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Al­lan Mof­fat Q&A, de­serted drag strips, & first Aus­tralian NASCAR ti­tle-win­ner

Australian Muscle Car - - Front Page -

Famed Bri­tish mag­a­zine nom­i­nated Mof­fat’s Bathurst 1970-win­ning ef­fort as one of the ‘100 Great­est Drives’. “Brac­ing him­self against his Ford Fal­con’s door and trans­mis­sion tun­nel be­cause of bro­ken seat mounts, he fin­ished bruised, bat­tered and blood­ied – as the event’s first solo win­ner.”

TAMC: Can you tell me how you feel about the Al­lan and Arthur thing?

AM: I have no idea what you’re talk­ing about. You see, you’re putting me in a po­si­tion where I never think about this.

I used to talk to my­self be­fore I got into the car, and I didn’t feel obliged to talk to roam­ing jour­nal­ists who were seek­ing sto­ries.

I’m just a nor­mal per­son – per­haps not as ad­ven­tur­ous as I should have been over the years. But, cer­tainly, I had no dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing that the car didn’t just drive it­self. It wouldn’t even push it­self onto the grid po­si­tion.

Any­body that gets in a race­car with the thought they are there to have fun isn’t go­ing to get very far in the sport.

AMC: Was the prickly per­son­al­ity just your de­fence at race meet­ings?

AM: I think I’m re­sent­ing this prickly per­son­al­ity thing (smil­ing). Have you never seen any­one work­ing se­ri­ously? Ex­actly.

I didn’t quite fall into the Colin Bond group, where he was smil­ing all the time, be­cause I was think­ing about what I was do­ing and how to get the job done.

My rou­tine was al­ways to have the crew around the driver’s door. I did tend to take the view that the start of the race was when I was think­ing about what had to be done. Not the least of which was al­ways won­der­ing in the early days, and I mean the early 1970s, if the guy was ever go­ing to drop the flag. They would hang it in the air for at least five or six sec­onds. And then the lights seemed to be worse than the flag drop­ping, if you want to know the truth.

AMC: Why didn’t you tell any­one that you had

re­tired from driv­ing in 1989?

AM: That’s an easy an­swer. In my youth, as a young driver in Amer­ica when I was based in Detroit, Goodyear took me un­der their wing. And on two oc­ca­sions I was in­vited by the head of rac­ing to go down to In­di­anapo­lis for the month of May. Not to do any­thing, just to soak it all up.

There was a mis­con­cep­tion that it’s a race, but Indy was re­ally a war be­tween Goodyear and Fire­stone. And it’s for the whole month of May, not just one week­end like Bathurst.

So 33 cars started the race, and all the top teams had two cars. They would get them into ‘the show’, as they called it, on the first week­end. They would still have two spare cars, and brought them out as money earn­ers on the sec­ond week­end of qual­i­fy­ing.

So I saw a bunch of old guys, some past Indy cham­pi­ons and some not-quite-top brass, and they needed the pitcrew to help lift them into the cars. Then I saw about four guys help­ing this old guy get into the car, and the scari­est thing I ever saw in my life was they were hold­ing his hands and plac­ing them over the steer­ing wheel. They needed to do that be­cause he had been in a big fire and his hands were all burned, and when they healed he had them set sold he could hold a steer­ing wheel.

It burned me. I said I would never be a 50-yearold race driver. I would have been only about 26 or 27 at the time, so it was a long-term plan.

AMC: How has re­tire­ment been for you? AM: I like wak­ing up breath­ing, that’s a start. And all my adult life I’ve gone to my cur­rent work­shop in Malvern Road in Toorak ev­ery day. I’ve never be­lieved in sit­ting around home wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. The days go by fast enough for me at the mo­ment, so I’m not try­ing to make them go any faster.

Th­ese past 25 years have gone past rather quickly. I’ve been work­ing for 15 years for GT Ra­di­als and they’ve kept me off the streets. And I’ve done driver train­ing for many years, for a long time with BMW in a pro­gram run by Ge­of­frey Brab­ham. But I cer­tainly wouldn’t rush back into run­ning a race team.

