Josh Barnett always wished he could have been a HDT mechanic... except he was born after the legendary squad folded. Yet, as an extra for the Brock mini-series, he got to “live the dream” of being a dealer team mule.
Our correspondent always wished he could have been a HDT mechanic... except he was born after the legendary squad folded. Yet, as an extra for the Brock mini-series, he got to “live the dream” of being a dealer team mule. Sort of.
Television production company Endemol Shine was clearly up for a challenge when it pressed the play button on creating the Brock mini-series. If there’s one legacy in Australia you don’t want to depict incorrectly, it’s Peter Perfect’s. Anyone who followed Peter Brock’s career could have picked the show to pieces on minor details shown. We all know the full story and it’s why we loved the man, the cars, the sport and the mountain he conquered so much.
While minor faults would have stood out to AMC readers like the proverbial, conversely, it’s highly unlikely you would have noticed me. I was lucky enough to be cast in most of the series’ pitstop scenes as a Holden Dealer Team mechanic – a “mule” in Brockspeak.
As a huge lifelong Peter Brock fan I was truly, again in Brockspeak, “living my dream”.
I must point out that I’m not an actor. Not even close. That’s why, in the finished product, I’m not heard or even in focus. I don’t even get a mention in the extended credits listed on the website. Not that I care about any of this.
That was never my dream anyway. I grew up wanting to be like Brocky, but with very little money and, more importantly, little talent, I did what many other failed racing driver dreamers do – I joined the media.
In summary I was a journo pretending to be an actor pretending to be a professional mechanic. Taking inspiration from the King of the Mountain I just gave it a red hot go.
My pitstop scenes were filmed at Scheyville National Park on Sydney’s north-western outskirts in late November and early December 2015. It was here, on the site of a former military training camp and centre for migrants that Bathurst’s Pit Straight and Murray’s Corner were recreated with the help of some Com-Gen magic.
The set was built around a 1970s/’80s-vintage pitlane structure created from scratch for the film. In the show they superimposed the grass and the Mountain with the famous giant letters behind it. This looks incredible on the final product when you know what the set looked like before the magic wand was waved. On the actual set we were surrounded by bush and dead grass but on the TV screen it really does look like we were actually at Bathurst.
Underneath these makeshift structures were thousands upon thousands of old tools, worn tyres and rags. Behind the pits they had marquee tents, old HDT and Ford signage plus an old school bus. Armco was erected along the grid to complete the look.
As I was born in the late 1980s it felt like I had travelled in a time machine. This was also helped by the fact every person – some days there were around 50 background extras getting around – not including the technical crew was dressed in period clothing. We spent a good hour every morning getting our hair and facial hair done to match. Being a mule I was in overalls every day. For the early scenes, in the non-professional era when Brock began his career in the HDT Monaro, it was greasy plain-coloured suits. For the Torana and early Commodore years we were upgraded to the bright red with yellow stripes and HDT badges. But my favourite outfit was the late ’80s era. Putting on the Mobil shirt and pants was one of many moments on set I felt like a kid at Christmas. The blue pyjama-wearing Brock was the one I grew up with and idolised. But if the clothes made me excited like a child, when the cars came out of the holding shed it was like going to Disneyworld.
With the help of Brock car collector Peter Champion, some of the cars were legit, restored Brock cars. The 1987 Mobil VL was one of those. This car was the #05 that Brock started that year’s race in but infamously broke down early. It’s not to be confused with #10 (now owned by the Bowdens) in which he finished the race third on the road and was later elevated to his ninth and final Bathurst win.
Both cars were virtually identical in appearance, except for the number and the front windscreen
sticker. So producers simply placed replacement magnetic stickers over the top for scenes where they needed #10 instead of #05.
This car is central to the highlight of my time as a mule. The second episode features a scene where mechanics push #10 into the garages, with a dejected third-placed Brock sadly walking back to the pits (though we know that in the Sierra era, third place in the VL was a great result for him). Yours truly was placed at the driver’s door – one hand on the wheel; one on the A-pillar.
One aspect that didn’t feel authentic on a supposed Bathurst race weekend set was the weather. I’ve been to Bathurst many times, but never has it been over 40 degrees Celsius in October. It was bloody hot in the shade, but when you’re wearing racing crew gear and standing alongside a white car reflecting the hot sun onto you, it could be the sweatiest I’ve ever been while working.
That said, it still didn’t feel like work. I looked into the cabin and in my head I was reminding myself that I was touching the same pieces of metal and plastic the great man did in his prime. Like how a devote Christian would have felt touching the manger Jesus Christ was born in. Brock was like a god to me and although he’d been gone for almost a decade, I could feel his presence.
Anyway, coming back down to Earth, a couple of the other mules and I were required to push the car about five metres forward in the scene while Peter (well, actor Matt Le Nevez) spoke to the camera in front of us. This took multiple takes, so we needed to move it back and forward several times. Being a big racecar, it doesn’t roll forward like your average Toyota Corolla road car. It required a bit of muscle. But even still, I left the set amazed that I was actually being paid for this.
Beyond the buzz of depicting motor racing history, being on set with some of Australia’s best actors was also pretty cool. Harry Firth was played by Steve Bisley or ‘Goose’ from Mad Max. Settle down all you Water Rats fans!
I’ll let your women folk tell you the soapies Le Nevez has acted in prior to landing the role of Brock. He was often doing push-ups and squats in between takes which he told me was “to make him look exhausted like the Bathurst drivers would be.”
Le Nevez was actually very humble and was happy to chat with us non-celebrities in between takes. You could tell he was loving playing this role, especially the driving scenes he did himself. He was very pleased with himself when he nailed a Brock-like power skid leaving the pits saying “did ya see that?” to everyone watching when he hopped out of the car.
The end product was controversial, copping plenty of criticism for the storytelling ‘licence’ taken – I have no idea who the character ‘Peanut’ was meant to be – but it was personally an amazing experience. Hopefully a younger audience will now be inspired to learn more about his many racing achievements.