Charge your glasses and throw a pork sausage on the barbecue today in honour of 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter, who turns 62 today!
Born in the coastal South African city of East London, Jody was a prodigy who burst onto the racing scene in the 1970s, but he was such a wild driver that is was a miracle that he made it out alive.
Once he’d tempered his impetuous driving, Jody gradually became one of the sport’s most respected elder statesmen, who managed his destiny and capped it off with a World Championship title for Ferrari in 1979.
He started out in karts before he was a teenager, and later dabbled in motorcycles and tin-tops before his eighteenth birthday. He was immensely successful in his home-built Renault, winning many races before his motorsport ambitions were interrupted with National Service duties.
Returning to racing, Jody set his sights on winning the Formula Ford Sunshine series and the much-coveted ‘Driver to Europe’ prize that was on offer. Not surprisingly, Jody made sure the prize was his, and he headed off to England in 1971.
He entered the British Formula Ford championship in a Merlyn, leading on debut at Brands Hatch until he spun off. This ‘spin or win’ approach seemed to be the hallmark of his Formula Ford campaign, but he took the jump into Formula 3 mid-year, and he was a winner before the year was out.
McLaren was impressed, and he was signed to their Formula 2 operation in 1972. His M21 was not up to scratch, but he claimed one win that season and was rewarded with his Formula 1 debut at the season-ending grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
He stayed with the Yardley-sponsored team for the 1973 season as they fielded a third car for him at occasional meetings, although the spate of accidents he triggered no doubt made them question the wisdom of their decision. By far the most serious was the almighty pile-up he triggered at the start of the British Grand Prix, which triggered a red flag when a huge chunk of the field was eliminated on the start/finish straight:
By contrast, his time spent in Formula 5000 and Can-Am in the United States passed without incident, and he won the L&M 5000 title with Sid Taylor’s team.
McLaren was unable (or unwilling) to offer him a full-time gig in 1974, but Ken Tyrrell offered him a good contract and offered him the role of number-one driver, despite his relative inexperience. These concerns proved irrelevant, as Jody claimed two fine wins en route to third overall in the standings, and backed this up with another win (his home race, importantly) in 1975.
The team launched the famous six-wheeled P34 challenger in 1976, and Jody claimed an historic win at Sweden and again finished third in the standings.
For 1977, he took the huge gamble of joining the brand-new Wolf team, and he sensationally won on debut at Argentina, and backed this up with two more wins to finish runner-up in the standings. His 1978 season was less successful, but the offer of a contract from Ferrari was too good to turn down, and he joined the Scuderia for the 1979 season.
The team’s 312T challenger was a potent machine, and Jody – who had matured into a far more conservative driver than in his wilder, earlier days – swept home to claim the championship, with team-mate Gilles Villeneuve dutifully following in his wake.
Having now secured the coveted crown, Jody set about to contest just one more season, but it was easily his worst, not helped by the Ferrari team’s 312T5 being an absolute pig of a car. The utter humiliation came when he failed to qualify at Montreal, and a bemused Scheckter retired, glad to leave and survive a sport that had claimed too many of his peers.
So why the reference to pork sausages at the top of the article? Well, Jody has since turned his hand to organic farming, and he now runs one of Britain’s most successful free range piggeries.
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