Catch­ing the train to Bathurst

Australian Muscle Car - - Induction - Luke West Ed­i­tor

We all re­mem­ber our first trip to Mount Panorama for the Great Race. Mine was 30 years ago this year. A mate and I caught the train up to Bathurst from Syd­ney after the school bell rang on Fri­day af­ter­noon of race week­end. It was quite an ad­ven­ture for a pair of rac­ing-ob­sessed 15-yearolds. We stayed with my mate’s rel­a­tives, which was the only rea­son our par­ents let us loose oth­er­wise un­su­per­vised.

Adding to our ‘rite of pas­sage’ was suc­cess­fully scab­bing pit passes from a team con­test­ing the race. A cou­ple of months ear­lier I’d spent two weeks of Year 10 work ex­pe­ri­ence at Che­quered Flag Mag­a­zine. Pub­lisher Phil Chris­tensen (pic­tured be­low in white cap) en­tered a pair of Mazda RX7s in the 1984 James Hardie 1000 and kindly flicked us some tick­ets. De­spite the stress Phil was un­der as a first-time (and only time) Bathurst en­trant, he pa­tiently al­lowed two school­boys to hang around the team. We weren’t old enough to be in pit­lane. My mate Robbo – ev­ery­one has a mate named Robbo – and I were in sev­enth heaven, es­pe­cially when Phil’s crew asked us to run some er­rands.

You see, that be­stowed upon us the ti­tle of ‘Team Go­phers’ – as in, go for this, go for that. For two teens with du­bi­ous so­cial skills and no pre­vi­ous rac­ing in­volve­ment there’s no loftier ti­tle.

We went for ‘100mph tape’; we went for tim­ing sheets; we went for food for the crew. We chat­ted awk­wardly to the go­pher of the Holden Dealer Team, which was lo­cated ‘next door’ to us in the pad­dock area. We loved ev­ery sec­ond of it, de­spite the snow that fell, briefly, on Mount Panorama that Satur­day and the chill­ing wind.

Robbo and I were smart enough to leave the team to its own de­vices on race day. Thus, we went ‘up top’.

The Bob Mor­ris/Barry Jones WB1-spon­sored #41 Mazda was out of con­tention early, but strug­gled on un­til re­tire­ment fi­nally beck­oned.

I felt an at­tach­ment to that car, as I’d been present when it was sign­writ­ten a month ear­lier. I couldn’t be­lieve the pro­fes­sional sign­writer used an over­head pro­jec­tor, like the ones the teach­ers used at school, to project a logo onto the bon­net, which he then traced around with a pen­cil and later ‘coloured-in’ with paint.

Mean­while, the Gra­ham Moore/Peter McKay-driven sis­ter car hov­ered around the top 15 most of the race, be­fore its en­gine failed. That sec­ond car was spon­sored by the Aussie dis­trib­u­tors of the soon-to-be-re­leased Ghost­busters movie. Fit­tingly, car #44 seemed to ap­pear in the back­ground of sev­eral in­ci­dents cap­tured by the race tele­cast­ers.

It didn’t re­ally mat­ter that ‘our’ cars both DNFed, we still had a ball soaking up the at­mos­phere of a colour­ful event. The cig­a­rette company-spon­sored cars of the Marl­boro HDT (with that ex­otic ‘day-glo’ paint scheme!), JPS Team BMW and Mof­fat’s Peter Stuyvesant Maz­das pro­vided the glam­our.

We loved the mas­sive 60-plus field for its as­sort­ment of makes, mod­els and classes. There were cars pow­ered by en­gines of four, five, six, eight and 12 cylin­ders. Heaven for those with a tech­ni­cal bent.

I don’t get the same buzz from at­tend­ing the big race th­ese days, for a num­ber of rea­sons. I’m prob­a­bly a bit too close to it all th­ese days and, in­evitably, the nov­elty wears off over time. The field is too small – 26 cars is the likely 2014 field size as we closed for press – and the manda­tory pitstop rules drive me nuts.

Yet, the Mount Panorama cir­cuit is still mag­i­cal and I’ll make the pil­grim­age again, if just to keep my un­bro­ken run go­ing.

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