Books, television programs and articles have all been written about Roger Clark, but what about his family? This is a very personal look at the man we all know and love.
Words and photography Bryn Musselwhite
Roger Albert Clark MBE. There’s no need for a clever introduction or inspirational analogies, and an imaginative lead in would be a wasteful use of column space given the subject matter. There are few people in this world of fuel-based worship that have had so much media coverage in so many forms. His enduring appeal thanks no doubt to his approachable, friendly demeanour and his incredible success on land and sea just cementing the attraction.
Because of that coverage and it’s natural bias to the man and the machines, we wanted to hear the story from the people that knew him best, his family. Wife Judy, sons Matt and Olly and their respective families all live in rural Leicestershire.
Judy, was Roger racing when you met?
The Leicester car club had this driving test day, which were normally in the yard of a pub. This guy kind of tapped up and I think he was in a Mini. They said he’d just come off a rally in the south of France, I didn’t know what a rally was, I thought it was people holding placards and protesting. At the prize giving we came into contact and he had the nerve to ask if he could take me home.
What was the answer?
(smiling) I didn’t see him again for twelve months, but we were married in 1966.
Haha, heady times, did life change at all?
For the first four years we used to come home and unpack, repack and go again. I was always welcome to go along with them.
What was it like balancing between home and international rally life?
I was only twenty when we were married and you take everyday as it is. Today I’m a housewife, tomorrow I’m a rally drivers wife.Did you ever worry when Roger was racing?
I was always very pleased when the flagged dropped and it was the end of the rally.
Did you ever ride in the passenger seat?
They used to do a lot of testing in Bagshot and once I went in the car with him, it felt so safe. I think after I’d had that experience I knew that he really did know what he was doing.
What drove Roger the man then?
It wasn’t the publicity thing that appealed to him, he drove to win but he loved all of it. He wasn’t an introvert, but something similar maybe.
Did he have any driver type superstitions?
Not really, although he took a funny little toy in his bag that I gave him when he signed for Ford.
He strikes us as being a very natural driver, did he ever get red mist?
He never gave me the feeling that he feared his own mortality, but I don’t think he was a big risk merchant. When he was flying he would be very careful, he certainly wasn’t gung ho about things.
He knew a thing or ten about the mechanical side of things didn’t he?
He’d know when he came into service what was wrong. He grew up in Narborough where his Dad had a garage, it was a service garage to start then they became a Renault dealer.
Looking around the office, boats and planes are everywhere, they were a big part of his life then?
He loved swimming, in fact I think he played water polo for the county when he was younger. We started off with a little boat, 21ft and went up to a 36ft one which we kept in Lymington on the south coast, so we’d fly down there for trips. Our boating years were the early 70s, but he also raced powerboats for Ford in the 60s, not many people know that.
Looking through some literature we see that the boats were twin 6ltr turbocharged and intercooled diesel engined, Fairey Huntsman cruisers, but how does it feel surrounded by these images and trophies on a daily basis?
I love it, I think it was Olly or Matt that said everywhere you look there’s another memory or something you haven’t seen in a long time.
What’s the most special to you?
Probably the MBE he got in December 1978. In fact I seem to remember that he was one of the first people in rallying to get one. That and the Segrave Trophy was very special to get, I think again he was the first rally driver.
The Segrave is awarded to “the Briton who accomplishes the most outstanding demonstration of the possibilities of transport by land, sea, air, or water.” No small accolade then. What’s stayed with you most from the rallying days?
The people we met and places we went, it wasn’t like being a tourist as you really got into the depths of a country when rallying. It was very special.
Eldest son Matt started Roger Clark Motorsport with his father in 1991, so Matt did it ever strike you that your Dad was loved all over the world?
Because we grew up with the rallying, it was the way our life was at the time. We went on events as we got older, but it never jumped out on me that he was a well known rally driver.
What early memories have you got of your Dad, just being a Dad?
The first thing we ever did as kids was build a jeep thing from Mk1 running gear and shell, etc. Myself, Dad, Olly wire brushed it, it was great seeing something come together and then being able to drive it down the road.
Although you’ve raced extensively, you’re more known these days for your engineering skills, what is it that appeals to you about that side of things?
Making them faster, making something impressive and winning. Starting with a pile of bits and ending up with something that does 200mph.
You shared other interests with your Dad?
I loved planes, I was mad for building models of them when I was young, more for the engineering of them and how they work than the flying.
Have you got any favourites when it comes to your Dads cars?
The Cossack Escort has always been one, it’s just an amazing looking car plus what it achieved. We borrowed it from Ian Pritchard the owner once, that would be the one that I’d like to have in the corner of the workshop.
When you started RCM you worked alongside your Dad, do you remember him as a spanner man as much a driver?
I think of him more of a driver, than on the spanners. His sideways style, that’s how I think of him. I think I took some of the mechanical side of him on and grown it for myself.
Although Judy might have hoped that youngest son Olly would be a professional Rugby player like her father, the cars were always there. What are your childhood memories then Olly?
The workshops next door are where Dad used to keep his plane, so it was normal to go out there and help him wheel it out (there’s a rudimentary strip behind the house), then carrying his helmet bag out before he took off. That’s what we did, because he flew to rally’s and needed his helmet.
When he got home it was equally as memorable, Olly?
One of my earliest memories is of him coming home with a trophy sticking out of his bag, I used to ask him if he brought any presents back (referring to the trophies). I think that was the Lombard RAC trophy in 1976.
Roger competed in all sorts of motorsport didn’t he?
I think another big memory was when I was watching Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon and Dickie Davis said, ‘here comes Roger Clark’.
You’ve now become an accomplished driver in your right, has it ever been a burden carrying the Clark name?
I did the London to Sydney in 2000 and I remember looking up at the scoreboard and seeing these names Mouton, Mikkola, Blomqvist and Clark. That was special.
Fittingly Olly was co-driving a BDA equipped Escort, not without incident though.
We had engine trouble early on, which dropped us back to last place, slowly but surely we started climbing back up the leader board. Then on a stage in Thailand a driver from South Africa came up to me and said ‘I see you’re going to be coming past me, just to let you know I’ll move over.’ I thanked him and he said that he’d been on the London to Sydney in 1993 when Dad did it, except he hadn’t pulled over when he’d come up behind him. So he’d been nudged three times, then Dad passed him the forth time. At the end of the stage the South African apologised when he realised it was the old boy, getting him to sign the dented rear panel of his car as a souvenir.
Haha, what was your Dad’s motto?
Dad used to say when the flag drops, the bullshit stops. He also used to say if you set your stall out right from the start, you’ll do well. Which is something that we’ve stuck with throughout.
Olly goes on to tells us of getting picked up from school in demonstrators from the family dealership, which in time encompassed Jensen, Lotus, Ford and others. Then of works cars that Roger would bring home the weekend before an event, ‘to get the feel of them’. There are of course many other stories and fascinating anecdotes we don’t have space for here, but the thing to remember here is that although Roger Albert Clark may be responsible for a lot of them. The family that surrounded him are just as significant in his story, in so many ways.