The first Sunday in October
Despite the many hurdles the team faced just to get on the grid, #61E’s big day out proved largely trouble-free – albeit with a sting in the tail.
Garry Rush started the race and hovered just outside the top 10 during his 41-lap stint.
“After about three laps you had no brakes,” Rush says. “You had to rely on your driving skills and bit of daring to get it around the track for the rest of the day. And that’s what we did.”
Damon Beck did the ‘lunchtime shift’ and recalls Rush shouting “watch them brakes” as he closed the door and Beck exited the pitbox.
Around this time Bill Brown had his massive, death-defying multi-rollover at McPhillamy Park, the result of his Phase III’s right-front tyre rubbing on the guard. Beck says the ensuing slow laps when double-yellow flags were waved across the top of the mountain proved a godsend for the Baldwin car. Beck, with the regular application of light pressure on the pedal, was able to flatten out the face of the pads which had become concave during the early race scramble.
As Beck became more confident in the car his times came down and he even pulled a cheeky move after race leader Allan Moffat lapped him mid-race.
“A good run down the Mountain and through Forrest’s Elbow gave me about 3mph on Moffat entering Conrod Straight. I came alongside his right-rear guard and he decided to get rid of me by backing off about 20 metres earlier than usual. I could not do anything other than pass him. Commonsense dictated that I let him through on Mountain Straight and, as the crew held out the ‘EZ’ sign after a quiet word from Moffat’s crew, I dropped my pace and he went on his way.”
Beck says he handed the car back to Rush on lap 86 when in a fine fifth place, although the changeover cost quite a few places.
Rush drove to the end, pitting for fuel on lap 110, and with a top 10 finish well within the team’s grasp.
Impressively, the Baldwin team, in its first ever race (of any description), was a mere lap behind the works entry of the eventual winner an hour from the chequered flag. It was a fact not lost on an excitable Bryan Baldwin, as outlined in the breakout box.
Rush says, brakes aside, all was going swimmingly.
“We were chasing a Charger and were catching them at quite a rate of knots,” he says, recollections that match those of Field and Sayer.
“I came around Forrest’s Elbow and the wheel
centre fell out of my right-front wheel. I nudged it into the Armco barrier and that was the end of the day,” he recalls wryly.
Field: “We were running in eighth place in the 117th lap and catching the Charger that was in front of us at quite a rate of knots.”
Field’s memory is bang-on in this regards, with Leo Geoghegan’s E38 finishing the event in seventh.
At the time, the little Baldwin team was ahead of Peter Brock’s Holden Dealer Team LC Torana GTR XU-1, which ultimately came home eighth after some dramas.
The history books record that the cars awarded second through ninth were just one lap down on the winning Phase III of Moffat, who, admittedly, had adopted a conservative approach. This was the Great Race’s most compacted top 10 in the race’s pre-Safety Car race era.
The Baldwin Falcon may not have greeted the chequered flag but it was far from being an also-ran. So what caused the five-slot steel wheel to break? We’ll never know for sure, but the crew members have their theories.
Sayer: “The wheel actually collapsed and the centre of it was still on the car. Probably a bad rim.”
Rush: “What we didn’t know at the time was that the Ford Motor Company knew of the wheels cracking and didn’t pass that info onto us.”
AMC #27’s Bill Brown profile touched on this subject. Brown’s massive mid-race accident was caused by the tyre rubbing on the Newell-entered Falcon’s guard and blowing. Bill said in that article that there was discussion at the time that the works cars had different wheels to the privateers, having identified various issues in pre-race testing. Other privateer Falcons had similar problems to Brown’s yellow machine, albeit to a lesser extent, including the Baldwin vehicle, which still bears scars inside its guard today.
AMC has also noted the viewpoint of another Baldwin Ford service department employee in correspondence we’ve sighted. He suggests that the rim which broke may have been on the car when the Baldwin Ford racing Phase III MkI hit struck the horse near Windsor and that another employee neglected to get that rim crack-tested as instructed by his superiors... We’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that Baldwin Ford would never return to the Mountain.
Top: And their off... up Mountain Straight. #61D begins its strong run. Colour: Klaus Sayer wasn’t part of the race day pit crew, which left him free to take these great shots. Above: Uh-oh! Rush and Beck’s great drive comes to nought. The image on the story opener (p36) shows how hard the right-front was worked.