver with a growing local reputation. He drove for Ecurie Ecosse and actually competed in the British Grand Prix of 1953, or at least he did until he went off at Copse in the wet.
It was only natural that Jackie would soon become involved in motor racing like his older brother. After his brother was injured in a crash at Le Mans the sport was discouraged by their parents and Jackie took up shooting. In target shooting Stewart made a name for himself and almost made it to the Olympics only just missing the team for 1960.
But he took up an offer from Barry Filer, a customer of his family business, to test in a number of his cars at Oulten Park. Jackie Stewart impressed all who were in attendance that day. Ken Tyrrell who was running the Formula Junior team for Cooper heard of this young Scotsman from a track manager and called up his brother Jimmy to see if his younger brother was interested in a tryout. Jackie came down for the test and took over a car that Bruce McLaren was testing. McLaren at that time was already an experienced Formula One driver and the new Cooper F3 was a very competitive car in its class. Soon Stewart was besting the times of McLaren causing McLaren to return to the track for some quick laps.
Perhaps it was easier to win championships in those days. All we had to do was beat Colin [Chapman] really! – Ken Tyrrell discussing winning the World Championship with Jackie Stewart.
Again Stewart was faster and Tyrrell seeing the obvious, offered Stewart a spot on the team. This would be the beginning of a great partnership that would see them one day at the pinnacle of the sport. But this was still 1963 and Jackie Stewart still had a lot to learn. In 1964 he drove F3 for Ken Tyrrell and in the wet at Snetterton on 15 March, was dominant, taking an astounding 25-second lead in just two laps before coasting home to a win on a 44-second cushion. Within days, he was offered a Formula One ride with Cooper, but declined, preferring to gain experience under Tyrrell; he failed to win just two races in becoming F3 champion.
Since Tyrrell did not compete in Formula 1 at that time he joined Graham Hill at BRM in 1965. His first contract netted him £4,000! On his debut in South Africa he scored his first Championship point. Before the end of the year he won his first race at Monza. 1966 saw him almost win the Indianapolis 500 on his first attempt only to be denied by a broken scavenge pump with eight laps to go.
All the world seemed at his feet, until Spa. A sudden downpour made the course treacherous and cars were sliding off the track at an alarming rate. Stewart unable to control his car crashed into a ditch. His team-mate Hill said:
“I spun round like a top myself. When I came to a stop at the side of the road I saw Jackie’s BRM in the ditch. He was in considerable pain, trapped by the side of the car, which had been pushed in. The petrol tanks had ruptured and he was covered with petrol. There was a big risk of fire and I turned off the fuel pump switches and then tried to lift him out. The steering wheel was jammed up against his leg and it was obvious that this would have to be removed before I could get him out.”
“I lay trapped in the car for twenty-five minutes, unable to be moved. Graham and Bob Bondurant got me out using the spanners from a spectator’s toolkit. There were no doctors and there was nowhere to put me. They in fact put me in the back of a van. Eventually an ambulance took me to a first aid spot near the control tower and I was left on a stretcher, on the floor, surrounded by cigarette ends. I was put into an ambulance with a police escort and the police escort lost the ambulance, and the ambulance didn’t know how to get to Liège. At the time they thought I had a spinal injury. As it turned out, I wasn’t seriously injured, but they didn’t know that.”
“I realized that if this was the best we had there was something sadly wrong: things wrong with the race track, the cars, the medical side, the fire-fighting, and the emergency crews. There were also grass banks that were launch pads, things you went straight into, trees that were unprotected and so on. Young people today just wouldn’t understand it. It was ridiculous.”
“If I have any legacy to leave the sport I hope it will be seen to be an an area of safety because when I arrived in Grand Prix racing so-called precautions and safety measures were diabolical.” From that day on he would have a spanner taped to the BRM’s steering wheel.
Together with Louis Stanley, the leader of the BRM team he launched a campaign to improve safety standards and medical facilities in the case of injury. An so he began a long uphill fight that still continues to this day. His speed was readily apparent to all those around him yet some questioned his courage because of his outspokenness in favor of greater driver safety. His driving style was marked by almost machine like consistency. When Tyrrell moved up in class to Formula 1 Stewart joined him. In 1969 at the wheel of a Matra-Ford he won the World Championship for himself and Ken Tyrrell. In 1971 he repeated as champion racing a Tyrrell.
The following year saw him missing some races because of illness brought upon by stomach ulcers. In 1973 his final year, was marked by triumph and tragedy. His third and final World Championship was marred by the death of his friend and protégé Francois Cevert. Jackie Stewart followed through with a decision that he had made at the beginning of the year and retired from racing. His 27 Grand Prix wins were not equaled for another 20 years. In 1997 Jackie Stewart returns to Formula 1 not as a driver but team owner in partnership with his son and Ford Motor Company.
“After the warm-up lap, Jackie thought there was something amiss with the brakes, and the mechanics found the brake balance bar was actually broken! No time to do anything about it of course, so he had to do the whole race – at Monaco, of all places – with front brakes only. Afterwards we took out the rear pads, and they were like new, untouched…” Ken Tyrrell describing Stewart’s flag-to-flag victory at Monaco 1971