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