Ashby & Reed, Ford farewell
It would have been easy to dismiss the plain-Jane VK Commodore that appeared for Amaroo Park’s 1986 Australian Endurance Championship’s opener on August 3. For here was a car almost devoid of sponsorship and piloted by an unknown Group A debutant named ‘Ashby Reed’. Signage was limited to his name on the windscreen strip and all-uppercase text promoting one of Sydney’s many smash repair businesses.
If anything was written over this Ashby Reed character’s effort it was ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. Touring car racing blow-ins came and went with monotonous regularity in that era. Most wannabes were only one bingle or engine detonation away from disappearing off the scene just as quickly as they arrived.
Sure enough, the nondescript VK gridded up at the rear among, to borrow a Bill Tuckey phrase, the rats and mice. The car lasted longer in the 155-lap Better Brakes 300 than seemed likely, before engine maladies ended its run and confirmed many cynical observers’ suspicions.
Fast forward two months and the Lansvale Smash Repairs VK was back for another hit-out – in no less an event than the 1986 James Hardie 1000. The entry list revealed that ‘Ashby Reed’ was actually two people – Trevor Ashby and Steve Reed. The old schoolmates and business partners had only been to Mount Panorama before as spectators, so few expected the rookie pair to trouble the lapscorers, let alone reach the finish.
Yet, come the first Sunday in October 1986, that same nondescript yellow VK was, incredibly, knocking on the door of the hallowed top 10 an hour into the race!
After qualifying a sensational 16th in a field of 59, the #34 Commodore was running 11th – and second of the all-privateer crews – as the first round of pitstops began. The late Tuckey, in the Great Race 1986 book, wrote that the pair had been the “sensations of race week”. He captured the spirit of Lansvale Smash Repairs’ first Bathurst assault in describing the team’s lap 41 pitstop.
“It was the first scheduled stop for Steve Reed, to change to Trevor Ashby. This continued the fairytale, for it was a totally professional stop, one that would have done the MHDT proud, with no arm-waving and shouting. The crew’s families, standing around the rear of the pits, applauded as Ashby roared away.”
Alas, a few laps later their Commodore was back in to replace the gearbox, before the squad struggled on, completing 111 laps but failing to finish the race.
It didn’t take long for any ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ predictions to fly out the window. Ashby and Reed paired up again the following year... and for 14 subsequent Bathurst assaults. Their 16 consecutive campaigns together means they will almost certainly hold the record for ever more as the event’s mostcapped pairing.
When they hung up their helmets after the 2001 event, the familiar yellow, red and blue #3 Commodore continued to race full-time in the hands of hired guns. Even after the duo closed the team and sold its V8 Supercar licence for season 2004, they’ve maintained a regular presence at race meetings, as we will discover.
The names Reed and Ashby long ago became synonymous with each other and the glory days of the privateer. They represented the last of the breed, when a couple of mates with an automotive business and a ‘can-do’ attitude could rock up to Mount Panorama and nip at the heels of the pros in the biggest race on the calendar.
Their unique partnership captured the racing public’s imagination. It was built on having a crack, having fun and doing what was best for the business, that enabled them to race in the big league.
It was also devoid of ego. Their approach was just so unlike many others involved in motor racing, whose aggressive approach in business showed through in the spats they inevitably had with their racing associates.
“Trevor and I never had an issue with how we shared it ... neither of us was jealous. If one went really quick it would just be a ‘congratulations’. And that’s the way the business worked as well,” says Reed.
The privateer pairing’s longevity, success and approachability has made them a much-missed Bathurst institution.
Letting it rip
Trevor Ashby/Steve Reed ‘joint venture’ dates back to their school days, in south-west Sydney’s Bankstown district. Born a month apart in late 1950, they attended the same primary school, before going on to become firm friends at high school.
Reed was a car fanatic as a kid, Ashby less so. Yet it was the latter who made the first move into the smash repair industry when he left school to become an apprentice panelbeater. Six months later Reed did likewise, after being unable to pick up an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, his first pick of the automotive trades.
They went to tech together and started fixing cars in Ashby’s parents’ backyard on weekends – a common and acceptable practice four or five decades ago.
