Q and A with Jackie Stewart on Wind Tunnel Three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart joined guest co-hosts Robin Miller and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti during the July 31 edition of popular SPEED television show, Wind Tunnel.
Stewart, who abruptly retired after winning his third championship in 1973, also twice competed in the Indianapolis 500, leading with nine laps to go in 1966 before mechanical woes dropped him to sixth. He was also an outspoken critic of the inferior safety and medical standards that had existed in Formula One at the time. Here are some of Stewart’s quotes.
On losing out at Indianapolis late in the race…
Stewart: "I was obviously disappointed. I wasn't so much disappointed on the day because I had thought I had done reasonably well. But by the next morning, the Scottish economy had dropped greatly from me not winning the Indianapolis 500 - that's when I began to get disappointed."
On driving an oval for the first time…
Stewart: "Yeah, I had never done anything like that before. We did have an advantage because we knew about rear-engine cars before the Americans really got into them."
When you had a chance to go to Indy, did you just say 'yes' right away?
Stewart: "I had talked a lot about it with Jimmy (Clark) because he had an apartment in England, and we shared that talking time. But John Mecum is the man who invited me to drive, and he had his two cars with Roger Ward as his No. 1 driver. He asked me if I would drive and because I had driven for John in Can-Am racing, I thought it would be quite interesting. In those days, Indianapolis was by far, the highest paying race in the world. There was a mystique about it, so from my point of view, Jimmy had done it before and he thought it would be a good idea. I really, really enjoyed my two years at driving at Indy.”
It was a deadly era (in Formula One) and you really went after safety, even though it made you unpopular at times.
Stewart: "We had lost a driver a month for four-consecutive months one time in Formula One. It became ridiculous because there were not good medical facilities, the track safety was pathetic, the whole thing was wrong and nobody was doing anything about it. It wasn't a popular move, even when I went to Monterey, Calif., and through the corkscrew, there was no protection at all if a car went off the road and into the trees. I simply said to put barriers up there, but it was a huge issue. They said that they had never had it before, so why should they have it now. Why don't you leave? With that type of attitude, (I was) seeing it as being productive for safety, they saw it as a disruption of the facility. It wasn’t popular, but from my point of view, and I was fairly single-minded at the time, if I hadn’t been winning World Championships at the time, I think they would have wiped me out.”
After retiring at 34, did you ever want to come back or miss it?
"One of the nicest things (about) my whole career, has been since I retired, I've never wanted to go back. I occasionally drive cars as part of demonstrations, but was asked to come back four or five years (once) I had retired. I was asked to come back and it was for $6 million, which was a lot of money back then. But I never did and never missed it. I was so lucky to have retired at the right time.”
You don't see the slashing and blocking back then, like you do today. Does that bother you?
"It’s an unusual name to use but there was etiquette about racing in doing things of that kind. You wouldn't do it because it was so dangerous. If you did it and things went wrong, it could have been serious, as you knew you there were heavy trees or grass banks. You could not take the liberties you do today. I saw them happening in Hungary at today’s Grand Prix. You couldn't do that in those days. The behavior of a Jim Clark or a Jochen Rindt, (drivers) of that caliber would never, ever do anything of that kind. Ronnie Peterson, Graham Hill, neither would Emerson Fittipaldi. There was a degree of understanding. We were seeing so many people die that there was an understanding accordingly, and it wasn't a difficult thing to do because of the reality of our period.”