From Racing Car To A Tractor

Published 9 years ago
From Racing Car To A Tractor

In the English countryside, Jody Scheckter is an entrepreneur, organic farmer and a millionaire. No matter how many chickens he raises, his name will always be known for Formula One (F1) motor racing. The African racing legend won 10 Grand Prix.

Scheckter is a direct, likeable, deeply understated man with a dry wit. Life has taken the 64-year-old on a long journey from South Africa and motor racing. But racing forged his personality and battles on the track steeled him for building two businesses from scratch.


For most, winning the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 1979 would be a highlight of their lives. Not for Scheckter.

“It was really an anti-climax,” he says.

“You have spent eight years dedicated completely to winning and then nothing seemed to change much. I think it has changed more in the latter years of my life, where being World Champion means something to some people.”

He does look back at his achievements with satisfaction however. As he puts it, he earned good bucks for the time and is the only South African to win a Grand Prix and remains the only South African to win the F1 World Championship.


So, what does he make of the sale of Kyalami, where he won a grand prix on home soil?

“Kyalami is not what it was. It was a wonderful circuit and has already had the heart taken out of it, which is a great shame. Kyalami means racing and was an icon in Formula One.”

Scheckter rode his luck at Kyalami.

“I crashed my car in practice and it was written off. We rebuilt the car, had a warm up in the morning and the engine blew up after one lap. I was on the front row, I got into the lead after the second lap and then won the race,” he says.


Several drivers died at Kyalami and Scheckter says he is grateful to be alive. Racing in the 1970s could hardly have been more dangerous.

“Each year, one or two drivers from the starting 25 were killed.”

By drivers, he means his contemporaries. Scheckter raced against legendary racers of the 1970s; Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost.


Glamour a million miles from where Scheckter grew up in East London in the Eastern Cape, repairing motorbikes and cars.

“It’s a little coastal town, my dad had several garages there and I wasn’t very good at school.”

East London had a famous racing track, the Prince George Circuit, where Scheckter’s uncle raced and his father invited the racing drivers to his garage.

“Racing was all around me growing up. Racing drivers even used to stay over at our house.”


Life after motor racing meant a move away from the sport. Scheckter went to the United States and became a successful entrepreneur, setting up a business called FATS, Inc. in 1984.

“We sold simulators and trained police and then military on how to use guns safely.”

“In 12 years, we went from the kitchen table to sales in 35 countries and 95% of the world market. We turned over $100 million in sales the year we sold,” he says.

Then his life took a handbrake turn. Thirteen years ago, Scheckter put some of his earnings from selling FATS, Inc. into starting an organic farm in Hampshire.


He bought 500 acres at Laverstoke Park Farm, 40 miles west of London. It started as a hobby, to make the healthiest and tastiest food for himself and his six children. His racing driver son, Tomas, has recently joined the business.

Today, Scheckter owns 2,500 acres and farms a further 2,000. He says it has all got out of hand.

“It’s a monster, but a lovely monster.”

Now, Scheckter is championing biodiversity as he competes to make the finest organic products in the world.

“I don’t mind not winning, but I hate to lose,” he says.

With two of Britain’s most upmarket food suppliers, Ocado and Waitrose, as their biggest customers, the Laverstoke Park Farm brand is on the way up.

The farm has seven small factories clustered around a farm house from which the operation is run from. It employs 166 people and turns over $23.7 million a year.

Despite winning countless awards and being run as a model of organic farming techniques, Laverstoke Park Farm doesn’t yet make money. Scheckter has given himself a year to make the business profitable. For a born winner, this feels like losing.

Scheckter is refreshingly honest and feels like a man who knows he has reached his limitations.

“Meat is fiendishly complicated and I’ve just hired an expert from one of the top meat companies to run that side of the business for me. Profitability is all in the cut, and although we’re getting better we haven’t quite got there yet. I’ve learned the hard way. ”

It’s a long way from the track.

“With a car factory, you bring in a thousand pieces, you make one and you sell it. We bring in one, cut it into a thousand pieces and you have got to sell them all. And remember, some of it goes bad within three days.”

“We have too many products and we have to rationalize.”

He sells 120 items to Ocado and produces a range of products from organic beef, lamb and chicken to champagne grapes and cooked pies. One of the stranger animals on his farm is water buffalo, from which come mozzarella cheese and ice cream. Almost everything that comes from the farm is award winning. It just doesn’t all make money.

Scheckter follows traditional biodynamic farming techniques and sows according to the moon cycles.

“It’s very, very powerful. It makes seas go up and down and it makes the liquids in plants go up and down. We use modern versions of those techniques,” he says.

“After all my research, we follow nature very strictly and we have two main keys. One is slow growing animals and plants are generally healthy and taste better, and secondly, biodiversity is key to a natural, healthy environment.”

He believes that to produce great food you have got to have great soil, which comes from farming naturally and means no chemicals are used. To study the soil, Laverstoke has its own laboratory run by a doctor in microbiology and a doctor in chemistry.

Scheckter is a bit of a soil expert himself, with a library of over 500 books on soil types going back through the centuries.

“The animals at Laverstock don’t eat grass but a mix of 31 herbs, clovers and grasses in the fields. Our animals are eating salad!”

As he gives us a tour of the farm, it’s hard not to smile at his enthusiasm.

“My ice-cream is made from buffalo milk and I genuinely believe it’s the best in the world and my mozzarella tastes better than Italian mozzarella because it’s fresher.”

From fast cars to slow food, with an emphasis on the best farming techniques, Scheckter may not yet have found a successful business model for his enterprise, but you know he wants to win.