Farewell Tuckey, Willo and AA
You went out in practice, perhaps tasting that magical moment when you were the first car to roll a wheel on that circuit for that year. You wound up it up going up the Mountain and lazed across the top, giving the brakes an easy time over Skyline. You lifted a hand to the flag marshals thumping their chests in the cold, with breath hanging in the air, saw the odd flag break out from the scattering of early practice spectators who sat up above you, and then swung down through Forrest’s Elbow, virginal at that moment, clean of rubber marks, and let the sweet kid run out to within a centimetre of the Armco on the outside as you straightened for the run down Conrod Straight with the still cold brakes squealing in the morning chill and gently locked over in Murray’s, to hear the rippingcalico sound of the exhaust as it came back off the steel fence when you took it up the little rise and past the control tower for the first time.” No one writes like that anymore. Actually, no journalist has ever captured the essence of Mount Panorama – be it from the driver’s seat, lounge chair or spectator mound – better than Bill Tuckey. He was peerless in painting a realistic and colourful picture of racing at Bathurst, most notably in Australia’s Greatest Motor Race. The success of this seminal 1981 book spawned 31 yearbooks on the event, the first dozen or so authored by Bill, bashed out in the type-writer era.
Bill, one of the originals of Chevron Publishing, this magazine’s founding publishing company, passed away, aged 80, on May 7, a few days before we put this edition to bed.
Although I only met him a handful of times, his writing’s influence on me was profound. His vivid descriptions of people and places, incidents and accidents, acted as a tractor beam, drawing me into the sport. His writing added mystique to things that, on the surface, may have initially appeared mundane.
What previously were merely trips to Bathurst became, after reading Bill’s stories, spiritual pilgrimages thanks to the almost mythical qualities he gave “what old-timers still call Bald Hills.”
A fortnight before Bill died, another master communicator closely associated with the Great Race passed away – Racecam carrier and impromptu commentator Peter Williamson. Willo’s death was a shock as he looked as fit as a fiddle at last year’s Muscle Car Masters, whereas it was widely known that Bill had been an ill man for many years.
While Tuckey was the master of long-form descriptions, Williamson was the king of the emotive and descriptive one-liner. His most famous utterances were delivered while his Celica harassed bigger cars as it charged down the Mountain. These were stabbing statements which, if you jotted them down on paper, invariably ended with exclamation marks.
The ex-Williamson, now Chris O’Connor-owned Celica was fittingly displayed at his ‘farewell’.
A third great influence on my formative years as a young race fan and future journalist departed this earth in this same period – Auto Action magazine. I purchased my first issue of AA as a wee lad of 11 because the cover screamed: “Inside: Bathurst 1981 entry list.”
Later I became a letter writer, columnist, then an in-house member of staff.
Like so many others in this business, was my springboard onto other things.
I can’t believe the market for a truly independent weekly print or digital magazine completely dried up. Maybe it hasn’t and AA will be reborn under new ownership. Hopefully that’s the case. We’ll see.
I’ll leave you with another Tuckey snapshot from the October classic’s earliest days, taking his audience behind the scenes so they gained a full appreciation of what it was like to be trackside two nights before the annual big race.
“Bathurst is... Friday night and in the members’ caravan park, strategy behind closed caravan curtains, the clank of beer cans on a laminated table top, the patio light of a Conrod Straight house gleaming out on the patched bitumen where tomorrow no pedestrian might tread. It is the mumble of a police motorcycle in the Esses at midnight, headlights on the red soil of McPhillamy Park, knuckles on a caravan door (‘Does anyone know where Fred Glenhunty is?’).”
And so it goes... Auto Action