Joseph Clark. Visionary. Entrepreneur. Aviation Pioneer. Avid Car Collector. Race Car Driver. Philanthropist. Friend. The list could easily continue. Joe lived the life of ten men and accomplished more than most people could ever dream. In March of this year, we lost our dear friend at the age of 78. Joe was a long time client and passionate Aston Martin collector. Today we celebrate his life and accomplishments, both on the ground and in the sky.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Clark was born in Calgary, Alberta, on Sept. 9, 1941, but his family moved to Seattle before he was a month old. It wasn’t until he was a student at the University of Washington, when he took his first flying lesson. He earned his private pilot’s license in 1961 at the age of 19.
It was in 1964 while attending the famed Reno Air Races, Joe’s career trajectory would take a different turn. He met legendary pilot Clay Lacy who took him for a ride in his Learjet. From that point on, Lacy and Clark would become lifelong friends. The experience that day in Reno made such and impact, that Clark decided to take a job in sales at Learjet of Chicago. It was there he would meet Bruce McCaw. Seeing the opportunity to expand, Clark would open another Learjet dealership in Seattle known as Jet Air, and subsequently sell that dealership to McCaw.
In 1978 we would see McCaw and Clark partner to create Horizon Airlines. By 1981 Clark had assembled and small team that operated out of Boeing Field and offered flights between only a few Washington based cites. Utilizing Fairchild F-27 turboprop airplanes carrying about 25 passengers, it was September of 81′ that we would see Horizon take flight. Following a rapid expansion the airline was sold to Alaskan Air Group in 1985.
It was in 1991 when Clarks career would take another turn and solidify him as a legend in the Aviation community. Long time friend Dennis Washington would come to Joe and ask him to develop a way to extend the range of his Gulfstream II business jet. Clark would form Aviation Partners and hired a team of retired Boeing and Lockheed aerospace engineers. Led by aerodynamicist Dr. Bernie Gratzer, they patented the technology for the “blended winglet”. Made of a carbon fiber composite, the winglets move the air turbulence at the tip of the wing away from the horizontal part of the wing that provides lift, reducing drag and thereby saving fuel and increasing the jet’s range. This device worked so well that Boeing executives took notice and added them to their 737 based private jets. Upon seeing the improved efficiency, airlines across the globe were asking for winglets to be retrofitted to their planes. This also led to the joint venture between Aviation Partners and Boeing, to outfit new planes with the now popular winglet.
“Joe was very good at putting things together, getting along with people and making things work,” said Lacy. As a businessman, “he was very straightforward and never took advantage of anyone.”
The technology is estimated at have saved almost 11 billion gallons of fuel since its introduction by Aviation Partners, with a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions. One of Joe’s proudest features on the Aviation Partners website was the ongoing ticker showing how many gallons of jet fuel had been saved. It was this accomplishment that led to Clark being inducted into numerous Aviation Hall of Fames and receiving the NBAA 2015 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award.
Over the course of his career Clarks various enterprises had earned him enough money that in 1990 he was able to acquire his own personal fleet of airplanes. Most of these are stored at his Idaho Ranch where Clark built a 7,500 foot runway. One of the longest private runways in the United States.
One of Clarks prized possessions amongst his 18 planes was his 1945 US Marine F7F-3P Tigercat. Joe regularly flew the Tigercat at airshows all around the country, usually alongside friend Clay Lacy.
“Joe had a joy about aviation,” said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). “He was recognized for his genius but loved for his passion.”
Another recent venture Clark as excited about was the attempt to break the world record for speed by a piston driven aircraft. Aviation Partners became the planes sponsor and even lended some engineering assistance to help get the plane over the 528mph benchmark. In its fastest run, the modified P-51 Mustang did 554mph.
Airplanes weren’t clarks only passion in life. Joe was an avid car collector, specifically of Aston Martins, and owned some of the rarest cars ever to leave the UK factory. His love of cars started at the age of 16.
