Sir Jack Brabham was not just Australia’s greatest racing driver, he is also one of our all-time great sporting heroes.
Brabham’s achievements in the most dangerous era of Formula 1 motor racing rank him alongside the nation’s other legends who excelled on the international sports stage.
He deserves to be recognised and revered for his feats behind the wheel of death-trap F1 racers as much, if not more, than the likes of legends Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser and Rod Laver.
Brabham was a national sporting treasure who put Australian racing drivers – and Australian motorsport – on the global map and left a rich legacy of Australians who continue to excel in F1 and other major racing categories overseas.
Although not the first Australian to race in F1 – that was the late Tony Gaze in the early 1950s – Brabham paved the way for the constant stream of local drivers who have made their mark in Europe and the United States over the past 50 years.
Alan Jones, the 1980 world champion, Mark Webber and now Daniel Ricciardo owe their F1 careers to Brabham's pioneering successes.
And not just drivers benefitted. As a skilled mechanic on top of being an accomplished driver, he inspired the many hundreds of Australian technicians and engineers who have worked at the highest levels of the sport overseas since the 1960s.
He also established a racing dynasty that ensures the Brabham name will continue to be prominent in international competition for years to come.
Along with the Andrettis in America and the Davisons in Australia, the Brabhams are rare ‘'racing royalty’' whose third generation are following the family tyre tracks.
Despite his misgivings – and certainly without his initial encouragement - Sir Jack’s sons Geoff, Gary and David all raced at a high level internationally.
Geoff and David Brabham crowned their careers with victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours sports car classic in 1992 and 2009 respectively.
Sir Jack’s grandsons, Matthew and Sam, are both in the early stages of promising racing careers.
Matthew Brabham, son of Geoff, is on course for a seat in the American IndyCar Series, driving for the Andretti team’s junior squad.
He is a front-runner in IndyCar’s second-level feeder series and won a race recently, as did David Brabham’s eldest son Sam in his first season in British Formula Ford.
Although often under-rated, Jack Brabham was a gifted driver whose ability was complemented, rather than enhanced as regularly postulated, by his technical prowess.
While he is rarely ranked among F1’s all-time great drivers, contemporaries such as British living legend Sir Stirling Moss rate him as one of the best and toughest racers of his era, which spanned the sport’s most perilous period from the mid-1950s to the end of the ’60s.
It is also a tribute to Brabham’s talent that he raced on the ragged edge in dangerous cars on unsafe circuits, but had very few crashes and survived during a time that claimed so many of his friends and peers.
He lived to the ripe old age of 88 before succumbing peacefully on Monday morning to the kidney disease he had battled so stoically for a decade, undergoing dialysis up to three times a day.
I conducted an extensive interview with Sir Jack in 2009 to mark the 50th anniversary of his first F1 race win in the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix and despite poor hearing – caused by the aural ravages of racing – and his illness, he was alert and active.
He was most proud of winning the 1966 world title at the age of 40 in a car bearing his own name and powered by the Australian-designed and built Repco-Brabham V8 engine.
Brabham remains the only driver to win F1 races and a championship in an eponymous racer he helped fashion, and will retain that distinction for all time because F1 has long been too high-tech and expensive for drivers to also create their own cars.
He also revealed that family fears for his safety precipitated his retirement at the end of the 1970, even though at 44 he was still competitive.
In fact, in his final season, Brabham contended for the world title, winning the opening race in South Africa and almost claiming the Monaco and British Grands Prix.
His three world championships in 1959, `60 and `66 and 14 F1 race victories are among Australia’s greatest sporting achievements – and are all the more remarkable for the fact that they were achieved by a boy from Hurstville in Sydney who learnt to race in the rough-and-tumble of post-World War Two dirt track speedway competition.
As tributes pour in from all over the world, which in itself is recognition of how highly regarded he was internationally, Jack Brabham will be remembered as a uniquely influential figure in international motor racing.
He helped shape the transformative years of racing, ushering in F1’s rear-engined revolution of the early ’60s by winning back-to-back world titles in lean and lithe Cooper-Climaxes – the progenitors of all modern single-seater racing cars.
Brabham and Cooper (which he left in 1962 to form his own company) also triggered the demise of the hulking front-engined roadsters in American racing by taking their tiny F1 car to the Indianapolis 500 in ’61.
Although dismissed by the Indy establishment as the "funny car", Brabham’s under-powered Cooper was much faster through the four banked turns of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was a surprise front-runner.
Despite not having suitable tyres, which forced him to make extra pit stops, he still finished ninth after a performance that sounded the death knell for the roadsters, which in just a few years were replaced by F1-style rear-engined Indycars just a few years later.
The story Jack Brabham should be as revered as Donald Bradman first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.