don’t want to do it. I don’t want the publicity. I loathe publicity. There’s something in it for you and for the magazine, but nothing for me.”
For 17 minutes Norm Beechey, twice Australian Touring Car Champion, winner of 15 state championships, owner and driver of 27 different racecars including the ‘PK’ Holdens, the first person to win a touring car title in a Holden, the greatest showman the sport has produced and now noted recluse from motorsport, parried on the telephone.
Yet, at race meetings Beechey was the most engaging of drivers. He’d sign autographs until the last fan went home. Before it became mandatory (these days after asking permission of your race engineer, of course) he’d smoke the tyres and play to the crowd. He wrote the text book on motor racing promotion. But when the car went on the trailer he was… private.
You can count on one hand the number of interviews Beechey has ever given. In 1970, after his glorious ATCC victory in his home grown Holden Monaro, I got him for Sports Car World. The opening paragraph described him as “six feet of smiling self promotion.” Since then we’ve seen each other spasmodically at race circuits. At the Australian Grand Prix he’s even agreed to a quick on-air chat, but the classic two-question grab, nothing more. I explain to him that AMC wants to honour him in their Centurion-edition and that they’ll do so either through direct interview or by writing it from the files. It’ll happen either way, but I assure him I won’t participate in the second option. If he doesn’t want the story written, I’m not going to do it. I respect him too much for that.
Two days later at 8am on Sunday I get a phone call from an unlisted number. “It’s Norman Beechey,” he says. “I’ve spoken to my wife and we’ll do the interview. We’d rather make sure we get the facts straight.”
Norm and Marg Beechey are big on facts. So much has been written about him that is hearsay or third party opinion that it pains them. They are both proud of Norm’s achievements – not ridiculously, vaingloriously, so, but proud nonetheless.
You can build a strong case to prove that Norm was the father of V8 touring car racing, or at least that he’d be a prime candidate for a paternity test. If there’s disinformation in the field, in one respect they’ve no-one to blame but themselves. So little is known about Norm, the man, and Margaret – ‘my wife’ as he refers to her even when she’s sitting beside him – that people make assumptions.
In preparation for our meeting, he’s made notes and brought photographs and documents from his home in Melbourne to his second home, a marina-side unit in Adelaide’s Glenelg, decorated not in motor racing memorabilia but in exquisite mementoes of overseas travel – tapestries from the south of France, fine glassware from the north of Italy. Norm and Marg have driven over in his brilliant yellow C7
“I suppose you want to know why I stopped. Moffat didn’t want me to race, he didn’t want the competition.”
Corvette, fitted, he wants noted, with the Z51 pack which dry sumps the thumping V8, provides bigger sway bars and brakes and has three-way adjustable shocks switchable from the dash. He’s owned a C5 and C6 previously and they cost as much to convert to RHD in Melbourne as they do to buy in the States. But they’re still a bargain.
It’s Beechey as I remember him. In 1970 I noted: “big hands with fingers you’d never imagine to be sensitive reach quickly into brief cases and desk diaries for proof of what he says.” Almost half a century on, nothing’s changed. “I suppose you want to know why I stopped.” It’s less a question and more of a challenge. I have my theories, but they’re way off the mark compared to the fact that he produces. He presents me with two letters from the Ford Motor Company, sitting side-by-side in a frame.