“We started business in January 1974 after working for quite a while in the backyard,” says Ashby, 65, the younger by five weeks. “It went back to when I wrecked my own car and had to fix it myself at home because I had no money. Neighbours would look over the fence and soon I was fixing their cars, and in the end I was booked out three months ahead. Steve was doing the same thing at his house, but not as many.”
Yet it was one of Steve’s backyard jobs – a big project – that saw him enlist Trevor’s help. They soon decided they needed to get a factory somewhere and set up shop together. That somewhere was Lansvale, a mix of suburbia and light industrial estates, a stone’s throw from the Warwick Farm circuit which had just closed.
As Lansvale Smash Repairs expanded so did its owners’ involvement in motorsport. Motorkhanas lead to other competitive car club activities like lap dashes and, ultimately, racing at restricted meetings in a Escort and a Capri.
“Then we built a Sports Sedan and we raced that for a while in the early 1980s, before we went to Bathurst to watch in 1984,” Ashby says. “Til then we had barbeques on Bathurst raceday where our racing mates would come around. Then seven or eight of us went up to Bathurst and that’s when we thought we should have a crack the next year.”
It didn’t happen for 1985, but they snapped up the ex-Ken Mathews VK Commodore in ’86. This brings us to the aforementioned Better Brakes 300, the Lansvale Racing Team’s first race on the Group A stage.
“Although we were 35, our mindset was the same as when we were 22,” Ashby explains. “We’d always been gung-ho when we decided to do something.”
Reed: “We only really knew the Sydney tracks and to get the appropriate licences to get a start at Bathurst in October we had to do a race at Surfers soon after Amaroo. And that was quite hard, too.”
Twelfth in the BP Plus 300 added to the experience bank, but didn’t prepare them for the eye-opener that was opening practice for the 1986 James Hardie 1000 race, as Trevor Ashby describes. “We went to Bathurst and thought, ‘what’s could be so hard about the place.’
“I hadn’t even walked the track before the first session. I just thought it would be like another track that you learn. It wasn’t. I described it as a snake’s back. Every time you went around the top of the mountain [when you’re first learning the track] the corners seemed different.
“Then Ron Gillard took me for a walk around the track to point a few things out, as he did for Steve the day before. Then in the next session I went four seconds a lap faster – that walk really helped me get my head around it.”
Ashby qualified an amazing 16th – fourth of the part-time teams and ahead of 27 cars also competing in the outright class. That included the second of the works Volvo 240s and a fleet of seasoned Commodore privateers.
“JB was in the lead Volvo that year and I remember him visiting us in the pits after qualifying and saying, ‘Where did you bastards come from?!’
Bowe was not alone in noting the press-on style of the newcomers.
“Once we got our head around it we had no fear and just let it rip. And that was our problem in the first year or so: we just it rip everywhere!”
(Group) A for effort
Ashby and Reed’s first full season in the big league could hardly have been more of a rollercoaster ride. It started in fine fashion with victory in Oran Park’s 25th anniversary meeting’s feature event, the $25,000 Castrol Clash for Cash, in February 1987. Although the professional teams were thin on the ground, Reed slowly reeled in and overhauled Colin Bond (Alfa 75) in a rain-affected affair to take the win.
That set the tone for the year in terms of competitiveness, with Ashby qualifying on the front row for the AMSCAR series opener, splitting the JPS BMW M3s in the process. He recalls storming through the field late race on a drying track thanks to a canny tyre choice from team manager Wally Storey.
By this stage Ashby and Reed had worked out that their best chance of success at Sydney sprint meetings was specialising at Amaroo (Ashby) and Oran Park (Reed) respectively.
“We had our own tracks and because we had to work and worked had to pay for it, we couldn’t do everything or pay for two cars. We had some sponsors that were very good to us and Lansvale Smash Repairs was our main sponsor. While one of us was away racing, the other would be at work. Even when we raced, whoever was racing would flash home Sunday night and be at work Monday morning like nothing happened.” The icing on the cake was a top 10 finish (10th) in Bathurst’s sole World Touring Car Championship round.
On the other side of the ledger was a series of crashes that year. The ex-Mathews VK was destroyed at Amaroo and its replacement, a VL, didn’t fare much better initially.
