• Peter MacKay

Leaders in the field : The fast farmers of the Borders



Scotland's glorious border county boasts many desirable exports. Renowned for producing exquisite cashmere garments, significant agricultural output and their most famous export-racing drivers.


Steve Hislop, winner of eleven Isle of Man TT races and 2001 British champion, hailed from Hawick.


Andrew Cowan, born in Duns, masterminded the dominant Mitsubishi Ralliart World Rally Team and won the London-Sydney marathon.


Double British touring car champion, John Cleland, will happily supply you with a new car from his Galashiels dealership.


The Border counties finest driver was Jim Clark. Winner of 25 Grand Prix, the 1965 Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1 world champion in 1963 and 1965. Not only the greatest driver from the Borders but one of the greatest in motorsport history.


Despite going on to dominate world motorsport, Jim Clark’s success can be traced back to his agricultural roots in the Scottish Borders.


In the late 50’s, Jim and his peers convened at the local young farmers club. These meetings provided a perfect excuse for spirited drives to and from the club. For Jim, a friend who later became critical to his success, spotted his talent on the twisty country lanes of the borders.


Ian Scott Watson, a keen amateur competitor, discovered his friend’s superhuman ability behind the wheel and generously stepped out of the driver’s seat. Thus, allowing Jim to display his talent in local events.


Clark and Scott Watson soon teamed up with local garage, McBain’s of Chirnside and their Border Reivers team. Jock McBain, winner of Scotland’s first ever motor race at Winfield, founded the Border Reivers in 1951. Eventually, with Clark behind the wheel, the Border Reivers would compete at the highest level. Although, this ambitious race team relied solely on the support of friends in the farming community.


Jim Clark’s cousin and prominent local farmer, Doug Niven, was one of those who competed for the team. Still an active farmer to this day, Doug fondly remembers the exploits of the outfit. "That was the Border Reivers, local farmers from the Berwick and District Motor Club." “Nobody in the team was paid." “They had various cars that came and went, all second hand, bought from somewhere else. They couldn’t afford to buy the best.”


Without this support from his farming colleagues, one could question if Jim Clark would have gone on to such heights in his later career.


Doug recounts the importance of Jim’s early forays in racing with the Border Reivers and their Jaguar D Type. "Jim had been racing very successfully for the Border Reivers which was set up by Jock McBain. Mechanics in McBain's garage looked after the cars and did a great job. Jim was the first driver in the UK to complete a 100mph lap in a sports car. That was at Full Sutton in the Border Reivers D Type Jaguar, 'DKF 9'.”


Known to be very modest, Jim needed his friends support to push him to fulfil his potential. Ian Scott Watson was instrumental to this. Entering Jim into international races like the Spa 1000km captured the attention of future employer, Colin Chapman.


Camaraderie in the farming community played a key part in the team’s success. In 1959, the Border Reivers were invited to compete in the prestigious Le Mans 24-hour race. Ian Scott Watson ordered a Lotus Elite for the race. Jim would be lead driver. However, a pesky Colin Chapman, owner of Lotus cars, plotted to pinch the Border Reivers spot on the grid. And their star driver.


Chapman deliberately delayed delivery of the new car, forcing the Border Reivers to reluctantly forfeit their invitation. Simultaneously, Chapman charmed the Le Mans organisers into transferring the invitation to him. But what Chapman didn’t account for, was the loyalty amongst the ranks of the Border Reivers.


Chapman immediately contacted Jim Clark, to lure him to drive for Lotus at Le Mans. Clark refused. Infuriated by Chapman’s tactics, Jim remained fiercely loyal to his Border Reivers team. Eventually, an agreement was reached that Lotus would provide the car and Border Reivers would run the team.

Chapman would eventually get his man a year later in 1960. Ironically, when rival firm Aston Martin failed to deliver a DBR4 for Clark to race in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Clark was released from Aston Martin and snapped up by Chapman. He would never leave Lotus, such was his loyalty instilled from his upbringing in a tight knit community.


Jim Clark never forgot his Borders roots and the Borders will never forget him.


To learn more about Jim Clark, visit the new Jim Clark Motor museum in Duns or visit www.jimclarktrust.com

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