AMC: Do you see your­self as a states­man of some sort?

AM: Cut it out. I’d be pleased to be a lit­tle more help­ful with the run­ning of CAMS. I’m not stick­ing my hand up for a full­time job, but maybe to ad­vise some peo­ple when I see an op­por­tu­nity that might be be­ing missed.

The big­gest thing we’re not do­ing enough is get­ting young peo­ple into mo­tor­sport who are not just sons of mil­lion­aires. We need some­thing for peo­ple who don’t have a blank cheque. My dad lent me $3000 and that was the sum to­tal of his con­tri­bu­tion to my rac­ing ca­reer.

AMC: I was at Oran Park the day you lost the 1971 Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship to Bob Jane. As a Mof­fat fan, I was gut­ted, but how did you feel?

AM: Je­sus. Bob had noth­ing to do with it. I bug­gered it up my­self.

I went to shift down to sec­ond and did what was the kiss of death, in those old top-load­ers, when I pushed it into the re­verse-gear chan­nel. The link­age was a glo­ri­fied ver­sion of what was on the Model T, just dis­grace­ful, and the only way to fix it was stop and man­han­dle it. It hap­pened to me twice at prac­tice at Bathurst in 1969. Half the prob­lem was I was be­ing thrown around in the seat, away from the gear­lever.

Bob passed me at Oran Park and it took me the rest of the race to catch up. Bob was prob­a­bly laugh­ing all the way to the end. And he had that seven-litre en­gine in his Ca­maro, which gave him a slight ad­van­tage.

So, yeah, I was dis­ap­pointed. But that was a mas­sive crowd and the cir­cuit’s own­ers would have made mil­lions that day, not that I got a cent of it. Al­lan Hors­ley was work­ing as the pro­moter there and we turned out to be pretty good friends and he worked for me as team manager in the Mazda days, not that he ever got his hands dirty.

AMC: Was your ri­valry with Bob Jane re­ally as fierce as it looked to a fan like me?

AM: Pretty much. Did you know I worked for him for about four months? I helped him get his

Mus­tang when I was in Detroit. But that’s a whole other story and we don’t have the time or space to get into it now. Maybe an­other time.

AMC: What about Norm Beechey or some of your other ri­vals? Did you have any friend­ships there?

AM: I don’t talk to Norm Beechey and I’ll tell you why. We were at a tour­ing car cham­pi­onship race at Calder, he had the Monaro with the 327 V8 and I had the Mus­tang with my lit­tle 302. I was on pole po­si­tion for the race, he was on the front row, and on the warm-up lap I was right on his back bumper bar on the way around to the grid. We came through the fi­nal horse­shoe onto the straight and I was look­ing at him, and I could see he was look­ing back at me in the mir­ror. Then he just slammed on the brakes.

Well, I hit him. I ar­rived at the start line and my car was all banged up. Luck­ily it hadn’t dam­aged the ra­di­a­tor, but the bon­net was all bent back.

I was so an­gry. I didn’t have to be en­er­gised that day for the start.

Well, we went down to the first cor­ner, and he had his 327 against my 302. He was al­ready start­ing to get a bit loose in the turn and I thought I’d re­turn the com­pli­ment from ear­lier. So I scraped by his car and sent him into the dirt. It was one of the best per­for­mances I had.

I never spoke to him again. I’m not renowned as a for­giv­ing per­son.

AMC: What about you and Peter Brock, your other great ri­val?

AM: Peter was the only one to call me Al. It sounded a bit melodic from him, but I didn’t like it from any­one else.

I had noth­ing but ad­mi­ra­tion for Brocky. Noth­ing was a prob­lem for him. He’d be sip­ping his tea, do­ing his thing.

He was the one who started this whole au­to­graph thing, be­cause no-one signed those in the early days. He was just sign­ing ev­ery­thing for the fans.

Ev­ery­thing changed with our re­la­tion­ship when he asked me in ’86 to join his team. He was one of the guardian an­gels that came along in my ca­reer. Our first time to­gether was the Welling­ton 500 and we won the race two years in a row. I al­ways won­dered why it had taken so long to pair up, be­cause we were a very com­pat­i­ble com­bi­na­tion.

