Australian Muscle Car

Wallys Words

Get­ting there… and back again!

- Sports · Driving · New South Wales · Alexander Graham Bell · Craig Lowndes · Pukekohe · Perth · Australia · Washington State · Neil Armstrong · Chevrolet Special Vehicles · Cootamundra · Cowra · John Bowe · Jason Bright

Add mo­tor rac­ing and the need to get there (and back again), add road cars and dis­tance, plus a bunch of ‘Icons’ (as in ‘Icon drive faster than you!’) then you have a recipe for some fun and games over the years! I must ad­mit, not too much hap­pened on the way to the cir­cuits but on the re­turn trip? In fact one of the few ‘go­ing to’ episodes I can re­call is head­ing up to Bathurst in 1994. Holden Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles very kindly sup­plied a Club­sport for the jour­ney and I had one of the ju­nior team mem­bers for com­pany.

I took the first stint to Coota­mundra, where I handed over to the young bloke af­ter a feed and re­fuel, to take us to Bathurst. Now the driver was 18 and on P-plates, so I coun­seled him about the per­ils of the long arm of the NSW law – es­pe­cially around Bathurst week­end! He set­tled in nicely, but north of Cowra got a bit too com­fort­able and I was see­ing around 117km/h on the speedo…

Sure enough, a rapidly ap­proach­ing car from be­hind lit us up with the flash­ing blue lights and pulled us over. “Where do you think you’re go­ing?” says the nice po­lice per­son. “Bathurst?” I con­firmed his very as­tute po­lice ob­ser­va­tion – which wasn’t too dif­fi­cult for him with all our

race team kit hang­ing in­side the rear door.

He con rmed our speed in the 115km/h-plus range, and with me rapidly ex­plain­ing we were with the Holden Rac­ing Team, he noted the fact that the driver was on P plates – but the Club­sport he was driv­ing was not wear­ing P plates.

So, 15 kay over the limit, driver on P plates but no P plates on the car – I couldn’t help but won­der how was this go­ing to go down with my HRT chiefs Jeff Grech and John Cren­nan once they found out. It would be con­sid­ered my fault, for sure…

But then for what­ever rea­son, the cop­per handed back the li­cence and sug­gested we take it easy for the rest of the jour­ney be­cause – ac­cord­ing to him – there were a lot of po­lice about! I won­der if the name on the li­cence rang a bell with him Sun­day af­ter­noon, when Craig Lown­des made an au­da­cious late-race pass around the out­side of John Bowe at Grif­fin’s Bend at Mt Panorama be­fore nish­ing sec­ond in the Great Race?

The only other vaguely weird go­ing-to-thetrack thing I can re­mem­ber was trav­el­ling down the free­way from Auck­land to Pukekohe one morn­ing when we came up to pass a 1960s Yank tank, wal­low­ing its way South down the road. It wasn’t the car that stood out, it was the Shet­land pony sit­ting on the back seat with its head out the win­dow! Now if it had been a sheep, we prob­a­bly wouldn’t have even no­ticed it…

No it was head­ing back to the ho­tel or air­port that cre­ated the most op­por­tu­nity for fun, games and car­nage. I mean, when you’ve spent the day ooz­ing testos­terone wrestling a 1400 kilo-plus mod­ern day su­per­car around the place, it takes a while for ‘choir­boy’ mode to kick back in.

If the day has been rel­a­tively stress-free, then you’re re­laxed enough to start pulling your team­mates chains while in the car head­ing back to the ho­tel. Now it’s a bit strange, but these next ob­ser­va­tions all took place in Perth, head­ing back from Barba­gallo Race­way! Maybe it’s be­cause you’re sooooo far away from home, no tales would be told; ‘what hap­pens on tour stays on tour’ etc, etc.

One Satur­day af­ter prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing we were on our way back down the free­way to our ho­tel. I was driv­ing with Brock along­side and To­mas Mez­era sit­ting in the back di­rectly be­hind the great man. Now this is the mid1990s and while the mo­bile phones at the time were great, there was noth­ing ‘smart’ about them. Yes, you could make calls but an in­com­ing call was just that: an in­com­ing call from whom, you had no idea.

At one stage, Brock’s phone rang but when he an­swered it, there was no one there – and don’t for­get, you could not au­to­mat­i­cally call the num­ber back. A minute later the phone rings again and once again PB answers it but once more, no re­sponse. “Bad re­cep­tion around here,” says Brock. “I’ve had the prob­lem be­fore.”

