Jim Clark, in his Lotus 18-37 during the 1961 Pau race
Recently, my family and I had to venture back to Scotland for a funeral, which was sad, but we decided to make the most of it and so spent an extra week touring the Highlands, where my wife and her family are from. I did a lot of driving in those seven days, up one side of the country and down the other, which is a topic for an entirely separate column on the joys and terrors of driving on the “wrong side” of the road (whether you’re American, Australian or British!). But early on in our journey we motored through a quaint little village called Kilmany. While typical of the hundreds of tiny villages scattered across the Scottish landscape, this one is particularly unique in that off to the side of the road it has a lonely looking, life-sized bronze statue of its most famous and influential product, a young lad named Jim Clark.
Blink as you go by and you might miss it—as the Scots are pretty humble and low key about most things, including their heroes—but seeing this tribute to Clark got my mind thinking as I navigated my way around countless lochs and glens for the next few days. With a total population of just 5.5 million people, Scotland really punches far above its weight when it comes to producing world class racing drivers. In Formula One alone, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark account for five World Championships between themselves, then you throw in the likes of Archie Scott Brown, Dario Franchitti, his brother Marino and David Coulthard and that’s a lot of driving talent from one sparsely populated country. By comparison, racing powerhouses like Germany has 83 million people to draw from, while Brazil has 214 million and the U.S. 331 million. So, what is the secret sauce that makes the Scots such great drivers?
In my personal experience of driving in Scotland numerous times over the past three decades, I’d say it’s the roads. For all its size and expanse, there is not a straight section of road in the entire country! Cumulatively, the country is made up of thousands of miles of twisty-turny, one and two-lane roads, with all manner of blind corners, off camber turns and uneven surfaces. When you add in the fact that the Highlands of Scotland also receives a total of 250 days of rain per year, you have the perfect breeding ground for talented, seat-of-the-pants drivers. In fact, I’d argue it’s a microcosm of automotive Darwinism, as you either learn how to deftly handle a car in Scotland or you won’t be passing your genes on to the next generation!
Fortunately, my family and I managed to log more than 500 trouble-free miles over hill and dale in our Highlands journey. But driving there does require constant vigilance and concentration… I suppose it adds new meaning to the country’s unofficial national anthem “Scotland the Brave.”