Hail a winner
The tough Scot made things happen, writes Paul Gover
IT SEEMS impossible that Tom Walkinshaw is gone. Big Tom always seemed so unbreakable and unbeatable, both in motor racing and business. He worked and hustled and bullied his way to the top of the car world, eventually becoming a Formula One team owner in addition to his successes in Australia with Holden Special Vehicles and the Holden Racing Team.
There was also contract work for his TWR operation, lots of it topsecret stuff, for a range of big brands including General Motors,
But lunch didn’t happen and now it never will. Instead, I’m writing a tribute — obituary is not nearly strong enough — to a bloke who became a legend in Australia after taking over at Holden when Peter Brock was thrown out of the Fishermans Bend family.
There was a lot of angst and suspicion when Walkinshaw became the front man for Team Red.
His early media meetings were tough and confrontational, too, and I can remember fronting a bloke with arms like a butcher who was prepared to chop down any opposition.
Walkinshaw never cut anyone slack and fools had their foolishness pointed out to them.
If he didn’t want to answer a question he didn’t. There was a stony silence and a brutal glare.
But he won people over with impressive road cars and successes on the track that built on his first appearance at Bathurst in 1984 and victory in 1985 with a Jaguar crewed by local hero John Goss. The bottom line was simple: Walkinshaw was prepared to roll up his sleeves and get the job done.
He was a charismatic leader who inspired great things in his race teams and among his close-knit group of motoring specialists, as well as fear among his rivals.
Yes, he was called ‘‘Cheating Tom’’ by some people — and there are some great stories about rulebending and more — but he was a racer to his core and near enough was not remotely good enough. Sometimes the rules were just a guideline.
His absence has been obvious at HRT in recent seasons, and particularly at Bathurst 2010 when Team Red missed his rock-like stability and confidence. Walkinshaw was the heart of the team and the crew always lifted for him.
Now I am forced to rewind through many, many meetings to try to unravel a complicated man. Walkinshaw was as tough as anyone I’ve met, yet he had an almostimpish sense of humour. He loved a joke or the chance for some mischief.
He was a wonderful host — gracious, thoughtful and generous.
He was also incredibly loyal and committed to his people. They were more like a family than employees, which probably explains a lot of the spats.
Ian Callum, chief designer at Jaguar, says simply, ‘‘I love the man.’’
It’s hard to know what will happen to HSV and HRT now, but Walkinshaw was usually one step ahead of his opposition and the business should be in safe hands.
Walkinshaw’s own strong hands allowed him to build an empire and a list of successes that stretches for decades.
Big Tom was almost larger than life and will be remembered in a similar way to Brock. He was a hero.
Uncompromising and confrontational: Tom Walkinshaw had lot of success with the Holden Racing Team.