Sir Jackie Stewart – Speaking Out of The Box – Page Two
After his mobile phone connection drops, and Stewart’s UK office re-connects to the car, Sir Jackie again picks up the thought train: “Clearly one of the most important things I did as a then-current racing driver was to sign a contract with Roone Arledge at ABC Sports in 1971. Roone was a genius, and it was because he was such a genius that he later became president of ABC News as well. It’s not surprising that he had one of the best line-ups of top sports commentating talent. Jim McKay was a master of the English language, and for me to have been with him in more races and more telecasts than any other commentator that I worked with was a gift. Keith Jackson was great to work with as well. All of these people were masters at what they did, and somebody like myself, who had previously not had much experience of doing television, to understudy with Jim McKay, for example, and keep in mind a great many of those races in those days were live TV, whether it was NASCAR or Indycar, not so much the Formula One things, but to be able to learn how to do it in one take and have the best producers and best directors, I mean ABC’s Chuck Howard and Chet Forte, and Don Ohlmeyer and Doug Wilson, and people like that—that was it.
“Whether it was doing the Cresta Run or the bobsleigh run commentary, or whether it was doing the winter Olympics or even the summer Olympics, which I did once, or doing the Highland Gatherings at Braemar next to Balmoral—you had to be versatile, but above all you had to be able to get the job done in a very professional way, and nothing other than the best was allowed. Roone pulled the crew together in that respect. So I had a fantastic opportunity, and it was a great thing for me to have done. I mean, Bill, I would never have won the American Sports Person of the Year for Sports Illustrated or for ABC Television in ’73 had it not been for my appearance on television as well as winning world championships at the same time. But it took a lot out of me. You know, I was doing NASCAR races on a Sunday, flying back home across the Atlantic Ocean on a Sunday night, then flying back on a Wednesday to New York on the Concorde to do a voice-over of the program so that it went out on the air Saturday.
“I did eighty-six crossings in 1971, and that’s not counting all the other travels that I was doing—475,000 miles a year by air. There was Australia, South Africa, Asia Pacific and Japan, and never mind anywhere else, and I was going around the world with Goodyear and Ford by then, to India, Thailand and Indonesia, Hong Kong, just everywhere.”
The pace he kept was staggering. From the period I was making films for TWI and IMG, I recall following Stewart’s schedule and hearing stories from my executive producer, Jay Michaels, who was also Jackie’s road manager, about the almost ceaseless intertwining of travel and racing. Now, as his car takes Stewart further north from London toward his home in Buckinghamshire County, I ask him what it was that kept him so heavily engaged, both in and out of racing.
“I guess ambition,” Stewart tells me. “On the basis that I saw how powerful television was, because I was suddenly doing a lot of television commercials for Ford, Goodyear, for Wheel Horse tractors, for Simoniz, for Getty Oil, a serious number of them in America, so my television appearances were making me a personality to the American public while I was still winning Grand Prixs and winning world championships. It happened to be a very potent cocktail, if you like. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was being paid for it, and in those days racing drivers didn’t make the kind of contract money that we make today. Therefore, I was doing Indianapolis and Formula One, and by 1971 I was doing the Can-Am series—the whole damn series as well as Formula One. That year I got mononucleosis, the blood disorder, and I won the world championship in ’71 with mononucleosis. Then, in ’72, I was doing the same kind of travel and I got an ulcer that hemorrhaged because of the stress, the strain, the diet, the flights, the long hours, the time changes. It was a tough life, and at that time in motor racing, by then, the danger element was so big that our batting average was very poor. If you raced for five years, there was a two out of three chance you would die. That wasn’t good, but on the other hand the rest of it was all very stimulating, whether I was doing something about Atlanta, Georgia with Richard Petty and driving his stock car, or whether I was doing IROC races and driving Camaros with Paul Newman, or if I was doing something else with Mario Andretti, or whether I was doing something else at the Monaco Grand Prix. It was all good stuff, Bill. It was very stimulating and it also was very important in the formation of my future life, which was to have some of the skills clearly that I would otherwise not have been able to develop.”
Rivetingly set to print with the help of author/professor Peter Manso in a 239-page Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover titled ‘Faster! A Racer’s Diary’, Stewart recounted 1970’s bittersweet day-to-day events of his life in racing that include the deaths of close Formula One driver friends Piers Courage at Zandvoort and Jochen Rindt at Monza. The writing, vividly true and personal, makes for one of the very best books ever written on racing at the top of a world champion’s profession.
“Peter Manso was challenging to work with,” Stewart tells me from his car on the M1 motorway,” but he did travel with me all of the time for a season. It was a good combination of two people, sometimes in conflict, which always makes it even more interesting. But Alan Henry was good to work with, and I later did one of the Jackie Stewart’s Performance Driving books with him. And there is the more recent one, ‘Winning is Not Enough’. That’s quite a good book. It was much more about life than it was of hardcore racing. About writing the books, I wrote my first book [‘World Champion’] with a journalist called Eric Dymock, and that was when I won my first world championship in 1969. It was sort of obligatory for every racing driver to do. You won the world championship, then you did a book.”