Jim Clark Gave Racing Fans a Memorial Day to Remember at the 1965 Indianapolis 500

Formula 1 fans had plans on Memorial Day 1965 that went beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. Jim Clark, one of the top racers in F1 history, and his contemporaries raced in that year’s Indianapolis 500.

Those who sat in the stands or watched — either live in theaters or at home on tape delay — certainly got their money’s worth. Not only did Clark dominate the field, but he spent the final Monday in May making history for himself and the international racing world at large. 

Jim Clark won the 1965 Indianapolis 500

Formula 1 legend Jim Clark made history at the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Formula 1 legend Jim Clark made history at the 1965 Indianapolis 500 | Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

All eyes were on the 1965 Indianapolis 500 for reasons beyond people wanted to watch the races. A year earlier, a seven-car accident resulted in the deaths of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs.

Thankfully, the 1965 event finished with no deaths or severe injuries. That allowed Jim Clark, a popular driver from Scotland, to earn all the attention after winning his first — and only — Indianapolis 500. A.J. Foyt was only the other driver who ended a lap in the lead.

Clark led for 190 of the event’s 200 laps on a busy Monday afternoon in Indianapolis. An estimated crowd of 250,000 watched the Scottish star dominate the race in Indiana that day.

Clark’s victory was historical in numerous ways

When Clark emerged victorious at the 1965 Indianapolis 500, he did so in historic fashion.

Clark, of Scotland, became the first international driver to win the Indianapolis 500 since Dario Resta did so in 1916. The 190 laps he led were the most of any Indianapolis 500 driver since Bill Vukovich led for 195 laps in the 1953 event.

The 1965 Indy 500 marked the first time in history that most of the drivers drove rear-engined machines. That included Clark, who drove a Lotus 38 en route to his historic victory.

Later that year, he won the 1965 World Championship. Through May 2021, there is no other driver in racing history who won both the Indy 500 and the F1 World Championship in the same year.

Clark still ranks among the greatest drivers in Formula 1 history

Clark stood on top of the Formula 1 racing world in 1965, following his victory at the Indianapolis 500. Three years later, he tragically died in a racing accident in Hockenheim, West Germany.

The veteran driver died having won 25 Grand Prix races, the most of any driver in F1 history. As of May 2021, Clark is tied with Niki Lauda for ninth all-time. Lewis Hamilton holds the current record with 98 wins, and Michael Schumacher is behind him at 91.

At the time of his death, Clark had recently won his third and final Tasman Championship. Driving a Lotus 49T, he won four of the six races.

Clark earned no shortage of honors after his death. The Scottish Sports Hall of Fame included him among its inaugural class in 2002. Formula 1 awarded drivers with the Jim Clark Trophy, a title given to drivers with naturally aspirated engines, briefly in the late 1980s.

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