Remembering Sir Jack Brabham

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By Robert Harland

Motoring

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


ANY motorsports fan of a certain age (i.e. old) like me will remember the great days of legendary driver Sir John Arthur “Jack” Brabham.

Brabham, who died just last May 19 at age 88 in his native Australia, was a fierce competitor, brilliant engineer and astute businessman. He won the Formula One titles in 1959 and 1960 for Cooper Racing and went on to win a third in 1966 in a car he built himself.

He was one of motor racing's great practical heroes, a tough Australian who applied a down-to-earth attitude to his craft. His racing career ran from 1955 until 1970 competing in 126 grand prix and winning on 14 occasions.

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For the first six years he drove for the Cooper team, and then set up as a constructor in his own right with his company Brabham Racing. He was shrewd to the point of cunning, a great mechanical improviser in the days when racing drivers got their hands dirty helping on the mechanical side of things.

Brabham was born in Hurstville, 10 miles south of Sydney. When he was 12, his greengrocer father taught him to drive the shop's delivery truck. After he left school he studied engineering at night in a technical college.

He joined the Royal Australian Air Force at the age of 18, with the ambition to be a pilot, but then it was 1944 and such was the progress of the Second World War that there was more demand for mechanics than aircrew.

After the war he opened a repair business. Then he met Johnny Schonberg, an expatriate American, who raced midget cars. Brabham helped build a car for him and later began racing the car himself, winning four straight Australian midget titles.

After a trip to New Zealand to meet international drivers, it was suggested he go to Europe to get some experience driving there.

He made his Formula One debut at the British Grand Prix in 1955, driving a Cooper he built himself. He then returned home to win the Australian Grand Prix. The next season, he was signed by John Cooper for his Cooper Car Company team.

Over the next few years, Brabham gradually made a name for himself before taking the drivers’ World Championship in 1959 with 34 points, the last of which were gained at Sebring, Florida, where he pushed his car - after it ran out of fuel - 500 yards to cross the finishing line in fourth place.

This was the first championship success for a rear-engined Formula One car, ending the reign of the traditional front-engined cars.

He took the world title again in 1960 still as a member of the Cooper team. Then in 1966, at the age of 40, he won the title in a Brabham car, the only F1 driver to win a world championship in a car of his own construction - a unique feat and one unlikely to be seen again.

Brabham retired at the end of the 1970 season, the year of his 14th and final grand prix victory, selling his company to F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

In 1979, he became the first driver to be knighted for services to motorsport.

Sir Jack, whose motto was “You can be first after me,” is survived by his second wife, Lady Margaret, and sons to his first wife Betty - Geoff, Gary and David, each of whom has enjoyed success in motorsport. Two of Brabham’s grandsons are also forging careers in motorsport.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 28, 2014.

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