“When I was 16, my father made some money in the natural-gas business, and the first thing he did was buy a 1958 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkIII. A week later he was going out of town and he told me, “Don’t you dare drive that car.” Of course, I did. I got pulled over for speeding and ended up in court. My dad was furious, but I was left with a lifelong passion for Aston Martins.“
Clark has 5 in his collection including two of the most exclusive to ever be built. First is the Aston Martin One-77. Limited to only 77 to ever be produced, no two are alike. Painted in a stunning pearl white Clark designed himself and dubbed Olympic White. It was said to remind him of the snow capped Olympic Mountains in his home state of Washington. The 1958 DB2 his father purchased, which Clark still owned, only put out around 160HP. The One-77’s incredible V12 has 750HP. A car of this magnitude and rarity usually finds itself stored in garage vaults, or the centerpiece in large car collections. Joe however loved to drive it. In fact he love to take it even further, and drive it on the race track. As a member of the ultra exclusive Thermal Club, Clark had a trackside home which housed the majority if his incredible collection.
Clarks most recent Aston acquisition was one of the rarest ever created. With only 24 examples in the world, the Vulcan is a factory built race car, with 850HP. One of the most extreme cars to ever leave the UK factory is as Joe would describe it “the ultimate gentleman’s race car.” He talked about the way it drove and the sensation of being behind the wheel “I have been an aviation man all my life. This car feels more like fighter planes I have flown than an automobile.“
The last car Joe purchased was also one of his largest philanthropic contributions, and comes with a funny story. A story that could only be told by long time friend of Joe, our founder, Tom O’Gara.
“Joe and I were at MTC (McLaren Technology Center) for the 2018 Winter Ball Gala. We had already had a great time while we were there staying at The Ned, but this event was really something else. I can remember us walking down these stairs and coming to a massive white tiled room. It was absolutely stunning. Once we realized what we were looking at we could see that it was more of a long hallway that a square room. As we walked we saw that both sides of the hall were lined with old F1 cars. We then heard through the speakers the story of Ayrton Senna and realized these were his cars we were looking at. After 45 minutes or so of watching this we made our way over to admire the famed trophy case. Feeling inspired, we were seated for dinner on the boulevard while Mike (Flewitt) began his speech. A video played on a large screen behind him, and these menacing looking headlights appeared. It was at that point Joe and I realized this was out front of MTC and that car was heading toward us. Suddenly this incredible looking car pulled into the area where the tables were at and we all saw this was the new McLaren Senna. It was being driven by Ayrton’s nephew Bruno. That night the car would be auctioned off for charity as a one of one car with all the proceeds going to the Senna Foundation.
After we finished dinner and a lot of champagne, the auction began. I wasn’t really paying attention to who was bidding, I could just hear the price going up at a pretty rapid pace. I turned and realized that Joe was throwing his hand up. Keep in mind Joe already ordered a Senna before attending this gala. I asked him “Joe. What the hell are you doing?” he responded “It’s for charity, I wan’t to make sure they get a big number”. Joe being the guy he is, pilot, race car driver, entrepreneur, he’s really competitive. The bidding has reached $1.7 when Joe yells “Two Million!!” It was at that point I said “Joe are you nuts? Don’t you realize where you’re at?!” he said “of course we’re at a fundraiser, what are you talking about?” as he bids again. I said “No Joe, I mean the country. Your bid isn’t in US Dollars!” at that point it hit him that the price was in Pound Sterling. That night Joe payed close to $2.7 million dollars, more than double the sticker, for a car he already had.”
At the end of the day Joe was happy to pay it and the car became one if his prized possessions. Philanthropy was important to Clark. He once set a world record piloting a 747, circling the globe in 36 hours and raised over a half millions dollars for various children’s charities.
Clark received countless awards including one in 2008 that meant a lot to him, The Horatio Alger Award. In the end Joe made a massive impact on the world both on the ground and in the air. We at O’Gara feel honored and privileged to have known such a great American and he will be missed dearly.