MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK
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