The dirt on Brock

We asked AMC’s found­ing pub­lisher and long­time pho­tog­ra­pher Ray Berghouse to dig up some dirt on Peter Brock! That’s be­cause few oth­ers wit­nessed Brock close-up for such a sus­tained pe­riod at his very peak back in 1979.

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Mail -

Ev­ery­one knows that Peter Brock the race­car driver had tal­ent, de­ter­mi­na­tion and luck, but what’s never asked is ‘in what ra­tios’? A man who was able to win so many ma­jor races and cham­pi­onships must have had more than his fair share of all three at­tributes, plus large sized serv­ings of many other fac­tors that com­bined to make the man.

So, when GM-H de­cided to fund a three-car team to tackle the 1979 Repco Round Aus­tralia Trial with ma­jor com­mer­cial back­ing from Marl­boro and Cas­trol, Brock was an ob­vi­ous choice as one of the team’s lead driv­ers. But when he was taken out of his nat­u­ral el­e­ment (on bi­tu­men) was he ex­pected to make the trans­fer with as much ease and suc­cess as his for­mer team­mate Colin Bond who was and still is widely re­garded as Aus­tralia’s most ver­sa­tile driver from any time pe­riod?

Look­ing back on those two weeks of au­to­mo­tive may­hem with the ben­e­fit of clear-eyed but fad­ing mem­ory, is it pos­si­ble to an­swer the ques­tion, was he that good on dirt?

By con­sult­ing var­i­ous con­tem­po­rary records of the event, par­tic­u­larly the book An Old Dog for a Hard Road writ­ten by my two ex-part­ners Bill Tuckey and Thomas Floyd, it might be best to re­call some of the more ob­vi­ous Brock mo­ments that dot­ted that event and leave the fi­nal de­ci­sion to you, our faith­ful read­ers.

The first of the recorded, ma­jor Brock mo­ments took place at night be­tween Bro­ken Hill and Mar­ree when, in an all-out ef­fort to make up time lost at a sin­gle-pump re­fu­elling stop, the Com­modore trav­el­ling at around 180km/h through a long, open bend sim­ply fell into a huge drain. Quot­ing Tuckey, “the Com­modore hit the other side of the drain and stood on its nose! It slid on its bull-bar for per­haps 80 me­tres in sud­den dark­ness (as the lights were point­ing straight down at the dirt) un­til the front wheels made contact with the ground, then the rears. As he got all four wheels on the deck, Brock let it spin through gaps in the salt bush un­til he could get on the brakes.

“They stopped there, dust swirling, lis­ten­ing to their heart­beats. Brock said into the si­lence: ‘Well, that’s the end of the bloody Repco!’

“But after a quick check of all op­er­at­ing sys­tems, steer­ing, en­gine, brakes, etc, ev­ery­thing worked, even the lights were point­ing roughly in the right di­rec­tion! ‘Well, I’ll be f****d,’ said Brock and put the hammer down!”

Now think about that for a mo­ment – skill, cer­tainly; luck, most cer­tainly, but in what ra­tios? You judge!

Only hours later on a farm prop­erty near Mulga Creek, Brock missed a pas­sage con­trol by choos­ing an al­ter­nate route – the con­trol of­fi­cials saw him go by and he didn’t lose the points that would have lost him his even­tual win! More luck? Def­i­nitely. Skill? Not a chance...

Jump for­ward to the trial sec­tions lead­ing into Dar­win. On this run another com­peti­tor had suf­fered a ma­jor ac­ci­dent and two of the three­man crew were killed. Brock was philo­soph­i­cal when ques­tioned about the ac­ci­dent:

“We all know the risks, and we op­er­ate ac­cord­ingly... but that’s the busi­ness we’re in.”

An in­ter­est­ing com­ment from Brock, clearly show­ing the stresses of the event after the long night-time trek from Bor­roloola to Bur­ke­town in the NT; “with the other two asleep and nothing out­side but black­ness, I had never felt so alone in my life!”

But as the event rolled into Townsville from the wide open spa­ces of the NT it was be­com­ing ob­vi­ous to those me­dia per­son­nel closely at­tached to the front-run­ners that the MHDT (now be­ing re­ferred to as ‘the Jaffa Mafia’) were suf­fer­ing from grow­ing fric­tion within the ranks. Ob­vi­ously Holden wanted their cir­cuit rac­ing star, Peter Brock, to be the win­ner as that would guar­an­tee sig­nif­i­cantly more pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age and sell more Com­modores off the back of that tri­umph. The prob­lem was there were two other teams in the squad that both wanted that vic­tory just as much!

This fric­tion per­sisted right down the east coast, spe­cial stage after spe­cial stage, de­spite Brock be­ing told to ‘hold sta­tion’ be­hind the Barry Ferguson/Wayne Bell car that has as­sumed the lead prior to ar­riv­ing in Townsville.

At that time Wayne Bell was def­i­nitely one of the fastest rally driv­ers in the coun­try and prob­a­bly as­sumed he was to be given his chance to shine on the big stage.

Then it all came to a head in the dust head­ing into Rock­hamp­ton. De­spite team-leader Ge­orge Shep­heard’s clear in­struc­tions to hold sta­tion, Brock passed the Ferguson/Bell car and with clear air in front be­gan to pull away, gain­ing at ev­ery stage. Bell was fu­ri­ous with both Shep­heard and Brock but there was nothing he could do – the die was cast and Brock cruised to­wards the fin­ish in Mel­bourne and a hero’s re­cep­tion.

So, do­ing a count-back on the ‘al­most’ mo­ments that could have cost Brock the win had they gone ‘bad’, did he have more than his share of luck dur­ing that gruelling two weeks ham­mer­ing around the dirt roads of out­back Aus­tralia, or was it sim­ply busi­ness as usual? Cer­tainly the three works Ford Corti­nas had no good luck, and nor did most of the Euro­peans: the Audis, Porsches, Citroens and the Dunker­ton Volvo. Did the rally gods re­serve it all for Peter Brock?

After all, when Brock re­turned to his nor­mal busi­ness of driv­ing the MHDT To­rana A9X at cir­cuits like Sandown and Bathurst after the Repco was done and dusted, he just kept on win­ning, con­vinc­ingly! Re­mem­ber Bathurst in 1979 when he won by six laps and set a new lap record on the fi­nal lap? Lucky, cer­tainly? But skilful and de­ter­mined in equal mea­sure.

There­fore, back to the ques­tion: ex­actly ‘how good was Brock on dirt?’ Good enough to win the last, truly epic Round Aus­tralia Trial con­vinc­ingly! BERGIE

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