“From memory it was Wednesday practice and the left-front wheel came loose. The car came back to the pits and it was really bad; it was all but destroyed. There were a couple of late nights to rebuild it, as we brought guys up from Sydney from our workshop to repair it. There were kinks in the tunnel through the floor of the car; so much of the shell was mangled. To turn that around and finish 10th with just one bloke who was being paid to be there was a reflection of the sort of help we had that year and most years.
“We started at the back of the grid in a car that was hurt, decided we would only drive at eighttenths all day and came through the field.”
It was one of the few times in the early days when they took it easy. Still, when you own probably the largest smash repair business in Sydney, you can be excused for pushing on a bit.
“Engine blow-ups were always more of a setback to us,” Ashby explains. “We never worried about the panel damage, but the mechanicals were another matter. I used to hate ripping a wheel off, but slapping the side of the car was no big deal for us.”
In 1988 Reed scored the duo’s first points in the Australian Touring Car Championship, with eighth at Lakeside. Both say they enjoyed the Group A era the most from a driver’s perspective.
“We were very competitive for the budget that we had,” Reed says. “Having Wally Storey’s wisdom was a big plus. We didn’t lack for pace chassis-wise, but we suffered, just through a lack of budget, in engine development. And that showed at the longer circuits, whereas we were more competitive on tracks that rewarded a car that handled well.”
Throughout, their weapon of choice was the privateer favourite: the Holden Commodore, the pair working their way through the VK, VL, VL Walkinshaw and VN models over their seven seasons in Group A competition.
V8 era smash hit
The Sydneysiders kept their winning formula going as the international Group A category gave way to the 5.0-litre V8 touring car class for the 1993 season, that soon became the V8 Supercars era.
As their commitment and investment in racing grew, the structure and location of their team set-up evolved. At various times the race team’s workshop was based at their own business at Enfield, at Ron Gillards’ workshop at Ballina on the NSW North Coast, at Wayne Gardner Racing’s workshop, then their own dedicated race workshop in Lidcombe – whatever was the best fit at the time.
Beyond the annual trip to Bathurst, initial sporadic outings at favoured racetracks became a full schedule and occasional giantkilling results, such as fifth at Lakeside in 1997. That year saw them post their best result on the Mountain, eighth.
Through their first decade they remained the benchmark of part-timers’ ranks. This was cemented by winning the Privateers Team Cup in 1998.
This was the last hurrah for the privateer in the traditional sense.
The sport moved to a franchise system in the late 1990s under AVESCO and its high-profile chairman Tony Cochrane. Long-term team owners like the Lansvale boys acquired a stake in the growing business and Reed was instrumental as a team’s representative in this new professional approach getting off the ground.
By 2000, when fellow privateer Terry Finnigan (see AMC #50) pulled up stumps, they found themselves as the only full-time Sydney operation. This was the year the team diverted from its modus operandi of the previous 14 seasons and, surprisingly, entered two cars – one for each owner – in each of the 13 Shell Championship Series events. It was one last full-season campaign for the duo as drivers, with both turning 50 ahead of that year’s Bathurst 1000. They paired for their 15th consecutive Great Race in a VS wearing their traditional #3, while Geoff Full and Phillip Scifleet drove #23. Sadly, the team’s first two-car Bathurst campaign saw both yellow/red/ blue machines retire before the 100-lap mark.
The evolution continued in 2001 with the hiring of the squad’s first full-time professional, Cameron McConville, in the #3 VX. Meantime, Reed and Ashby shared the #23 VS for the bulk of the series, their last before hanging up their helmets.
“We had Optus all over the cars that year and we threw everything we had at Cameron’s car. There were a lot of updates to that lead car that season, but we didn’t worry about the latest gear for our (second) car that Steve and I shared. It was all about giving Cameron the best possible chance of success and we had some good results.”
These were the last days of what could be termed the ‘open era’, before AVESCO restricted events to its travelling circus of major team franchise holders. An era when 35 to 40 cars would rock up to circuits licensed to run 32, with pre-qualifying sometimes coming into play. McConville hovered around the top 10 at most events, although being in the thick of the action led to plenty of skirmishes, including a monster rollover at Sandown.
The 2001 Bathurst classic would be the last for the most-capped duo in Great Race history. They went out in fine style with a competitive run to 11th place, one spot behind the lead Commodore of McConville and Rick Bates. Fittingly, Ashby and Reed were the first pair of part-timers and ’fiftysomethings’ across the line.
