Baby-faced assassin: Glenn Seton
It’s hard to believe that Glenn Seton is 50 this year. In fact, he reaches the milestone while this edition sits on newsstands. It’s an appropriate time then to reflect on his ultra-successful career and its many dramatic moments.
Glenn Seton is the Stirling Moss of Australian motorsport. He’s won in everything he has raced, continues to race in his official retirement, and is one of the nicest blokes around. But, just as Moss is known as the best driver to have never won a Formula One world championship, Seton is tagged as the best driver who has not won at Bathurst.
His best result at Mount Panorama is a second, which would be good enough for a lot of drivers.
Yet Seton clearly deserved so much better from his time in touring car racing, after exploding on the scene as the boy-man nicknamed by Mike Raymond as the ‘Baby Faced Assassin’.
“Most people remember me today for two things: getting within nine laps of winning Bathurst in 1995 and driving in the wet in the Skyline in ’87,” says Seton. “But there are a lot of people who never even got the chance to stand on the podium at Bathurst, and I have done that. A few times.
“I’m not bitter about anything now. I wasn’t then, either. On the day I didn’t get it done. Sure, it was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching in ’95, but you cannot carry that with you for the rest of your life because it just makes you ill.”
Look beyond Bathurst and there is a lot of success. Seton won the Australian Touring Car Championship twice, driving Falcons to the title in 1993 and 1997, as well as the Australian Endurance Championship. He had a bunch of pole positions and scored 17 touring car wins from 209 starts.
He was also at the beachhead of a new generation of racers and achieved success at unprecedented tender age, a decade before Craig Lowndes’ arrival.
When you walk into Seton’s home on the Gold Coast you are immediately struck by two big framed pictures of his championshipwinning Falcons. There are lots of model racing cars on display, including a Ford Capri and a Mark I Escort.
He is a quiet man, as he always was, but there is deep insight and frank openness that’s rare in a racer.
These days Seton is semi-retired and living at a house called ‘Thisldoo’ on an acre of land on the Gold Coast. Apart from the house he shares with his wife Jane and their 16-year-old son Aaron – daughter Courtney has moved to Perth – there is a multi-car garage and a ‘man cave’ further back on the block. That’s where he custom-builds racing shock absorbers and where he also has a Ford Capri racer.
His personal car is a 1990s Falcon ute, totally in keeping with his unpretentious approach to life. He likes to drink white tea.
In recent years Seton has dabbled in the Australian Manufacturers Championship, for production cars, in a Lancer owned by Bob Pearson. This is also where Aaron has kicked off his racing career – at a younger age than his ‘old man’.
There was never any doubt that Glenn Seton, son of 1965 Bathurst 500 winner Barry ‘Bo’ Seton, would race. Not when five-monthold Glenn first went to Mount Panorama in a bassinette the year Bo won.
Glenn began on dirt bikes, then got into karts, before graduating to cars with his father’s Ford Capri and an Escort sports sedan. But it was not as simple as it sounds.
“I was racing karts and a guy called John Pizzaro unloaded me at Oran Park and put me into the wall. I was paralysed down one side and taken to hospital. My dad said, ‘Let’s get into something safer’ and that was cars.”
Bo Seton was well known in racing and ran a workshop in the Sydney suburb of Moorebank. He was especially good at engines, something that carried right through to Glenn’s later Ford Falcons.
“I started doing some AMSCAR rounds at Amaroo Park in dad’s Capri. People probably don’t realise that Mark Skaife got his licence in the same car, two years after me. Our fathers were good friends then and still are.”
What hooked young Seton on racing was his first time competing at Mount Panorama.
“I remember my first ever day in go-karts at Oran Park was quite scary. I didn’t know what to expect. But the first laps I did at Bathurst in the Capri – the excitement and exhilaration of driving across the top of the mountain – that was amazing,” he recalls.
Things moved quickly when he and Bo moved to Melbourne to join the Nissan factory team under Fred Gibson. The youngster began in a front-drive EXA turbo – it was both ugly and awful – and performed endurance co-driver duties to Christine Gibson at Bathurst in 1984.
The following season was a quiet one, as Nissan geared up to return boots-and-all in 1986 with the DR30 Skyline. When it did, Seton
found himself thrown into battle as back-up to George Fury at half of the Australian Touring Car Championship rounds.
In those days, 21-year-olds just weren’t given opportunities, with the tin-top scene primarily the domain of those aged 40-something. He led the odd race, but crashed out of enough races for eyebrows to be raised.
Seton would prove doubters wrong before season’s end, by winning three of the five Australian Endurance Championship rounds as Fury’s sidekick. This included the Sandown 500.
But don’t think the Skyline years were all smiles.
“They were a nightmare to drive. It was only when I drove the car again, at Oran Park in 2008 in the farewell event, that I realised just how bad they were.
“I’ll never forget the first year at Bathurst with George Fury and me. It had a steel cage, and we were always talking about Conrod and coming over the humps and wondering whose barbecue we were going to join. They just jumped sideways.”
The Skylines may have been a handful, but he rode the wave of success into 1987.
“My biggest memory is winning at Calder in 1987, in the first round of the touring car championship. Larry Perkins hounded me for lap after lap but I ended up winning,” he says.
Seton narrowly missed his first title in 1987, helped by a touch from Jim Richards that bumped his Nissan rival out of the way at Oran Park and gave him the title with a JPS BMW.
“That’s the thing about Jim; he does it but he always smiles and apologises afterwards.”
Despite the disappointment, winning three ATCC rounds was a mighty achievement for a lad of 22. And big new things were coming.
“Throughout 1988 Nissan said they didn’t want to be associated with cigarettes. Ken Potter, who was responsible for sponsorship at Phillip Morris, approached my dad because they still wanted to be involved in touring car racing. That’s when we made the decision that this was probably best way to control our own destiny.”
Top right: Sunday, October 1, 1995; just before 4pm. This page: Seton served his racing apprenticeship in class cars like his father’s Capri and the EXA Turbo. We can’t think of anyone who preceded him in scoring a works touring car drive locally as a teenager. By comparison, his early mentor Fred Gibson was 26 when Harry Firth came calling in 1967.