AMC: Which was the best car you drove? AM: The fastest one or the best one? On this oc­ca­sion it was the same car.

It’s the Porsche 935 that I drove at Le Mans in 1980 with Bob Gar­ret­son, a rich car dealer from the ’States, and Bobby Ra­hal. When they told me I was do­ing 240 I thought it was kilo­me­tres, but it was ac­tu­ally miles-an-hour. For­mula 1 cars don’t go that fast. So I was do­ing some­thing like 380km/h on the Mul­sanne Straight, and the old kink at that speed def­i­nitely got your at­ten­tion.

AMC: And the worst?

AM: I don’t know. Well, I could prob­a­bly say my first car. It was a 1935 Ford V8, which I stripped down and built up while I was living in South Africa. I got this old car for 20 pounds. We raced it, but only around the streets. I didn’t have a li­cence.

If you mean a race­car, we al­ways worked hard at get­ting them to work well. That didn’t mat­ter if it was the first GT-HO or the RX7 or the Sierra. And I was lucky that I could do one lap and feel some­thing we could im­prove and I’d come in and we’d make a tweak.

I drove the 1970 win­ner from Bathurst in a demon­stra­tion and, when I saw what it was like with just that sin­gle roll hoop be­hind my head, it made me very aware of how lucky I was to have sur­vived with only that one big crash at Surfers Par­adise in the Mazda.

AMC: How hard was it to con­vince CAMS that the RX7 was a tour­ing car?

AM: Al­lan Hors­ley, who was my team manager – well, my guardian re­ally – was able, be­cause he was the pro­moter at Oran Park and had the smarts to talk to all the CAMS state man­agers, to get the car ac­cepted. It took a year be­fore they would ac­cept it.

We had the Ja­panese ho­molo­ga­tion pa­pers as a tour­ing car so it should have been no prob­lem. But it was so small com­pared to the Com­modore and Fal­con that peo­ple thought this was a gi­gan­tic con on my part. The thing bug­ging so many peo­ple was that it wasn’t a four-door car. If it had had four doors it would have gone through much more quickly.

AMC: Do you think you could have won Bathurst in 1987 if you had used the Com­modore VL in which you won the Monza WTCC round in­stead of the Rouse Sierra which broke early? (Reader ques­tion)

AM: The Rouse Sierra that we leased didn’t make it to the first pit­stop and there was one sig­nif­i­cant rea­son for that. The damn gear­box in the car had just com­pleted the Spa 24-hour race.

Af­ter the race I told my chief me­chanic Mick Webb to get the Rouse guys on the booze and find out why the car had stopped. When he told me what it was I told them all to get out of my sight.

So you say we could have won with the Com­modore and maybe we could have done. But the Sierra was the thing to have in those days, but you had to have them run­ning at the end if you wanted to take the che­quered flag.

AMC: Your cars al­ways looked stunning. Who came up with the liveries? (Reader ques­tion)

AM: Wayne Draper was the guy, a designer in­volved at Ford for many years. The nicest one he did was the Brut 33 Fal­con for Bathurst. The scru­ti­neers told me I couldn’t run with those big num­bers on the doors, but I told them I’d drive it into the truck and head back to Mel­bourne rather than change it.

But they put it into the log­book and I had to have small num­bers af­ter that. Although I see some of the V8 Su­per­cars, like Garry Rogers’ Volvos, are now back to big NASCAR-type num­bers.

AMC: Why do you think you were so suc­cess­ful? Was it skill or hard work?

AM: I don’t con­sider it be­ing lucky. No-one taught me any­thing. And the real joke was that in my early days of driv­ing in the Tri­umph TR3 it was just in­cred­i­ble that CAMS never saw this hap­pen­ing. All of us in the 1960s had a roll­bar, and it was our necks. And the fact I didn’t kill my­self was the high­light of my ca­reer at that stage.

When I was rac­ing I wasn’t screw­ing around in the pit­lane, chas­ing bun­nies or any­thing that might be of in­ter­est.