“To get two cars home in 10th and 11th, with the budget that we had, was a huge effort by the guys,” Ashby comments.
Reed: “Towards the end, the endurance races were really our forte. I definitely enjoyed those longer races more than the sprint races at that stage. You could really getting my teeth stuck into those and concentrate on banging out consistent lap times all days.”
By 2002 the boys had pulled the pin on their driving careers. Around this time the team embraced the ‘Lansvale Racing Team’ moniker, with signage declaring it ‘Sydney’s own V8 Supercar team’.
“Putting it bluntIy, this was our ‘burn down’ period,” Ashby explains. “We knew we had to stop racing completely. We got Cameron in [to drive for 2001] and looked at how long we would keep going. The costs were rising year on year. So when we stopped driving we knew it was just a matter of time before we would exit the sport completely.”
When McConville moved to Garry Rogers Motorsport for 2003, Jason Richards was drafted in as replacement.
“They were both great guys to have onboard; both fantastic blokes,” says Reed, his voice trailing off in an unspoken mark of respect for the late Jason Richards, who succumbed to a rare strain of cancer in late 2011.
The team’s V8 licence was sold to Tasman Motorsport for 2004, with the deal including signage for Lansvale Smash Repairs for a few more seasons. A number of team sponsors also carried over.
When the arrangement with Tasman ended the Lanvsale business’s logo appeared on Brad Jones Racing’s Commodores – and has stayed there ever since. The 2016 Bathurst 1000 marks the 30th anniversary of the LSR brand’s first Great Race campaign, with an unbroken run of entering or sponsoring cars over the ensuing years.
The thriving Lansvale Smash Repairs business is still Trevor Ashby’s baby today and he continues to work full-time in it.
“The business has been fleet-focused for a long-time and that stands at 97 per cent of our work now. It’s all set up so that if I dropped off the perch tomorrow, in theory, it would all continue operating,” says Ashby, highlighting that, at 65, he’s able to work at his own pace.
“I have six grandkids all under the age of five living within six kays! I love it. And I go to work every day and I enjoy that too. There’s 35 staff all up.”
Steve Reed exited Lansvale Smash Repairs back in 2011, selling his share in it to Ashby. Big Bird, also 65, is now in the big bird business, following in the footsteps of another well-known NSW privateer, Graeme Bailey.
“I had a bottle shop for a while and set up a cafe off the side of that. These days I have poultry farms in South Australia and that’s enough for me, with some travelling and other things I have going on. It was just time for me to move on from the smash repairs game,” says Reed of his career change. “I started losing a bit of passion for it, started to lose a bit of want for it.”
Both continue to frequent Supercar events today. Ashby hosts Lansvale Smash Repair’s fleet customers and guests at half a dozen events each year. Surprise, surprise, it’s Reed, who is retained by Brad Jones Racing, who often conducts those pit tours for the Albury-based team, the only NSW squad in the sport’s top tier.
“I do a lot of Brad and Kim’s pit tours and stuff like that. I go to the events I want to go to. The excitement on people’s faces when they see inside these cars now, it’s fantastic. They are just like a spaceship. It’s a dead-set silhouette formula now and a whole different ballgame to when we were racing. It’s another world and a step up. The development over the last 15 years since we stopped driving them is incredible.”
AMC: What was the secret to your long partnership?
Steve Reed: Being involved in racing had to be fun. We had a lot of volunteers and family pitching in and helping us, so it had to be enjoyable for all. It evolved into a business, but it remained fun... albeit it became more expensive fun!
Also, whoever was in the car was in the car. Whatever they did they did. By that I mean we were only ever supportive of each other. If I was in the car and I bent it, we just got on with it fixing it. IfTrevor bent it, we got on with fixing it. IfTrevor was faster than me, no one was happier than I was. And vice versa.
We also had the five-minute rule: if we had a disagreement, you’d say your piece and you had five minutes before you had to move on.There were a few times we needed to be reminded of that rule, but our approach must have had something going for it.
AMC: There were plenty of long-time Bathurst competitors who had a different co-driver every year...
Trevor Ashby: Absolutely right! Maybe they didn’t have the five-minute rule! Things go wrong; you’re not trying to hit the fence, you’re not trying to break the gearbox...
