Jackie Stewart is one of Formula 1’s top racers. Universally acknowledged as a top ten racer of all time, Stewart was born on June 11, 1939, in Milton Dunbartonshire, Scotland. His parents were successful in the car business and due to learning difficulties, Stewart couldn’t continue his secondary education and began working in his dad’s garage at age 16. Fast forward on his life and Stewart raced his way to becoming one of the all-time greats. These days, he’s dealing with the biggest race of his life… helping save his wife’s life. Join us as we explore this amazing racer’s claims to fame and the new challenges he’s facing in 2019 with his own family.
The Young Prodigy
Jackie Stewart’s life has always been about cars. Since he was young, his family owned and operated Dumbuck Garage in Dumbarton, Scotland. He would go on to work for the family garage as an apprentice mechanic. His family had successfully built up the business as Jaguar car dealers.
Jackie also had a brother, Jimmy, who was a racecar driver with a local reputation that was growing. His brother even competed in the British Grand Prix back in 1953. Getting sucked into the life of racing was almost inevitable for Jackie.
A Different Course
Stewart would end up racing but not before a brief change in focus. His brother Jimmy was badly hurt in a crash at Le Mans and that caused Jackie’s parents to lament the sport. As a result, Jackie took up shooting.
Jackie was no slouch his new field. At 13, he won a clay pigeon shooting competition. He then went on to become a member of the Scottish shooting team, competing in matches throughout the United Kingdom and overseas.
Jackie Stewart was on fire in the world of shooting. He would win the Irish, Scottish, and British skeet shooting championships. Stewart also won the Coupe de Nations European championship twice. It was time to showcase his skills on the Olympic level, but when he tried to make the team, things didn’t pan out.
Stewart competed for a shot on the British trap shooting team for the 1960 Summer Olympics but ended up in third place behind Brett Huthart and Joseph Wheater.
Taking Up An Offer
A customer of the family business by the name of Barry Filer proposed an offer to Stewart that he couldn’t resist. He wanted him to test a few of his cars at Oulton Park. Things were about to get interesting.
Stewart first tried the Marcos in 1961, in which Stewart would win four times. He went on to test the Jaguar E-type in 1962 to determine if he was ready to become a professional driver. Racing at Oulton Park, he would match the times of Roy Salvadori who drove a similar car the year before.
Making Noise With His Skills
In 1964, Stewart would sign with Ecurie Ecosse. Around that time, Ken Tyrrell, (founder of Tyrrell Formula One constructor) runner of the Formula Junior team for the Cooper Car Company started to hear rumblings of Stewart. That’s when he called up Stewarts’ brother to see if Jackie was interested in a tryout.
Sure enough, Jackie was ready and came in to try out a car Bruce McLaren was testing as well. It was a Formula Three T72-BMC. In no time at all, Stewart started to beat McLaren’s times, forcing McLaren back to the track. Stewart was still quicker, causing Tyrrell to offer a spot on the team to him.
Start Of A Great Career
The partnership with Tyrrell would prove to be something that would earn them a spot at the top of the sport. However, Jackie Stewart still had a lot to learn before he could claim the throne.
His debut was magnificent. He appeared at the Snetterton on March 15 and only took two laps before gaining a 25-second lead. He would then go on to win by a whopping 44 seconds! Days later, Stewart received a Formula One ride offer with Cooper, but he declined it. Stewart wanted to stay under Tyrrell and gain more experience.
The Thinking Driver
As time went on, Stewart would go on to become 1969, 1971, and 1973 world champion. He wasn’t just about speed. using his keen understanding of racing mechanics when zooming down the track. You can notice his smarts when observing any of his impressive 27 wins.
For example, when he won at Monza in 1969, his last lap was legendary. Stewart decided to run an impressive long fourth gear during his final lap to the finish line. Many wouldn’t have considered pulling that move off. As much as he’s used his head on the track, he now faces a tougher race at home with his wife…
Some people are lucky enough to have a childhood sweetheart. Someone they haven’t stopped loving ever since they were kids. Jackie Stewart found his sweetheart in Helen.
The couple tied the knot back in 1962 before Jackie went pro and they’ve been together ever since. It’s by no coincidence they’ve been together for so long — Jackie likes to live his life a certain way. He loves to avoid risks and eliminate hazards. Sadly, a danger he didn’t expect came about in Helen; now he must try his best to help against it…
Is It Luck?
Jackie is in his late ’70s, which is an impressive milestone for anyone, but for him, it’s nothing short of a miracle. He can’t think of any of his peers from Formula 1 racing days who are still lucky enough to be alive. Consider that racers had a two in three chance of dying during his racing days.
Much like his long-lasting marriage, he can thank his long life on working harder than others. “I think I do make more effort than many at living,” he says. “I minimize risks; I do what I can to avoid hazards.”
