A little over a week from now – Thursday, Aug. 27, to be exact – will be the 42nd anniversary of the first Formula One Grand Prix of Canada at Mosport, so I thought I’d bring you up to date on the guy who won that inaugural event, Jack Brabham of Australia.
The news is not the greatest.
Now 83 years old, Sir Jack (he was knighted in 1979) is undergoing dialysis treatment after suffering kidney failure.
As reported by Agence France-Presse, Brabham goes into hospital three days a week since his kidneys started to fail two years ago.
“Unfortunately, I don’t get the time to do the things I want any more," Brabham – who was a three-time world champion (1959, ’60 and ’66) – told The Daily Telegraph in a subsequent interview.
"I really only get two days a week where I can do anything,” said the man who started the rear-engine revolution at Indianapolis in 1961 when he went there with his little green Cooper racing car that had the Climax engine in the back.
“I am a dialysis patient and it takes five hours, three days a week. I have really had my wings clipped," said Brabham, who is still the only driver to win the world championship in a car of his own design.
In the Daily Telegraph interview, Brabham – who drove in 126 Grand Prix races from 1955 to 1970 – said he has had to make some adjustments as a result of his illness.
"The last Formula One event I went to was in Melbourne a couple of years ago," he said. "I used to go every year, but unfortunately my condition doesn’t let me. But I am not complaining. Aside from my kidneys, I am in good health.
"I had ambitions to keep on achieving things in my life, but I am resigned to the fact I have to be in hospital three days a week. I can’t rush out and do things anymore, but I have accepted that."
Brabham finished first on that miserable Sunday at Mosport, when it rained, then dried up a bit, then poured down again. His Brabham teammate Denny Hulme was second and Dan Gurney was third (a lap behind!).
Of course, all the romantic Grand Prix stars of the day were here in Canada: Graham Hill (who finished fourth in the big race – two laps down), Mike Spence and Chris Amon (fifth and sixth, three laps behind), Bruce McLaren (seventh, four laps back); Jo Bonnier and David Hobbs (eighth and ninth, five laps down), and Dickie Attwood (10th, six back).
The great Jim Clark didn’t finish because his ignition got wet and his Ford engine conked out; Jackie Stewart’s throttle jammed open so he called it a day; Chris Irwin spun off after 18 laps and couldn’t get his BRM going again, and Jochen Rindt only lasted four laps before his ignition gave up the ghost.
Jo Siffert didn’t get to start. He qualified 13th but his starter motor broke and that was that.
Canadian content was provided by Eppie Wietzes, who was disqualified when he stopped by the pits and one of the Lotus mechanics touched his car (a no-no), and Al Pease who was so far back he wasn’t classified.
(Pease maintains to this day that he was horribly embarrassed by the whole thing but he shouldn’t be. His battery went flat on the mock grid and he was pushed into the pits. The race started and he was still in there.
(Later, after he got going, the battery expired for good so he walked/ran all the way back to the pits from the neighbourhood of Moss Corner to get a new one and then walked/ran all the way back to his car to install it himself.
(That he actually completed 47 of the 90 laps is commendable, considering he wasn’t actually driving in the race all that much.)
There were two other drivers who showed up for that race – Mike Fisher and Tom Jones, both Americans.
A Californian, Fisher had purchased an old chassis from Team Lotus and rented an engine from BRM. He finished the race nine laps behind.
(An aside: the car was painted British racing green and Fisher left it that way. Lotus owner Colin Chapman was not amused because the car looked the same as the official team cars driven by Clark, Hill and Wietzes and I heard him tell one of his mechanics that it was not to happen again.
(“Paint it white before you let it out of the factory,” he said.)
The other Yank was Tom Jones from Cleveland who had an old Cooper-Climax. The stewards wouldn’t let him start because they said he was too slow.
The last time I saw Sir Jack Brabham in the flesh was at the 1996 Grand Prix in Montreal, just as the government was starting to crack down on cigarette advertising.
The reception we were at was put on by Player's - the very cigarette company that sponsored the Grand Prix he won in 1967 - and I asked him what he thought of what some people saw as interference in the marketplace.
His eyes flashed with anger.
"They're meddlers," he said. "It's none of their business and they should keep their noses out of it."
He still had it - the passion of a champion.