Usually the way we did it at Bathurst was that whoever qualified, the other got the start the race. Although the first year at Bathurst we tossed a coin to see who would start!
AMC: Who was quickest? SR: Trevor was normally the quicker of the two of us on new tyres and over one lap, but I may have been a bit faster in the wet.
AMC: What do you consider your greatest on-track achievements?
SR: Bathurst in 1987, when everybody put in to repair the car after the practice crash and to be rewarded with a top 10 result. In a car that was hurting, that was pretty special.
TA: That was special. For me, the overall experience was great. I could not wait to get to each meeting.
AMC: Most drivers with long histories at Bathurst can remember what happened during each campaign. I get the impression that for you they all blend together to an extent.
TA: I know I speak for both of us in saying that most of the seasons and most of the races all blend together. ( Reed nods)
AMC: How would you like to be remembered? TA: As the Scotty Taylor and Kevin Kennedy of our time. When we first got involved we’d get to Bathurst and look to see if they had turned up! It would be nice to be remembered for always being there. [ED: Taylor/Kennedy, see AMC #44, were the previous holders of the longest Bathurst partnership record with 10 consecutive starts together, 1977 to 1986].
AMC: We think it’s a pity today that a pair of 35-year-old mates, with an automotive business, couldn’t dive in today and have a go in the premier division, as you did in 1986.
SR: It would be very difficult. It’s doable, albeit the cost would be much greater, given the hightech nature of the cars today and the speciality equipment required. So you would need to run off the back of the pro teams.
AMC: How do you see V8 Supercars, sorry Supercars, going in the medium to longer term?
TA: I think it is going to survive fine.The fact that crowds are still rocking up, teams still want to compete and Fox is happy all augurs well.
SR: The sport has to ensure it’s not reliant on manufacturer funding. Holden, and to a lesser extent Ford, have been stalwarts of Australian motor racing, but the others have come and gone when it suits. It only takes a change of managing director and a manufacturer’s support can disappear. What do we need from manufacturers today apart from money? Probably nothing, really. The business model will change a bit and it will all kick on.
AMC: Racing at the top end of the sport must have been worthwhile for Lansvale Smash Repairs given your longevity?
SR: It opened a lot of doors for us. It gave us a profile where people we dealt with always wanted to talk first about racing cars rather than business. Our racing was always a good conversation starter in a work sense. It was definitely a positive thing for the business.
AMC: Can you see yourselves getting involved in Historic racing?
SR: No. I have other things I’d like to do. If I got involved I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from doing it boots and all, which I don’t want to do.
TA: Of course it would be good fun. But I feel I’ve been there and done that. I used to race cars in my last life. Once I stopped driving 15 years ago I let my CAMS licence lapse and never got it back.
Above: The Lansvale Smash Repairs name still adorns V8 Commodores 30 years after the team’s 1986 debut. Left: LSR’s sole principal today, Trevor Ashby (pictured, right), rocked up to our catch-up with he and former business partner Steve Reed in a ute with well-worn LRT333 numberplates.
Top: From Capri to an Escort to... Left: ...being asked at Bathurst ’86 by Volvo’s Bowe: “Where did you bastards come from?” Below: Behind the works teams, pro drivers and a couple of long-time privateers was a pair of debutants in a yellow VK.
Main and inset: The pair caused the most grief to the pros in the late 1980s. Bottom left: Uh-oh! When Reed went in during practice at Griffin’s Bend in ’87, so began a massive repair effort that was rewarded come Sunday afternoon.
Main: Bathurst 1997 brought their highest finish in the Great Race, eighth. Centre: No, you’re not seeing double. There are two Lansvale cars in this pic. Left: McConky’s Sandown 2001 rollover.
Top: The evolution of the popular Sydney team began with a hired gun. Above: For 2004, LRT morphed into Tasman Motorsport with Jason Richards as driver. Below: Today, the LSR logo can be found on the Brad Jones Racing VFs, signalling three decades of continuous tin-top involvement.
Above: Reed, like any good smash repair assessor, was quick to advise what parts were needed after the ’87 Griffin’s Bend hit. Below: Two nicer blokes you could not meet for a cuppa and a chat about their 30-year involvement in topline racing.