At the work­shop I be­came a whiz with the high-pres­sure cleaner and, 28 years later, reckon I can still smell the turps that soaked into my hands from clean­ing re­cy­cled grease-caked me­chan­i­cal parts

Australian Muscle Car - - Induction - Luke West Edi­tor

As a teenager I de­voured Chevron’s Great Race an­nu­als, por­ing over ev­ery page. By mid 1989, aged 19, I had all eight edi­tions pub­lished to that point. I loved Bill Tuckey’s colour­ful prose paint­ing a rosy pic­ture of the boys’ own ad­ven­tures that were the pri­va­teer at­tacks of the eight­ies. Tuckey’s writ­ing of­ten ro­man­ti­cised even the most un­palat­able of set­backs, mak­ing all-night crash re­builds on bit­terly cold Bathurst nights in breezy and flap­ping tents sound like un­miss­able team bond­ing ses­sions.

Oh, how I badly wanted some of this ac­tion. I yearned to be part of a pri­va­teer cam­paign whose story might be told in Great Race 9. Nir­vana would be lean­ing over pit­wall with a pit­board.

For­tu­itously, race­week in ’89 fell dur­ing my uni hol­i­days. Trou­ble was, I had ab­so­lutely zero me­chan­i­cal ap­ti­tude. Still, I fig­ured I would make a handy ‘go for’ and car cleaner. And as a worker I came cheap: I’d do it for free.

Race or­gan­is­ers mailed me an al­pha­betic list of NSW team con­tacts, so I hit the phone of­fer­ing my ser­vices. This was still the owner/driver­era and it was pretty in­tim­i­dat­ing call­ing rac­ing iden­ti­ties I was in awe of. I’m sure my ner­vous, in­co­her­ent phone man­ner contributed to the many knock­backs I re­ceived.

Thus, I soon got to the last name on the list. When I rang Garry Willm­ing­ton a month be­fore the race he told me he had many guys vol­un­teer­ing to help at Bathurst af­ter work Fri­day, but this was of no use to him. He re­ally needed crew who could com­mit to the whole race­week, from set-up Mon­day to pack-up seven days later. When I told Garry I was free all week, he sug­gested I drop by Willm­ing­ton Per­for­mance’s work­shop near Oran Park. “We’ll be there seven days a week un­til we leave for Bathurst,” he ex­plained down the line, “as we’re build­ing up a new Toy­ota Supra. How ’bout giv­ing us a hand this week­end and we’ll go from there.” A fair deal!

I sheep­ishly ar­rived at the work­shop the next Satur­day and within five min­utes was handed a pad and pen to take lunch or­ders. I was in!

I dark­ened the Lud­den­ham ham­burger shop’s doorstep a dozen times over the next three week­ends. Back at the work­shop I be­came a whiz with the high-pres­sure cleaner and, 28 years later, reckon I can still smell the turps that soaked into my hands from clean­ing re­cy­cled grease-caked me­chan­i­cal parts.

Garry had three full-time staff: him­self, brother Craig and ap­pren­tice Chris, who wore over­alls em­broided with the name ‘Squinty’ in cur­sive script... who I never no­tice squint­ing.

Count­less un­paid helpers lobbed when they could. The talk be­tween us part-time, ahem, ‘mules’ was the new, un­tried MA70 Supra Turbo would be a weapon around Bathurst. In qual­i­fy­ing, with the wick turned up, we were a chance of scrap­ing into the Top 10 shootout, one char­ac­ter boldly de­clared. “In the race, with the wick turned down, Garry had his best chance of a top five fin­ish in years,” he said, if the pre­vi­ous year’s race was any guide. The Sier­ras were hand­grenades in 1988. Ditto the Walky Com­modores that pop­u­lated pri­va­teer­land. Garry’s switch from Com­modore VL to Supra was “an in­spired move.”

Fur­ther con­fi­dence was built af­ter the bright red coupe’s ‘of­fi­cial’ shake­down... a quick blast up and down a quiet lo­cal road the day be­fore set­ting sail west­wards over the Blue Moun­tains.

Alas, things didn’t pan out as fore­cast. As Tuckey had of­ten pro­claimed in his books, Bathurst was not the place to de­but an untested race­car. An end­less ar­ray of new-car grem­lins raised their ugly heads dur­ing prac­tice and the heavy Supra had a pen­chant for blown tyres that would thank­fully oc­cur at places where it was pitched into the traps rather than the con­crete.

At least vac­u­um­ing, sweep­ing and pick­ing small stones out of the car gave me some­thing to do that long-drawn-out week. Oth­er­wise, I was pretty much use­less to the team.

The Supra qual­i­fied a lowly 49th in the 55-car field, a full 34 sec­onds off pole and 20 slower than the time re­quired to make the much-hoped-for Tooheys Top 10 Shootout.

With no spe­cific role to play on race day, I took the hint to stay out of the way, es­pe­cially when the car was wheeled into the garage for a gear­box change within 30 min­utes of the start. It was a frus­trat­ing day af­ter that, with each pit­stop bring­ing a new prob­lem for the real crew to solve.

A red turbo car did greet the che­quered flag first that day, the vic­to­ri­ous Dicky John­son Shell Sierra. It passed the Bernie Auto Parts Supra no less than 60 times on-track or when car #68 was in the pits or parked track­side.

I have many other ran­dom, stand­out mem­o­ries from my week as a Bathurst pri­va­teer crew member: ba­con and egg or sausage sand­wiches three meals a day for a week; sev­en­ties-style team T-shirts with pointy white col­lars; rum­mag­ing through the truck for parts I couldn’t recog­nise; friendly faces who took pity on me; and the odd know-it-all you en­counter in all walks of life.

Then there were the joys of try­ing to sleep in the noisy camp­ing area be­hind the pad­dock. I can still hear the bass-gui­tar sound­track that ac­com­pa­nied the fake moans of fe­male porn­stars who ‘per­formed’ long into the night via VHS tapes in the camp­site next door. Ev­ery night.

I found Garry to be a lovely guy. He was ap­pre­cia­tive that I was giv­ing up my time and un­der­stand­ing and pa­tient that I was hope­less with all things me­chan­i­cal. His co-driver was a gruff char­ac­ter named Tom Watkin­son.

I thank Garry for cur­ing me of my ‘Bathurst pri­va­teer cam­paign’ itch.

Nine­teen-year-olds today could not ring up a Su­per­cars team and latch on to them for an eye­open­ing week-long ad­ven­ture like I had in ’89. The days of the pri­va­teer at­tack on the Bathurst 1000 are long gone. Pity.

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