The Brock factor
the Australian Touring Car Championship’s television rights moved from the ABC to Chanel Seven for 1985, Neil Crompton moved with them. The switch to commercial television also brought him into the orbit of one P Brock.
“By 1987 I was well established inside the motorsport world at Channel Seven and about July I took a call from Bev Brock. Actually, the first time she called I thought it was a joke and hung up.
“It was a sinking ship there and Peter and Bev were looking at what they could do. On the basis that I might have been able to drive, and create some interest, and drag in a few sponsors, I got invited to a test – you’d probably call it a shootout – with his Group A Commodore at Calder.
“He went out and set a benchmark time and I matched it and got the drive. They put the car away and I had the gig.
“It was a bit of a surprise. I’m actually quite proud of that and at the time it was a huge thing. I was able to drive it. It was genuine.”
This was the year of Brock’s bust-up with Holden and unlikely win in the World Touring Car Championship-flavoured James Hardie 1000.
Brock originally planned for Crompton to drive the team’s second-string VL – ultimately the race winner when it was taken over by Brock mid-race – but he lost his seat pre-event as he lacked the requisite number of signatures on his CAMS licence. His Bathurst debut would have to wait another year.
Nonetheless, it was the start of a very close relationship and a huge learning curve for the youngster, not just alongside Brock but facing up to the heavyweights of touring car racing.
“To begin with I was probably viewed as a circus monkey because I had a heavy Channel Seven stamp on me. But in 1988 I shimmied away from that at one of the AMSCAR races at Amaroo Park. [Teammate] Jimmy Richards and I had a nose-to-tail battle in BMWs and he was the reigning touring car champion.
“It helped with blokes like Larry Perkins and did me a world of good.”
Crompton now knew he could drive and race, but when he switched from Amaroo to Oran Park in a three-car Mobil M3 entry with Richards and Brock, he got a sharp reminder of where he sat.
“I was a great lesson for me in the humility that becomes the reality of racing. Based on merit, Peter wanted me to so some ATCC races. You think you’ve arrived, then comes the massive snap-frozen-fish feeling when Jimmy and Brock both lapped me. That was a lesson in not getting too far ahead of yourself.”
He made his Bathurst debut that year in a team Brock BMW, entered with David Parsons. Due to another Brock switcheroo, Crompton’s debut goes down in the record books as being the race’s biggest name. How many Great Race rookies can boast that?
“To work alongside Peter Brock was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed it. He was an unusual character, and there were two sides to him, but he was very fond of me and I credit him and Bev with a huge contribution.
“The sad full stop on that is that it was a huge tribute and, a heart wrench, to say farewell on that terrible day in Melbourne at his state funeral.”
Top: Fourth in the 1987 Sandown 500 showed he had what it took for Bathurst... except signatures on his international licence. Above and below: Being teammate to Brock and Richards in 1988 fast-tracked his learning.