Jackie Stewart, world champion. The words seem to belong together. Three times the title man won the Formula 1 racing championship. In Monaco, the Raniers have him in for dinner. King Carlos of Spain inquires of his happiness, now that he's out of racing. Heads of state, be they in Europe, Africa or South America, seek the pleasures of power, and it makes them happy to call a Grand Prix legend their friend. "The barriers of society fall," zstewart said, "when you are world champion."
Four years retired, Stewart is enjoying life. "It is a kaleidoscope," he said. "All the colors, visions, shapes, I like so fast that, to some people, it may seem a blur. Once, I was living in a cocoon. Tunnel vision.I could drive from my home in Switzerland to an airport 15 minutes away, where a plane would be waiting to take me to the large airport. I'd board the plane directly because of who I was. At the other end, in South Africa or Timbuktu, a copter would transport me to the race itself. If it were a race in Europe, I would be back home in Geneva for dinner."
"Not after 13 years. I was organized, so computerized. I'd been doing the same thing for the 13 years. Any man with any imagination will change the path forever. I know I will never replace the sensations racing offered me. But I also know that if I stayed, I would have stagnated. It was time."
So in April of 1973, he made a secret decision to quit at season's end. He won the championship that year, though not driving in the season's last race, at Watkins Glen, N.Y. His friend and teammate, Francois Cevert, was killed in practice the day before the race.
"Many people have connected my retirement with winning a third championship or with Francois' death," Stewart said. "In fact, I had told my team manager, Ken Tyrrel, in April that I would retire in October. It eas only out of respect to Francois that I didn't race the last day. It would have been my 100th Grand Prix."
Stewart sat in a booth at a motel restaurant near Daytona International Speedway, where he worked as a commentator for ABC-TV on Sunday's Daytona 500 stock-car race. "I retired so my life might be my own. I am here today because I want to be here. I have all the money I need for my family forever. It is my choice now how I live, and I am enjoying it."
Stewart is 38 years old, a sharp-faced Scotsman who quit school at 15 to work in a garage. A worshiper of Jim Clark, he became his idol's successor, the greatest Formula 1 driver in his time. American television audiences may know him more for his wonderfully enthusiastic reporting - "Oh, my goodness, what a piece of work that was," he once screamed - then for the precise, at-the-limit driving against men named Hill and Rindt and Brabham. To hear Jackie Stewart talk about racing is to hear a man in love shout his lovely's virtues from a rooftop.
We should listen to Stewart on . . .
Why men race - "The sport represents a form of competition that most people would like to be a part of, yet they prefer to see others doing it. Because they all drive cars, they like to think they could be race drivers. They have the fantasy. Yes, they would drive if they could - but they can't. Just as Rostropovich plays the cello, as Glenn Miller did his thing and the Beatles theirs, people are gifted in certain ways by God. Some are given the gift to drive race cars. Still, of 26 Grand Prix drivers, maybe three or four, perhaps only two, turn the gift to greatness."
On Grand Prix racing contrasted to American oval-track racing - "In Formula 1, the cars are so highly sophisticated. True, stock cars are enormously powerful cars that travel at high speeds. But they are turning only left, instead of left and right as we do on the road courses. They seldom use brakes, they seldom use gear changes. What we do, in Formula 1, relates more closely to driving as the spectator knows it. In American drivers, I see a certain lack of versatility. And there's this: I was world champion three times, Jim Clark was champion only twice, but his standing commands such awe. It may take a Richard Petty or an A.J. Foyt so many more drop of gold on one hand which may be worth several pieces of copper."
On driving Foyt's Indy car and Petty's stock car - "I did pieces for ABC in which I drove them. I felt the car was going to run away from me - and that was only in the pit lane. I was synchronized with it shortly, however, and found it a precise, beautifully built car. I thought I wasn't going fast, but did 175, 180. As for Petty's, I took it out at Atlanta.Very slpooy, a vague feeling. It never knew where it was going. It resembles something like a pregnant elephant, wallowing from side to side. I went maybe 140. Let me say this. Richard Petty is an artist at what he does. Nobody runs closer to the wall than he does, and he does with a mellowness other don't have."
On concern for his safety while driving - "I had a doctor with me at every race. I considered him my insurance policy. I made a study and found the very best anesthetist in Europe. If he couldn't keep me alive, it couldn't be done. He flew to every race three days early. It cost me a fortune, but was worth a penny. I contracted other doctors, too, the best neurosurgeon, the best burns man. Called by me, personally, before every season. Within an hour's notice, all of them, if they were needed, could be at any hospital in Europe. I had a jet waiting, equipped with oxygen, to take me to London, Paris, wherever would be best.
"I knew when the season started every January. I would have two major accidents that year with the potential to be seriously injured or killed. It was up to me to minimize the extent of the injury, to assure the least amount of vulnerability. I'd seen too many drivers die because no one was there to save them."
On courage - "Courage ranks low in making a man a great driver. Bravery doesn't exist. I never saw myself as a courageous person. I recognized risks, yes, but bravery for bravery's sake is sometimes blind and downright stupid. I drove only one time when I was frightened. It was in the rain. I raced on and finished third, but it took great determination to finish. Others were racing at 180 miles per hour. So I couldn't put my car down. When it was over, I was drained from fear. That day, some courage existed."
On racing in America - "wouldn't it be wonderful, in this year after Tony Hulman's death, if President Carter went to Indianapolis and said, 'Gentlemen, start your engines'?I wrote to the president after he was elected. he'd come to stock car races as a candidate. I told him I hoped his interest in racing continued. And I said because Indianapolis is the biggest one-day sports event in the world and him a racing fan besides, that justifies the head of state being there. It would be a wonderful thing for the president, for the United States' image around the world and for racing."