If there’s anything I am as passionate about in my sporting interests as my deep love of motorsport, it’s Aussie Rules football.
I love the game; I love how it’s such a huge part of where I live in Melbourne. There’s nothing like a quiet ale (or two) and a pie in the outer with mates at the mighty MCG on a briskly cold winter’s day.
As a long-time Hawthorn supporter, I’ve witnessed an amazing era as the Hawks played in four consecutive grand nals and lifted the Premiership Cup three times in a row from 2013 to 2015.
Of all of the times I have watched my team play in person, I saw its former captain and nowretired star Sam Mitchell play a huge chunk of his 307 games with the Hawks.
Yet, for all of the games I watched Mitchell in action in the #5 jumper, I never picked up his loose connection to motorsport, one I only came to understand when reading his recently released autobiography, Relentless.
You see, Sam’s father Wayne is the same Wayne Mitchell that raced Torana touring cars in the 1970s.
Indeed, the same Wayne Mitchell who sold his L34 Torana to some bloke called Peter Brock in 1976 – that car became the Team Brock entry driven by ‘PB’.
It went on to win that year’s Hang Ten 400 at Sandown and nished a delayed third at Bathurst with Brock and brother Phil driving.
Kiwi-born Mitchell drove in a handful of Australian Touring Car Championship rounds that year and the next – including nishing seventh in the ’76 Adelaide International Raceway round.
Now 64, he runs his own surveying business in Vermont in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
I was intrigued to learn a bit more about a privateer touring car racer of the 1970s that has somehow managed to escape being ‘collared’ in print for a chat about his racing past – so I called him and he was only too happy to oblige by taking me back to where it all started.
“My one and probably only ‘father/son’ outing was to Calder Raceway when I was 14 or 15 and Norm Beechey was running his HT Monaro,” recalls Mitchell of what hooked him into motor racing.
“I remember looking at this thing absolutely gob-smacked. I guess that’s why I ended up mostly with yellow cars – the Torana, a yellow Kawasaki bike and now a yellow ski boat – I’m sure I picked it up that day watching Beechey.
“I was 21 or 22 around the time of the L34 Toranas. I had absolutely nothing; I didn’t even have a road car! My mates used to tow me around. I was just having some fun; the old man thought I was an idiot doing it!
“I had a road-going L34 and I did some drag racing in it, but that was a bit boring because it was all over in 12 or 14 seconds, so I put a cage in it and did a bit of low-key circuit racing.
“That type of car was exactly what Brock and his little team were looking for, so they bought it and I took the cash and put a bit more with it and bought the ex-Dustings car.
“When the A9X stuff came out, I didn’t have enough money to update to an A9X – I made $10,000 a year at the time and my race car ran on that!
“When I nished with it, L34s were worth nothing, so I turned it back into a road car and sold it.”
Mitchell’s motorsport interest and work in surveying came together in the 1980s too – he ended up doing surveying work on the construction of the Calder Park Thunderdome.
Looking back, he reckons there’s one thing he was missing that would have been a huge help in his time in motorsport.
“When I look back I just really wish I had a mentor to tell me what to do,” he says.
“I look at the pathway Sam’s taken though football and everywhere those guys go, there’s people guiding them, telling them what to do.
“I guess if you come from a racing family you would have the same thing to a degree, but all I had was that I liked going fast! I learned after a while that race cars run on one thing, money.”
Mitchell is still a keen follower of motorsport, dropping in to the Sandown 500 recently for a look. He keeps tabs on Supercars, F1 and MotoGP, but spends more time now in ski racing.
“I run a ski race boat now, it runs a twin turbo unlimited inboard – we’re out there picking up a few placings. We’re going fast that’s for sure – it still keeps the competitive juices owing; you’ve got to do something in life!”
One thing that struck me is that Mitchell never managed to make a Bathurst 1000 start. He was entered for the 1976 race in the exDustings L34 with John McCormack but didn’t make it to the event.
“I got an entry in for Bathurst and it got accepted, but I couldn’t come up with the money to make it all happen,” he says.
“That was about the end of the line for me with racing.”
This might just be the start of the line of a new challenge for me though – time to read a few more sporting autobiographies and hunt down some more motorsport links…