Is there a better way to beat the winter blahs during the racing hiatus than spending an evening with a racing legend? I’m going to have to answer no to that, and I’m thinking the crowd of well over a hundred fellow racing fans at Indigo on Thursday night, would agree with me.
3-time Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart, or rather “Sir Jackie Stewart” braved the chilly Toronto weather to reminisce about the good old days and promote his latest tome “Winning is not Enough”.
Still possessing a fire in his belly and with a glint in his eyes, the charming Scotsman showcased his rapier wit while waxing poetic about the good old days and offering up no holds barred opinions of F1 as it is today.
Stewart, who came from humble beginnings, revealed he might never have been a part of the racing vernacular of today had Olympic Skeet shooting offered a more lucrative pay-out. Jokingly adding at one point that he “had to take up motor racing to afford my marriage”, referring to his wife Helen, whom he met when he was 17.
Motor racing though was something he fell into rather than grew up pursuing, in fact his family discouraged that particular career path. While working as a mechanic to make ends meet, Stewart was gifted the chance to pilot the car of a wealthy fellow Scotsman in an amateur race as a thank you for taking such good care of his prized possession. Stewart came in second. Seeing the potential of the young Stewart, the wealthy businessman insisted he race again the following weekend. This time he won… and never looked back.
Mediator/interviewer Heather Reisman, who seemed genuinely awed to be sitting next to this living legend, asked Stewart what he felt was the difference between mediocrity (those who drive around, year after year, mid pack, but never reaping the glory) and the top tier. Stewart replied that it was mostly luck of the draw and honing your natural talent, which everyone is born with, but which few develop to it’s full potential. Once that step has been achieved then it’s all about mind management.
Winning, he went on to say, is not that difficult, at least to do once.
The key to true success is learning to do it consistently. That’s the difference.
Thus the “Winning is not enough” title of his book.
He also added that the natural talent/mind-managing combo also has to go hand in hand with having the best equipment & crew on your side. That is truly the top tier combination. Michael Schumacher, when he joined Ferrari, requested certain people be brought in, saying they were needed in order for him to find success with that team. Anyone with any historic F1 knowledge, knows how that worked out for him…
But as Jackie put it, “they wouldn’t come if the driver wasn’t a winner”
I immediately thought of Paul Tracy and his 2003 Championship Season with Players/Forsythe. He (a proven winner) came to the team with the mindset to bring Jerry Forsythe and Players the Vanderbilt Cup. He definitely had the natural talent and seemed to have finally found the mind management needed to focus his efforts to put in a real bid for the cup, now all he needed was the equipment and the team to get the job done. His requests were met, and he hoisted the cup at the end of the season. Tracy followers (myself included) are hoping for a repeat of that 2003 performance this year, as the proven winner is newly refocused and answering the bell in 08 with a new crew & team manager, all with the singular focus of bringing FCR a second Championship. But I digress…
Having the mindset of a champion is not without it’s downfalls, Stewart pointed out. “The people that think they’re the best are actually the most vulnerable”
He himself made that mistake after his first championship, realizing the hard way that you are only as good as your last race and that there is someone waiting in the wings to take your glory the minute you falter.
“the better you are, the smaller your ego should get”
Now those are wise words to be heeded by all the young hot shoes working their way up through the ranks, no matter the vehicle they pilot or the career path they take.
The interviewer briefly touched upon the fact that Stewart played a pivotal role in heading up the changes and advances in the safety measures now in place in motorsports (specifically F1), Stewart proudly boasting that it has been 13 years and (as he counted on his fingers) 9 months since there has been a fatality in F1. Ironically Stewart himself only had one major off (a story that he recounted with the timing and delivery of a great comedian much to our amusement) and as he put it has “never had blood drawn from my body because of an auto accident ever!” Amazing fact considering the era he drove in.
A major portion of the discussion centered around his lifelong struggle with dyslexia. While on the surface, one would assume it was a constant deterrence on the road to success, Stewart points to his dyslexia as a good thing. He says because of this “disability” (society’s word not his) he and others with the same challenge think differently. While most people with normal brain reflexes think more linearly, people with Dyslexia think “outside the box”. He credits this outside the box thinking with his innovations in motorsport safety.
One of the funnier moments was when one of the audience members asked Sir Jackie if he would ever consider the position of FIA president.
After a brief thoughtful pause he responded forcefully: “I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole!”, eliciting one of the bigger laughs of the night.
It was an honour to listen to and meet the wee “Flying Scotsman” with the big personality and humble demeanor. I look forward to reading his book (now autographed to me personally!) and I highly recommend you all check it out too.
Sir Jackie Stewart & George Daszkowski, Director of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame
(apologies for the crap photos, my camera died and I had to snap these with my cell phone)