When­ever some­thing was wrong with the car I tried to im­prove it. I was gifted to be able to go out for a lap and come in right away. I wanted to know how it felt.

There was one time, at an ATCC race at Sym­mons Plains in the Mazda days, around 1983. Well, Brocky went out and in two laps he broke the track record, parked in the pit­lane and had a cup of tea. I was ex­actly a sec­ond slower in the first ses­sion.

I was think­ing I had a long day ahead of me, but in the sec­ond ses­sion I brought my time down by half a sec­ond. In the third ses­sion, think­ing this and think­ing that with a car that re­sponded to the small­est ad­just­ment, I beat Peter’s time with five min­utes to go and put the RX7 on pole. By the time I came around he had dropped his tea, jumped in his car, and was head­ing back out. But he stayed sec­ond on the grid.

AMC: Were you a fast driver on the road? AM: No. I never prac­tised on the high­way. I thought I was King Kong when I first got the Tri­umph TR3, and on the old road to Sale near Mel­bourne I got it up over 100 miles-an-hour. But that was legal in those days. We got gypped when we went dec­i­mal. AMC: Do you miss rac­ing? (Reader ques­tion)

AM: No, I don’t. I’m not brag­ging when I say that for 30-odd years my life was only work­ing and think­ing about the cars and where we were rac­ing next and how to make the car go faster.

I don’t miss the re­quire­ment to, in to­day’s fig­ures, find the odd $10 mil­lion to put a good team to­gether. There is no use hid­ing it, if you’ve got mil­lions you can make mil­lion-dollar pay­days, but oth­er­wise...

AMC: Any re­grets about closing your V8 Fal­con team in the 1990s, just be­fore the V8 Su­per­car boom be­gan and the fran­chise sys­tem was es­tab­lished? (Reader ques­tion)

AM: Once I had pulled out I wasn’t go­ing to come back like some peo­ple. It wasn’t go­ing to be in and

out, in and out.

AMC: So, what do you see as your great­est achieve­ment? (Reader ques­tion)

AM: That I didn’t end up hurt­ing my­self. I did have that one in­ci­dent at Surfers, but thank­fully only the one. We had to throw that car away.

But the one win that comes to mind is Bathurst in the 1970s, when I was able to drive the Fal­con solo for 500 miles. That was down to me.

AMC: And your great­est dis­ap­point­ment? AM: I never re­call too many deals to turn down. I was al­ways ask­ing po­litely if peo­ple would help me.

One of my dis­ap­point­ments was in 1990, when I still had ANZ spon­sor­ship. The man­ag­ing direc­tor, Will Bai­ley, called me into his of­fice to tell me that the bank had suf­fered its first loss in his­tory and he’d had to dis­miss some 3000 peo­ple. Well, of course, they couldn’t main­tain the race team.

He told me the cars were mine and all the bills would be paid. Then (Mof­fat is cry­ing) he handed me an en­ve­lope with a cheque in it and you know how much it was for? How about $250,000? That truly was, aw shit, the nicest thing that ever hap­pened to me. He told me it was a do­na­tion to help me get my next spon­sor.

From that day on­wards I spent most Christ­mas Day cel­e­bra­tions with Will Bai­ley and his wife.

AMC: You seemed to have the knack of land­ing big spon­sors from out­side the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. And mostly from out­side those com­pa­nies al­ready in­volved in rac­ing. What was the se­cret to do­ing so?

AM: Well, the Coca-Cola spon­sor­ship was re­ally just a cou­ple of the state-based dis­trib­u­tors or bot­tlers who gave me great sup­port, with the oth­ers states happy to take the benefits of it but not will­ing to con­trib­ute. But to an­swer your ques­tion, it was mostly good luck in meet­ing the right peo­ple.

AMC: What are your feel­ings when you watch your son James rac­ing in V8 Su­per­cars?

AM: I don’t go to most races be­cause I get ner­vous and a bit jumpy. I’m also in the wrong state of mind.

I didn’t tol­er­ate peo­ple hav­ing fun in my crew when they were there to work, so I get up­set when I see some prob­lem with the car and noone is get­ting up­set.

