Jack Brabham, Australian racecar driver and three-time Formula One champion, dies at 88


Australian racing driver Jack Brabham competes at Oulton Park, in Cheshire, England, on April 3, 1965. (AP)

Jack Brabham, an Australian race-car driver who won three Formula One world championships — including one in a vehicle that he had designed, a feat never matched before or since — died Monday at his home in Gold Coast, Australia. He was 88.

His death was announced on the Formula One Web site. The cause was kidney disease, according to a report in the Melbourne newspaper the Age.

Mr. Brabham ranked among the top drivers of his era. He won Formula One world championships in 1959 and 1960 driving Cooper-Climaxes and claimed the 1966 title in a car that he had helped design and that bore his name.

He also collected constructor championship titles in 1966 and 1967, making him the rare sportsman to win top recognition both as a driver and a designer.

He was known as Black Jack, a moniker attributed variously to the color of his hair, his low-key manner under pressure and his penchant for betting his life on the track. While racing, he assumed a crouching pose behind the wheel and reportedly saw no reason to avoid driving on the grass if the tactic might help him surpass an opponent.


Jack Brabham, shown here in 1957, was the only person to win the Formula One world championship in his own car. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1959, he competed at a Grand Prix race near Sebring, Fla., on his way to winning that year’s world championship. Five hundred yards from the finish line, he ran out of fuel because of a tank leak.

Mr. Brabham stepped out of the vehicle and proceeded to push the car’s 1,000 pounds of metal and rubber across the finish line. He had come in fourth — enough to claim the title — and fell to the ground.

“They should have built that machine with a rope on the front end of it,” he quipped, according to an account in Time magazine.

In his design work, Mr. Brabham was credited with perfecting and popularizing cars with engines in the back, a development from older race cars with engines in front. He helped form an independent company that became a leader in the field.

By 1966, the year that he captured the title driving a Brabham, Time magazine reported that he was the oldest driver on the Grand Prix circuit. He displayed his spunk at a race in Holland where he made his way to his car sporting fake whiskers and supporting himself with a cane.

When he arrived at the vehicle, the 40-year-old driver discarded his cane, pulled off the whiskers and racked up another win.

Mr. Brabham retired in 1970 and was knighted in 1979.

John Arthur Brabham was born April 2, 1926, in Hurstville, a suburb of Sydney. “Jack” was 12 when his father, a grocer, taught him to drive delivery trucks, according to the Daily Telegraph of Sydney.

Mr. Brabham left school at 15 to work, eventually finding employment at a garage and studying mechanical engineering at a technical school at night. During World War II, he served in the Royal Australian Air Force as a flight mechanic.

He later had a mechanical shop and, through an acquaintance, became interested in midget cars. In the mid-1950s, after several racing victories in Australia, he moved to Britain and became involved with Cooper Car Co.

His initial performances did little to foreshadow his future success. “The marvelous thing about watching Jack come out of a turn,” one competitor told Time magazine, “is that you never know which end of the car will show up first.”

His first marriage, to the former Betty Evelyn Beresford, ended in divorce. Survivors, according to his obituary in the Daily Telegraph of England, include his wife, the former Margaret Taylor, and three sons from his first marriage: Geoff Brabham, Gary Brabham and David Brabham, all of them racing drivers.

By the end of his life, Mr. Brabham suffered hearing loss attributed to his racing career.

“I suppose if you get down to tin tacks I’m a very uninteresting person,” he had once told Sports Illustrated. “I eat plain food, don’t drink or smoke, and I’m not interested in going to nightclubs. I’m just interested in the job we’re doing — motor racing. That’s all I live for, virtually. If other people don’t like it, that’s just too bad for them.”

His motto, it was said, was “you can be first after me.”

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Sports
Stats, scores and schedules

Every story. Every feature. Every insight.

Yours for as low as JUST 99¢!

Not Now