Jim Clark’s Stock Car Experiment
Fellow F-1 driver Jochen Rindt was also on hand at Rockingham that weekend. He had joined Clark with the intention of sharing driver duties with his friend during the 500 mile event. After learning more about the racing strategy and pit stops, Clark was skeptical of this possibility.
“I just don’t see how we can do it,” he said. “Rindt is taller that I am and with the seat fixed and the speed of the pit stops I just don’t see how we can make the change without losing a whole lot of time in the pits.”
With the final practice session now behind him Clark was feeling more and more comfortable inside the Holman Moody-prepared Ford. His inaugural appearance at Rockingham’s fall event, the American 500, sparked curiosity and attention from fans and media alike. Unlike the traditional Formula One paddocks, stock car fans have the opportunity to get up close and personal with their driving heroes. The handsome Scot’ attracted many female admirers seeking autographs and photos. He willingly obliged.
At last the drivers found their way to their cars and Clark buckled in. Following the drop of the green flag he steadily moved through the field, being cautious when passing not knowing just how the heavy cars would react in the turns. His patience was rewarded as he eventually raced to as high as 13th position. Unfortunately Clark and his driving partner Rindt wouldn’t get the opportunity to swap seats mid race. Engine failure on lap 144 forced the No. 66 Ford behind the wall.
“There just isn’t any comparison between stock cars and the Grand Prix machines,” said Clark. “I didn’t have any trouble, except that it took me a little time to get used to all the traffic. In road racing we get strung out pretty quickly after coming off the starting grid and the traffic in the turns is pretty well spread out.”
Despite the engine failure his first experience in NASCAR stock car racing left an impression on both drivers and fans alike.
“I hate it that he (Clark) didn’t finish. He’d have been right up there,” said one veteran race fan. “I never saw a guy get the hang of it so fast and he stayed out of trouble.”
Clark also wanted another crack at it.
“I like stock cars and this race track. I don’t know whether I can come back next year or not right now,” he said. “You never know how things will work out.”
As fate would have it Clark would never have the opportunity to return to Rockingham. After winning the season opening Formula One Grand Prix in South Africa, Clark was killed during an F-2 race in Hockenheim, Germany on April 7, 1968. Just six months removed from his rookie debut in NASCAR, Jim Clark was lost to racing history.