- Andrew Marriott on a meeting with a racing great
The Day I Met ... Jody ScheckterAndrew Marriott December 11, 2009
- Jody Scheckter
The first instalment of our regular feature sees respected motorsports journalist Andrew Marriott recount his early encounters with Jody Scheckter
As a Formula One journalist I had to sing for my supper on occasions - and that was exactly what I was doing at a Sports Car Club of South Africa event in the winter of 1969. It's a long time ago so I can't remember the exact venue or occasion but I vividly recall what happened after I'd finished making my speech.
A young man wandered up to me and introduced himself as Jody Scheckter, the 1968 South African Formula Ford Champion. In fact I'd already heard from a few friends that this Jody kid was something a bit special.
So we chatted for a while and he explained that the prize for winning the title included being sponsored by Ford to race in the British Formula Ford series the following spring. Can you imagine that happening today? Mildly impressed I gave him my card - I was working for Motoring News at the time - and even wrote our home phone number on the back of it. I told him that when he got to England, to give me a call and maybe I could give him some help.
At the time I was sharing one of those famous motor racing flats with Robert Fearnall, later of Donington Park fame, and Mike Doodson, now a veteran F1 reporter but in those days another Motoring News scribe, plus a few other random motorsport folk.
I'd pretty well forgotten about Scheckter until I arrived back at the flat one morning to find Doodson somewhat unhappy.
"This South African bloke's been on the phone, says you are going to help him!" Doodson said to me.
"Well sort of," I mumbled, "I met him at some do near Kyalami."
Mike then recounted the fuller conversation. Scheckter had arrived that morning, somewhat surprised that there was no one waiting to greet him at Heathrow. He thought Stuart Turner (the then all-powerful boss of Ford Motorsport UK) was going to be right there at Terminal Three complete with a shiny new Escort road car with a trailer complete with the latest Merlyn Formula Ford.
Having failed to raise Mr Turner on the Boreham hotline - it was 6am - the only number he had was our Baker Street flat and thus the premature arising of Doodson, who wasn't a morning person unless there was a chance of a trip to a South American motor race.
Mike suggested young Jody made a journey of discovery on the bus and tube and head to our flat, where we would indeed help him. A couple of hours later a somewhat dishevelled Scheckter arrived with several suitcases and a man he called his "Appy", his mechanic who came as part of the package. It appeared he had nowhere to rest his weary head.
Since I'd seen him in Johannesburg, his efforts to prepare for the 1970 Formula Ford season included growing some very long sideburns - they were longer than mine and that was saying something - and purchasing a very lurid pair of purple trousers.
Anyway we found a room for Jody and his "Appy". They were lucky, that was certainly one of the better flats I shared. Within a week I had brokered a deal for him to buy the previous year's Championship-winning Merlyn from Colin Vandervell.
Soon Turner came up with a shiny new Escort and Scheckter dominated the Championship. For a while Jody and his "Appy" lived rent free in Baker Street until one day he announced "I miss my Pammy". Pammy was his girlfriend, later wife, later ex-wife. She duly arrived and the Springbok trio headed off to a suburban house near Ford's HQ in Boreham.
Scheckter was soon competing in Formula 3 and a chance conversation I had with Phil Kerr - then one of the bosses at McLaren - led to a contract and Jody's swift elevation into Formula 2 and indeed F1.
Jody made the headlines early in his F1 career when he brought the 1973 British Grand Prix to a halt with his end-of-lap-one spin which wiped out about eight cars. This caused us both something of a dilemma - as I was by then ghosting his columns for South Africa's biggest daily paper The Star.
"What can we write about that?" I enquired a few hours later in the paddock. "Whatever you like," replied Jody, "it's sure to sound much better the way you write it than the way I could say it!"
I think Jody's arrival in Britain had been a rude awakening for the talented racer. He had come from a typically affluent, white South African home with plenty of maids and servants to look after him. Subsequently he told his biographer: "At first I lived in Andrew Marriott's flat. We lived like dogs, we ate tinned meat." Actually I used to like that cheap tinned Irish stewing steak!
But perhaps that's what later prompted Jody Scheckter to set up his magnificent and award winning Laverstoke Park organic farm operation. I liked to think I helped his motor racing career too!
Andrew Marriott is a freelance Motorsport commentator and journalist