Australian Muscle Car
Getting there… and back again!
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.