Again the phone rings and by now Brock has the aerial ex­tended to the max (yes, they had those things then) but still no joy. By now Brock is de­ter­mined to an­swer this call: if the per­son thinks it’s im­por­tant enough to keep try­ing, then Brock is go­ing to talk to them. He has the win­dow mostly down with the top half of his body al­most out of the car.

By now I’m twig­ging that some­thing’s not quite right, notic­ing that young To­mas in the back seat is smil­ing hap­pily to him­self but all the time en­cour­ag­ing Peter to take the call. Mez­era has his hands down low and out of sight, con­tin­u­ously di­al­ing (and can­celling) the calls to Brock’s phone! It kept them en­ter­tained for ages, I don’t think PB ever knew, and it al­ways gave To­mas the sat­is­fac­tion of putting one over The Master!

Get­ting out of the Wan­neroo cir­cuit can be a night­mare on Satur­day and Sun­day af­ter­noons, so we would leave our cars out­side the cir­cuit on the edge of the State For­est then bail out and head north through the for­est be­fore link­ing back up with Wan­neroo Rd. No traf­fic jams and the chance for a bit of “en­thu­si­as­tic” driv­ing through the forestry trails!

One Satur­day af­ter­noon Brock and I were about to leave when Marg Cur­tis (John Cren­nan’s PA and the guru of mer­chan­dise) and her as­sis­tant Tom, asked for a lift back to the ho­tel. Seek­ing an op­por­tu­nity (and know­ing Marg wasn’t the world’s best pas­sen­ger) Brock sig­naled me for the keys: it was time for an ab­bre­vi­ated ver­sion of Brock’s Round Aus­tralia Trial driv­ing.

A ner­vous Ms Cur­tis asked PB to take it easy (never a good thing to sug­gest to Peter) and the Com­modore launched it­self up the for­est track! I‘d like to sug­gest that this car (and the oth­ers we torched through the for­est each year in WA) was from a hire car com­pany – a case of all care and a small amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity – but I’m pretty sure they were from one of the Holden Deal­ers in Perth.

Neil Arm­strong might have had his ‘One gi­ant leap’ mo­ment but I reckon this Ecotec, auto Com­modore VR Ac­claim was out of this world at least once or twice, and never point­ing in a straight line, while in­side our Marg squeal­ing loud enough to send our na­tional em­blem bounc­ing rapidly back into the for­est.

The fun and games con­tin­ued for a kilo­me­tre or two be­fore omi­nous clunk­ing and thump­ing noises an­nounced the car’s ob­jec­tion to such treat­ment – even from a master such as Brock – and a stop was nec­es­sary to reat­tach a few bits and pieces un­der the car. Af­ter the dirt-track pit stop we pro­ceeded back to Perth at a pace more to Ms Cur­tis’ lik­ing (and cer­tainly at a pace that kept the poor old loan car alive for an­other day or two at least).

I must ad­mit that Mark Skaife was a bad in uence on me! In fact, some would say he’s been a bad in uence on a lot of peo­ple!

Again it was Perth, again it was on the way back from Barba­gallo, again I was driv­ing and once again Marg Cur­tis was with us (you’d think she’d learn!) and I think ei­ther Ja­son Bright or Todd Kelly. Mark and I had a lit­tle thing go­ing where on oc­ca­sions, he would some­times catch my eye as we were about to ar­rive at our des­ti­na­tion.

From the front pas­sen­ger seat, his hand would sub­tly slip down to the hand brake lever. This time it was the loom­ing drive­way of the Parkroyal/Crowne Plaza Ho­tel at Lan­g­ley Park at around 4-4.30 in the af­ter­noon. The ter­race bar at the pub was well at­tended in the sun­shine and it was a most serene time. That was about to change rapidly.

A quick twitch of the steer­ing wheel to the right, then an equally switch back to the left – timed beau­ti­fully – as Skaife hauled the hand­brake on! Rear tyres screech­ing, Marg Cur­tis screech­ing, tyre smoke ev­ery­where and the ex­tremely com­fort­able ter­race guests of the ho­tel were quickly be­com­ing un­com­fort­able.

With the Com­modore now side-on to Ter­race Road and fac­ing the ho­tel’s drive­way, Skaife dropped the hand­brake, I gassed it up the drive to concierge and with a ‘park that for us please’, we four blokes dis­ap­peared to the bar with Marg still sit­ting in the car won­der­ing what had just hap­pened.

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