Peter, you played a prominent, if quirky, part in Australian motorsport history via Racecam in 1979. We would imagine it’s a source of great pride for you to this day?
Of course. Partly because nobody else wanted to know about it then. It was offered freely at Amaroo Park at the AMSCAR round. Drivers like Brock and Grice couldn’t see any value in it. The offer was made with a tenet that there would be a bit of work involved in developing it: “We need you to come and help us in the next couple of months.” Being a car salesman and publicist I didn’t want to let that go. I could see the promotional value. They knew what they were doing.
How did your Racecam involvement come about?
My marketing manager Keith Dimmons invited the Channel 7 guys for a steak sandwich and a beer! They made the offer to me. I don’t think initially they were happy who they ended up with, but at the end they were because we put a lot of work into it. I think we were the right people at the time for the job. My team got right behind it and that helps. Doing commentary was all part of it. It was all fully explained how the system worked. There was a fair bit of risk involved.
Until we got to Bathurst, indeed before the start of the race, we didn’t know how good it would be. They were sitting in the foxhole (TV compound) in the middle of the paddock and it started to rain. They said, “We’re getting interference off the trees, so when you go through The Cutting turn this button here and then when you get to Skyline turn it back again.” Well, it was a bit too hard. When the flag dropped the sun came out, we turned everything on and it worked, though range was limited. “We have a link to the helicopter, so when you see it over the top start talking,” they told me. That was okay, everything worked and then the radio went dud and I could no longer talk to the technicians. So every time the helicopter went over I started talking. The commentators pre-empted what I was going to say – I don’t think many people picked up that it was a one-way conversation. I couldn’t hear them. They knew the problem. I had to deliver the message and I was always good at one-liners so that’s the best way. Just say it and get on with the race!
So did Dick Johnson learn all of his one liner’s from you? He sure did!
Some of the comments made on air – “that bloody Volvo” (1979), “move you big Yankee thing” (Camaro, 1980) endeared you to TV audiences, but did you cop any heat afterwards from those comments?
Only from David McKay who drove the Volvo! David should have realised that he was in seven countries on TV with a Volvo that no one would have cared about otherwise. The Camaro incident was unfortunate. He got in my way and nearly crashed me. When you are highly stressed you say things you shouldn’t.
Given you finished ninth outright in 1979 – and first non Torana A9X home – it obviously didn’t slow you down too much?
No. We had a good outfit. We put a good race together and we had a well-prepared car. We did well because of the unreliability of the top running cars. But you had to finish.
Racecam wasn’t without its problems, weight being one of them as well as the electrical demands placed on the Celica, which drained the battery at Bathurst 1980. Was there ever a thought of not competing with Racecam or were the benefits too great to pass-up?
One year (in 1980) it damaged the alternator and we couldn’t keep power up to it. I never thought about not having Racecam. I giggle now when they said they have this miniature Thomson camera, which was developed for the Moscow Olympics. The camera wasn’t too little, but it was smaller than before.
There was a lot of opposition from AMI Toyota when you decided to race a RA23 model Toyota Celica in 1977. Why was that? Especially as your efforts did a lot to change perceptions about the Celica being a hairdresser’s car. Was it because the sportier (twin-cam) GT model you raced wasn’t sold here?
The local Toyota people didn’t even know about the GT model. Nor did they know the potential it had. It was a very good car, which we would have liked to sell. They felt it was a little too sporty, it wasn’t a comfortable fit. They were marketing a family image. They approached a number of motoring journalists who all bagged the idea. And I was instructed not to proceed, but I didn’t take much notice. Once we showed