I only get teary (he’s laugh­ing) when peo­ple like you are ask­ing ques­tions you have no busi­ness ask­ing.

AMC: We don’t see you very of­ten at the race­track when James is rac­ing. Why?

AM: There’s a thing that hangs on the wall with mov­ing pic­tures. You can talk to it, but it won’t talk back… (smiles). When he started in V8 Su­per­cars I was there just in the back­ground in the garage. We soon found there were many re­quests to pose for pho­to­graphs and it got to the point that I could see that it was dis­tress­ing James, as it was a dis­trac­tion.

AMC: You played the role of sup­port­ive fa­ther as he made his ways up through the ranks, but, from our ob­ser­va­tions, you were a firm be­liever in not hold­ing his hand all the time. Cor­rect?

AM: I had to find my own way in rac­ing when I started, there were no driv­ing schools in those days, not that I knew about any­way, and it re­ally did serve me well. I’m so proud that he has made it to the big league. He worked for three or four sea­sons for teams for no pay, do­ing some lousy jobs at times. With one team, that will re­main name­less, he painted the walls and floors of a work­shop over the Christ­mas hol­i­days, while not one mem­ber of the team was there to help.

AMC: What about your other son, An­drew? Has he called time on his rac­ing ca­reer?

AM: Yes, he lost his spon­sor­ship and, be­ing a proper school teacher and very suc­cess­ful at this, it was okay when the car was be­ing pro­vided for him. He whipped the lit­tle Dat­sun around more than just ef­fi­ciently. Then he was driv­ing one of Rod­ney Jane’s Porsches in the Car­rera Cup, but it didn’t fall into place for him.

AMC: To clear up any con­fu­sion, you have two sons born a year apart, cor­rect?

AM: I’m de­lighted that I have two lovely sons. An­drew was born to Pauline and my­self and James was born to my­self and Sue McCure, who I have been with for the last 30 years.

AMC: What ad­vice do you have for young driv­ers to­day keen to break into big time rac­ing?

AM: To try to think of three or four other oc­cu­pa­tions or ways to make a living (smiles).

AMC: What is your take on Ford’s with­drawal from V8 Su­per­cars at the end of this year?

AM: How can any­body com­ment on that? In my case, I’m dis­ap­pointed that that’s the world we’re in. The whole au­to­mo­tive world is not swing­ing at the mo­ment. And I’m sure Detroit has told Australia that, un­til they get the profit right, there is no big spend­ing on stuff like rac­ing.

It’s been up and down in the past too. There is

no use cry­ing over some­thing you can­not change. Re­ally, it’s noth­ing to do with me. I wish I was Mis­ter Ford but that’s just an­other dream.

AMC: Any thoughts on the pro­posed rule changes for 2017? AM: Maybe we’ll see the Mus­tang back. It’s now 50 years of the Mus­tang and it’s ob­vi­ously a spe­cial car to me. It would be nice to see it back.

I think some­body will build one for V8 Su­per­cars and there is a new man on the block at Dick John­son Rac­ing, Mr Penske, who would know how to make that hap­pen.

AMC: Fi­nally, how would you like to be re­mem­bered? AM: Hon­estly, I can­not an­swer that one. I’m not beat­ing my chest when I say I’m proud of the fact that I started with next to noth­ing, and had so many guardian an­gels – I mean Ford, Goodyear, Roth­mans, ANZ – who all helped me so much. That was the way I did my ca­reer.

I’d say to any­one start­ing out in mo­tor­sport to take it easy on the brag­ging front, and how many smiles you should be hav­ing, and avoid the dis­trac­tions. Be pro­fes­sional and a lit­tle hum­ble and thank­ful for the re­sults you get.

Mo­tor­Sport

“I’m not renowned as a for­giv­ing per­son,” Mof­fat tells AMC in re­call­ing a stoush with Norm Beechey.

Mof­fat dragged lo­cal mo­tor­sport into the pro­fes­sional era with his abil­ity to gar­ner sup­port from out­side the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. A good ex­am­ple was Coca-Cola.ex­ec­u­tives

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