Put Down Gun To Get Behind Wheel
Stewart was born June 11, 1939 in Dumbartonshire, Scotland. He began competitive shooting at age fourteen, and discovered something he was very good at. After frustrating experiences in school, he quit at age fifteen to work at Dumbuck's, his family's garage, and apprentice as a mechanic. It was not until later that he was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explained his difficulties with learning. Stewart's brother Jimmy was an accomplished semi-professional driver for the Scottish Ecurie Ecosse team by the time Stewart first drove an old race car on the snowy streets of Dumbartonshire. When Jimmy crashed soon after, the younger Stewart was warned away from motorsports, and encouraged to pursue his marksmanship talents.
The young Scot excelled in shooting, winning British, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English trap shooting championships between 1959-62. He began to find his way back to racecar driving against his parents' wishes after failing to make the 1960 British Olympic shooting team. He was twenty-three years old—a late bloomer in auto racing—when he drove his first race at the Scottish airfield circuit Charterhall in 1962. He also married his wife Helen that year. By 1963 Stewart was driving for his brother's old team, Ecurie Ecosse, and was noticed by race team manager Ken Tyrell. Stewart out drove Bruce McLaren, already an experienced F1 driver, in a test for Tyrell. McLaren would later head the formidable McLaren racing team. Tyrell's offer to let Stewart drive for him in the British Formula Three series in 1964, and Stewart's subsequent domination of the series, pushed the young driver into the spotlight as an F1 hopeful.
Stewart made a calculated decision about his 1965 start in F1 racing. He turned down an offer from the legendary Team Lotus to drive alongside fellow Scot Jim Clark in lieu of a more competitive spot alongside Graham Hill on the BRM team. Clark's firm position as Lotus' number-one driver would have placed Stewart chronically in his shadow. At BRM, the hungry young driver would be able to shine. At the time of his death in 1968, Clark was the winningest F1 driver in history, with twenty-five career wins. Though he drove for BRM in 1965, Stewart made his F1 debut in a Lotus car. He guest drove the Lotus, qualifying in pole position in the nontitle Rand Grand Prix in South Africa in December 1964.