In 1981 I was fresh out of school. Towards the end of that year I got together with a bunch of mates and (with the four of us jammed inside a ’78-model Corolla) set off on the 880km trip from Sydney to Melbourne. Or to Calder Park, to be more precise. It was the second consecutive running of the Australian Grand Prix at that venue, and circuit owner Bob Jane had not spared the expense in bringing some big names down under for the race. Some very big names in fact: the just-crowned world champion Nelson Piquet, along with bitter rival and the man he’d just deposed as world champ, our own Alan Jones, as well as French ace Jacques Laffite and several other top names.
To see such a heavyweight lineup of international stars racing in Australia, in brand new, nearidentical Ralt RT4 openwheelers – and with locals like Larry Perkins, John Bowe, John Smith and Alfredo Costanzo thrown into the mix as well – was not something we were going to miss. It was a memorable weekend that didn’t disappoint.
One clear recollection I have is of when we arrived at the Calder circuit on race morning. To our disbelief, the man waving his arms about directing traffic into the venue’s car park was none other than Bob Jane!
Why on earth Jane was the car park attendant that day, I do not know. Maybe it was a simple case of a job that wasn’t being done, but which needed to be done. Another job for Bob.
Bob Jane was a man who got things done – on and off the track.
Jane must have spent a small fortune on bringing out so many top international stars for each of the ve AGPs Calder hosted. But that surely paled in comparison to the enormous nancial commitment he made a few years later with the construction of the 1.8km NASCAR banked oval, the Calder Thunderdome.
It was ultimately unsuccessful, but Jane’s Thunderdome – the only such venue in the southern hemisphere – brought NASCAR racing down under, and hosted the rst ever NASCAR Winston Cup race outside of North America.
Jane was a track owner, promoter, sponsor (the drivers he’s helped over the years is too long to list here) and a driver. His career record sits comfortably alongside our very best: there are not many other drivers with four Australian Touring Car Championships and four Great Race wins to their name. And no one other than Jane has won the Great Race four times in a row.
As a driver Jane was a virtual household name – although some of his cars starred almost as much as the man himself. Among them were the Improved Production/Sports Sedan HQ Monaro GTS 350, the winged Repco V8 Torana XU-1 and the big daddy of them all, the 427ci Camaro ZL1.
For many, Jane’s Camaro and the early ‘70s era in which it reigned remains the highpoint of our touring car racing history. The 427 Camaro, Allan Moffat’s Boss 302 Mustang, Norm Beechey’s Monaro GTS 350 and Ian Geoghegan’s ‘Super Falcon’ – brutal, charismatic muscle cars driven by larger-than-life characters, some of whom were barely even on speaking terms with one another – attracted huge, spellbound crowds.
The ferocious animosity that existed between Jane and Moffat added a further dimension to the drama – modern-day driver rivalries in Supercars racing seem like child’s play by comparison.
Jane had his friends and his enemies. He could be combative (to put it mildly!); he certainly was not one to suffer fools gladly. If a ght on principle was to be had, then Jane was always up for it – and his ghts with CAMS over issues regarding the running of his circuits were legendary.
When CAMS initiated its Motor Sport Hall of Fame in 2016, Jane was among the inaugural inductees. While his inclusion was a no-brainer, it may well have required the passing of the 20 or so years since he and CAMS were facing one another in court for the bitterness to sufficiently fade.
Indeed, at the award ceremony, the then-86 year-old Jane kicked off his acceptance speech by pointing out that there were some CAMS officials in the room he would like to see strapped to a rocket...
Bob Jane was a towering gure in the history of Australian motorsport. He will be missed – we simply won’t ever see his like again.
To matters far more pedestrian, you may have noticed a different noggin at the top of this page. That’s because I’m holding the fort for this issue while our esteemed editor Luke West takes his family on a well-earned holiday in the US. Luke will be back in time for issue #106 – no doubt with lots of tales from the land of Camaros and Mustangs (and Dodge Challengers).