Jackie’s personal characteristics have proven very useful not only for him but for his children as well. Helen and Jackie have two kids together, Paul and Mark. Back in 2000, doctors found that Paul started to show early signs of colon cancer. Helen had a diagnosis of breast cancer following Paul. Jackie even had to undergo surgery to get rid of a pre-cancerous tumor.
All three of those problems have since been handled, but Jackie still finds it lucky. “Three of us have had cancer, but I still consider us lucky; we’ve always caught it early and stopped it in its tracks,” says Jackie.
A Late Diagnosis
We mentioned that Jackie was kicked out of school at a young age because they were considered “too dumb” for an education. He was still unable to read or write correctly at the age of 16. When he had his sons, they were both diagnosed with dyslexia.
It wasn’t until he found out about his sons that he had asked to take the test to determine if he suffered from the same learning disorder. Jackie was dyslexic, too, which explained his early struggles in school. However, Jackie was good at faking it and admitted, “Even Helen didn’t realize I couldn’t read or write till then.”
Before The Glory
It didn’t take long for Jackie Stewart to become relevant in racing. He was a natural and started winning big races left and right. Even before all this success arrived, he and Helen were already deeply attracted to each other.
They fell in love when he was 18, and she was 16. “It was a glamorous life, there were lots of girls around, but by the time I got into Formula 1, Helen was pregnant with Paul,” Jackie recalled. “My first victory was just before he was born, so the two are intertwined.”
Developing A Deep Bond
With your chances of passing away being two in three, being optimistic and staying close together are the best ways to get over that daunting fact. If you’re afraid, things can get worse quickly and having no support can make life even harder. That wasn’t the case for Helen and Jackie.
“I think we had a deeper relationship because of the terrible things that were happening,” Jackie said. “Helen came to every race, and she was the one who sometimes had to pack the bag of the guy who’d died. So we shared the grief as much as the exhilaration.”
A New Race Begins
After everything the pair went through in their early years which included having 57 people they knew die, facing the diagnosis of different diseases and surviving the Formula 1 statistics of death, something unfortunate happened in 2016.
In 2016, Helen received a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia at the Mayo Clinic. Surely, they’ve defied a ton of odds together, but this would be a different beast to confront. As a result, Jackie’s life has transformed into something entirely new…
Changing His Home
As you may be aware, dementia is not curable and can quickly cause suffering. One moment, you’re aware of everything, and then in the blink of an eye, memories start to vanish, and you can’t remember who your husband and other important life moments.
Jackie Stewart has transformed his Swiss home to make life for Helen more comfortable. The diagnosis first came after Helen couldn’t remember how a car accident happened in the couple’s lavish estate. She now has around the clock care from eight neuroscience nurses, and the house received an upgrade of state-of-the-art sensors that make sure Helen doesn’t stumble when she’s uncontrollabl up at night.
One Of His “Biggest Challenges”
Naturally, you never want to leave your wife’s side. No matter how hard the challenge is ahead, that’s your ride or die until death do you part. Jackie Stewart calls this one of his “biggest challenges,” but he isn’t going to back down.
“I’m not frightened by it, Stewart said. “There are no problems, only solutions. I’ve lived my whole life like that, so how can I possibly sit back and watch this without doing something about it?”
Finding A Cure
Jackie Stewart is determined to find a cure for his beloved wife. With 850,000 thousand people living with dementia in the United Kingdom, he would be helping a lot of people as well. However, Jackie is upset that researchers haven’t found a cure for the disease and calls on Formula 1 tactics to get involved.
“Formula 1 is famous for solving problems faster than anything else,” Stewart said. “It might have taken two to three minutes to change a wheel in my day, now it takes two seconds. That’s all happened by thinking outside the box.”
Starting A Charity
Going to battle for someone you love can make you think outside the box and want to try any and everything that might work. That’s why Jackie Stewart wants the dementia researchers to try radical new methods in their quest to find the cure. Stewart started a charity to help with the process.
The charity sports the name of Race Against Dementia. The goal is to raise money to fund research into the disease. “I believe that by investing in innovative and collaborative research we will accelerate the identification and development of drugs with the potential to transform lives,” says Sir Jackie.
Jackie describes Helen as “the perfect partner.” She had amazing control over her emotions, and her calm under pressure was amazing. “The sharpness of her mind was one of the things I immediately fell in love with, and it is her mind that is vanishing now,” Jackie revealed.
As such, Stewart wants to urgently find those experts in the field to help in this battle. “I can’t wait to find whether it’s the Einstein or the George Lucas or the Stephen Spielberg of medicine.”
Is It Too Late?
Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen have been battling this disease for some years now. Fortunately for Jackie’s successful career, he’s earned enough money to help Helen in ways others with dementia can’t. He says he has more house staff than anyone he knows.
Stewart continues with his efforts such as investing 2 million pounds ($2,648,000) in an academic fellowship. Over time he’s come to understand a cure for Helen might be out of reach, but he hasn’t given up hope. “Whether that will come in time for Helen [a cure], I don’t know, but I will do all I can to help millions of people around the world avoid this heartache,” Stewart said.