MO­TOR SPORT FLASH­BACK

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motor Sport Flashback - By Michael Clark

af­ter­wards from heat ex­haus­tion, but oth­er­wise ev­ery­one judged it to have been a won­der­ful event. The or­ga­niz­ers re­ceived the ‘Grand Prix of the Year’ award and would be in con­tention for a re­peat award over the fol­low­ing 10 years.

End of an era

We went to Ade­laide for its 11th and, sadly, last GP in Novem­ber 1995, only to be back in Aus­tralia in March 1996 for the first round of that year’s world cham­pi­onship at Mel­bourne. The con­trast was stun­ning — in Novem­ber, I’d had a taxi driver do his best to en­gage in rac­ing talk. In re­sponse to my ques­tion as to whether he was a fan, he’d replied, “Nah, mate, not at all — but we’re en­cour­aged to talk about it to peo­ple who are ob­vi­ously here for it; you know, mate, this is the big­gest thing that’s ever hap­pened to this state, and now we’re los­ing it to Vic­to­ria.” Four months later, a large and el­derly Ital­ian im­mi­grant fer­ried us from the air­port to our ho­tel, and I as­sumed — in­cor­rectly, as it turned out — that he’d be a Fer­rari fan and there­fore a mo­tor rac­ing en­thu­si­ast. In­stead we got, “Bloody GP — caus­ing bloody traf­fic jams; forc­ing up the bloody fuel prices!”

The GP in Mel­bourne was, and still is, a big event in a town that has a heap of big events. For Ade­laide, it was mas­sive and, for 11 mag­nif­i­cent years, that sleepy ‘ big coun­try town’ re­ally did come alive. Re­cently, while at­tend­ing Phil Kerr’s fu­neral, I reac­quainted my­self with Garth Ho­gan — the ‘Big Daddy’ of New Zealand drag rac­ing. We’d only met once be­fore and that was well over a decade ago. I’m not sure who was the more sur­prised — me, that Garth had such an in-depth knowl­edge of and in­ter­est in F1, or him, that I could talk about Top Fuel and funny cars.

A highly in­tel­li­gent and ar­tic­u­late man, he ac­knowl­edged the stereo­type that cir­cuit-rac­ing fans typ­i­cally have of “us drag rac­ers”.

“Imag­ine what it was like try­ing to raise spon­sor­ship money back in my day, when we were all re­garded as knuck­le­drag­ging bo­gans?”

Af­ter ex­haust­ing my knowl­edge of US drag rac­ing, we moved on to an­other sub­ject, which later caused Garth to say, “Well, I never thought when I ar­rived here to­day that I’d be talk­ing about 1960s Nas­car rac­ing — es­pe­cially with you.”

That was be­fore we got on to some se­ri­ous com­mon ground. In re­sponse to his ques­tion, “How on earth did you get an in­ter­est in that stuff?”, I re­counted how a scungy lit­tle sta­tion­ers in the back of a equally scungy lit­tle ar­cade in Sta­tion Road, Ma­nurewa, stocked a mag­a­zine called Auto Rac­ing — an Amer­i­can, and pos­si­bly STPspon­sored, pub­li­ca­tion that was manna from heaven to a young en­thu­si­ast in 1967.

I then hap­pened to men­tion to Garth that — for rea­sons I have no way of ex­plain­ing — Fred­die Loren­zen be­came my favourite driver.

Snap! Garth was also fan of the driver of the No. 28 Lafayette Galaxie, but at least he had a ra­tio­nal rea­son for it — he’s a life­long Ford fan.

I also men­tioned the time I’d ‘ had lunch’ with Don­nie Al­li­son and Neil Bon­nett — two-thirds of Nas­car’s ‘Alabama Gang’. So, where could this have taken place ­— Day­tona? Char­lotte? Some­where else in stock car rac­ing’s spir­i­tual south­ern home­land? No — Otahuhu!

That meet­ing took place in De­cem­ber 1980, when the or­ga­niz­ers at Waikaraka Park brought Don­nie and Neil out to race and a bar­be­cue was or­ga­nized on the fore­court of the car yard ad­ja­cent to Paul Fa­hey’s old Fiat deal­er­ship on Great South Road. Paul was there, as were Den­nis Mar­wood and a num­ber of other guys — and, some­how, me as well. So, when I say ‘ had lunch’, it was ac­tu­ally more of a sausage-wrapped

in-white-bread af­fair than a cou­ple of bot­tles of red with ES Young.

Af­ter ev­ery­one else had chat­ted to the Nas­car boys, I no­ticed them alone. You don’t get chances like that ev­ery day. The night be­fore, those old Auto Rac­ing mag­a­zines had been de­voured — just in case I got a chance to talk to the guys; now I had them to my­self!

My mother reck­oned I spoke ‘South­ern’ for the next fort­night, but it was a treat to talk at length to a cou­ple

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