Catching the train to Bathurst
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.