Sports

Saying goodbye to the man who built his very own Formula One race car, and drove it to victory

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Credit:

Reuters

Australia's racing champion Sir Jack Brabham waves the checkered flag at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne back in 1997. He passed away May 19, 2014, at the age of 88.

Formula One racing is mourning one of its legends.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Sir Jack Brabham, winner of three Formula One titles, died Monday. He was 88. Brabham was from Australia, but made his name in the car-racing world in Britain. In 1959, he famously ran out of fuel on the last lap, but pushed his racecar across the finish line to secure his first championship.

Brabham's the only person ever to win a Formula One championship while driving a car he built himself. He also pioneered the effort in Formula One to move the engine behind the driver. Damien Smith of Motor Sport Magazine in the UK says a history of accomplishments made Brabham a colossus of the sport. "He had a unique place in the sport's history," Smith says.

Smith says few people in the racing world have built and raced their own car. The list of drivers who also design is short. Smith says Brabham took his destiny into his own hands — and it worked. Seven years after his fist title, he won again. The next year, one of his drivers won. "Two titles for the brand new Brabham team was quite something back then — and it is still something we admire now, all these years later," he says.

Brabham started his life in Australia. He came to Europe to make his fortune in motor racing. England was the place to do it in the 1950s. Smith says Brabham turned up in the country with almost nothing. But he built a reputation for engineering and his skill behind the wheel.

Smith met him at an award ceremony. By that time, Brabham was nearly deaf. All the years spent inches from a roaring engine left many drivers of that era in the same boat. But Smith recalls Brabham looking directly into his eyes.

"I just got a little glimpse of the tough guy that he'd always been," he says. "And that was a real pleasure for me." Smith says Brabham will be remembered as a great pioneer of the sport. He adds that Brabham will also be remembered as one of the toughest drivers. Brabham had a reputation of being hard, but fair; he commanded great respect from his rivals. "This is a huge day for motor racing to lose Sir Jack Brabham," he says. "He will fondly be remembered by all who knew him."

His memory lives on in racing videos. Smith says his magazine will dedicate its next issue to the man. "He's such an important figure in our sport that we'd be remissive to not do a lot on the man."

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