Father Parsons provides
Prior to Bathurst 1981 the Parsons had agreed to buy Alan Browne’s Re-Car Commodore, for delivery after the race. Then, sure enough, the car was almost destroyed after being caught up in the race-ending multi-car crash at McPhillamy Park.
It was repaired prior to it heading to Tassie, but it was twisted, full of bog and very heavy.
Still, a strong HDT engine was purchased from John Harvey and the little team fronted up at its home track, Symmons Plains, for an early season ATCC round. It was here where they first astounded the pundits by finishing an impressive fifth outright. Parsons remembers it created a bit of a stir within the racing establishment.
“John Harvey came over to Dad and said; ‘Graham, that engine – you haven’t put different heads on it, have you?’” “‘Absolutely not!’” “‘That boy of yours is going far too quick in it and making the rest of us look a bit silly.’”
“Anyway, they took the head off, checked it and it was spot on.”
It was an auspicious start, but the team had no money and only contested ATCC rounds close to home. Indeed Father Parsons had taken out a mortgage on the dairy farm just to continue racing.
“The bank manager thought Dad had bought more cows,” chuckled Parsons. “He said, ‘You don’t do those things.’ We did look for sponsorship but I was a dairy farmer and didn’t know how to market myself.”
Nevertheless a guardian angel soon appeared – no halo, only a deerstalker. The prince of privateers, Captain Peter Janson, took a punt on the new kid and signed him up to drive with him at Bathurst.
“He just rang me up and said, ‘It’s Captain Peter Janson here, David. Right, I want you to drive with me at Sandown and Bathurst.’
“I had to jump on a plane. I arrived at his penthouse suite and there was a large party. I’m a boy from the bush who milks cows, is as green as grass and wants to go motor racing. What is this other stuff about? The big cigar? He took me under his wing and we went to Sandown and Bathurst.”
Parsons ran his own Commodore in the Sandown 400, replete with the Captain’s sponsors, while Janson ran his regular yellowy-orange Commodore. Neither car finished, with Parsons being taken out by an errant lapped car. Bathurst was a different story. The pair qualified third and came home a sterling fourth with Parsons winning the Rookie-of-the-Year award.
For 1983 Parsons reverted to his faithful white Commodore and embarked on the full ATCC trail. With minimum trade support (TAA and Valvoline) he competed in every round bar one and finished seventh overall with strong placings at Symmons Plains, Wanneroo and Lakeside. It was very much a shoestring effort, as he recounts today.
“I travelled with Dad in a panel van towing the car. Dad was everything. Without him none of this would be possible. Car preparer John Stevens sometimes came with us and Les Small helped us a bit. Graham ‘Mort’ Brown from HDT gave us their old tyres for $120 a set. I never had any new tyres until I got to Lakeside and the car was so different. It didn’t slide, it just gripped.”
Parsons had a big crash at the Adelaide International Raceway round of the championship. That really stretched the purse strings. However, there was another guardian angel looking out for him.
“Les Small had sold us some trick springs and shocks but we hadn’t been told to modify the shock towers. So at the fast turn one it bottomed out and understeered off the track. On the grass it did a giant arc and I backed it into the tyre wall. The damage went back to the rear window.”
Adelaide Holden dealer – and then HDT SV financier and linchpin – Vin Kean was there and he approached Graham Parsons with an offer to fix the bent Commodore.
“He told my Dad, ‘I like the boy. He’s a good up and coming driver. We’ll supply the parts and panels. We have a bodywork shop and our guys will fix it the way it was.’ I wouldn’t have been able to continue without Vin’s assistance.”
For Sandown and Bathurst, Parsons once again teamed up with Janson. This time Parsons qualified the Cadbury-Schweppes Commodore in Hardies Heroes a stunning third fastest. But in the race the engine blew spectacularly with Janson at the wheel.
By this time Parsons was hot property but flat broke. The 1983 ATCC had drained all the family’s finances and the Commodore was sold. Parsons would never commit to a full championship campaign again. From here on in he would be an enduro gun for hire.
Top: Like his Dad six years before him, David Parsons made the ATCC regulars sit up and take notice. How ‘bout that for a plain-jane Commodore? Above: This AIR hit took the wind out of his sails and wiped out the team’s budget. But then the Captain called and Bathurst beckoned.