Why the Bathurst racing isn’t what it used to be
Hundreds of thousands of fans and millions of dollars worth of sponsorship and merchandise sales can’t be wrong, but for a small clique of passionate motorsport fans born in the 50s and 60s, the annual Bathurst event is struggling to arouse our passion.
Bathurst is wedged in that twilight zone between the end of the footy season and the start of cricket, when a young man’s fancy turns to things racing on four wheels and four legs. Bathurst Sunday was once a holy day of obligation.
You locked the doors and drew the curtains and sat for 8 hours oblivious to the wife’s hurrumphs and the kid’s pleading eyes. I even timed a certain, erm, conception-negating operation for the Saturday so I had an excuse to sit around all Sunday.
But this week I’ll be squeezing in the odd half-hour or so between nippers, mowing the lawn and burning the snags.
Don’t get me wrong – I want to love Bathurst, and I praise all those associated with sport. I want to sit there for hours with my boys participating in the sacred father-to-son rituals of handing down “the knowledge”. But I just don’t look forward to it like I used to.
Partly, it’s the cars. Certainly through the sixties, seventies and even the early eighties there was the plausible fiction that on Monday you could buy and drive the car you saw win on Sunday. Today’s cars are space-aged rocket-ships re-skinned with familiar bodies. With their penchant for all things technical, Gen Y obviously get excited by them but give me Dick Johnson’s XD with the carburetor, lamb’s wool seat cover, big round steering wheel and cue-ball shifter any day.
On Sunday, a mere 31 cars will line up on the grid. Drop a few out due to crashes and breakdowns and you get the impression that Farmer Brown could drive his sheep across Conrod in between passing vehicles.
In the early years there were often over 60 starters with every make from big-banger Aussie V8’s through to Volvo 122’s and Morris 1100’s. So many started that the back of the grid was around the corner and up Conrod Straight. Would it be too much of an ask to have some more cars? Yeah the leading teams will complain that it is unsafe to have too many slow cars in the race, as they always have. But what a publicity coup if a young “no-name” driving an older car up-staged the big budget teams!
However for me the problem is mostly about the drivers. Look, I’m sure today’s drivers are lovely blokes and consummate professionals and I don’t want to offend. But as the last of my fellow gen-Xer’s in Mark Skaife and Glen Seaton fade into the sunset, I’m losing all empathy. Today’s drivers remind me more of R2D2. They’re small, proficient and seem to get plugged into their cars more than drive them.
Gone are the jaunty types of the 60’s, with pencil-thin mustaches, punting Citroens, VW’s and Mini’s with a box of cut-sandwiches in the glove-box. Gone is our greatest ever driver, the late Ian “Pete” Geoghegan a man-monolith who couldn’t fit one leg into today’s cockpits. Gone are the Hardies Heroes – Brockie banging up Mountain Straight with one arm on the window sill, Gricey – to quote Mike Raymond – “using all the road and a little bit more”, Kev Bartlett spectacularly rolling Kerry Packer’s Channel 9 Comaro (bet they wouldn’t allow that sort of ambush marketing today), Glen Seaton calmly chewing on his drinking straw as he slid his twitchy Skyline around in pouring rain. And who will ever forget Gentleman Jim Richard’s surprising yet apt victory speech to the booing Ford and Holden fans after winning in the Godzilla Nissan? “Youse are all a bunch of arseholes”.
Sadly gone too are the once-a-year battlers of the seventies and eighties, the people who led us on fantasies of “if they could do it so can I”. The boozy good ‘ole boys who worked the spanners as well as the wheel and squeezed their ripe bodies into tight, greasy race-suits before mixing it with the pro-racers.
For me Bathurst jumped the shark in 1987 when a bunch of home-grown battlers were denied a start because they couldn’t keep up with interloper Germans driving pommy cars in practice – and who were later disqualified for cheating.
And Bathurst was a social ground-breaker too. Long before men ate quiche and pollies bunged on the water-works at the drop of a hat, you would regularly see real men like Dick Johnson and Alan Moffat sobbing away. At times, Moffat was positively effeminate, but did the beer-gut and blue-singlet mob mind? “No-way”, I can hear them say. “As long as the bloke can steer. And I don’t mind admitting I also shed a tear or two into my steel KB can.” And there were women too, who raced and raced well - without quarter and without being patronized. It’s been a long time since a woman raced at the top level.
So call me a nark. Call me an out-of-touch old fart. But I’m a taxpayer, goddamit, and I’ve put a lot of money into that track and I claim my right to wistful rose-coloured nostalgia if I damn well want it.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…