The annual Bathurst 1000 is one of Australia’s most iconic sporting events with a rich history which spans over half a century.
Gordon Lomas, one of Australia’s most experienced motorsports journalists, has teamed up for the third time with Penguin Random House to publish a book, Kings of the Mountain, profiling people who have made the ‘Great Race’ iconic.
From talking to legendary drivers like Jim Richards to team owners such as John Crennan, Lomas dives in to uncover some of the untold stories and emotions of the historic event.
Ahead of the book’s release, Lomas was kind enough to give up some of his time to talk about the forthcoming book.
Jordan Mulach: What led you to write another book about Bathurst to be released ahead of this year’s race?
Gordon Lomas: I was approached to do another Bathurst book following the “75 Years of Racing at Mount Panorama” which came out in 2013. The approach came two years ago though I was initially reluctant to do another Bathurst book but I came up with an idea of attacking this one from he point of view of getting the stories behind the stories from a selection of winners over the decades. Right from the 60’s to present day, I got competitors and team owners and key players to impart some of their personal stories behind the scenes on how they prepare for their race and what it actually takes to win Australia’s greatest motor race.
In terms of the magnitude of the race in Australian motorsport, what’s the best example of how important this race is?
John Crennan provided a lot of input in to his days at the helm of HRT (the Holden Racing Team/Team Walkinshaw Racing) back in the early 90’s and 2000’s. He was saying his most embarrassing time in motor racing was at Bathurst in 1995 when they built this team up to be the juggernaut of the Australian motor racing scene.
The engines expired on both HRT cars during the race that year when Holden’s and GM’s biggest corporate heavyweights were in the garage. Crennan and others within the team only just held on to their jobs. That’s how much it means for people within the sport to win Bathurst; it’s the Everest of our sport.
You recognise and acknowledge more than just the drivers and team owners in the race, talking about and to some people who had big roles in other jobs to do with the race. Commentators like Mike Raymond (Seven Network, 1978-1995), the head honcho of Bathurst Ivan Stibbard (head official, 1973- 1997) and the journalist Bill Tuckey. Why did you put in their stories as well as those of the drivers?
With Mike Raymond, for many years he was the number one commentator for Channel Seven’s coverage throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. For anyone growing up, the voice of Mike Raymond became like putting on an old pair of slippers; you grew up with Mike commentating the race. To get his views on those years and what happened behind the scenes was important to include. It split up the tempo throughout the book where it’s not just talking about people who won the race.
Ivan Stibbard unfortunately passed away between the time I wrote the previous Bathurst book and when I wrote this one, so I contacted his son Mark who shed a lot of light on what his father was all about, what made him tick and why he was at the helm of running the Great Race from the early 70’s until 1997.
Unfortunately Bill Tuckey passed away last year and it was just a great opportunity to pay him homage. As a motor racing journalist, we all drew inspiration from Bill and owe him a lot because we pursue the careers that he created the path to. Tuckey was a part of the fabric of what made Bathurst a great race; not just from his writing and the annual Great Race book but also he fancied himself as a driver.
Last year, the Bathurst city council renamed the media centre after Bill. When he died, I wrote to the Bathurst council and the mayor (Gary Rush) responded within two weeks. He didn’t really know who Tuckey was but, to his credit, he did his research then wrote back to me and said, “Yes, we are going to take your idea on board and have an official ceremony on the Thursday before the race.”
It was important to document people like them as they were an important part of history. Otherwise, people like that fade away and disappear into oblivion; the next generation would be none the wiser as to exactly what happening in those pioneering years.
You touch on a lot of the good times at Bathurst but the 90’s saw a division in the Super Tourers era. How do you see that period in the grand overview of the Great Race?
That was probably one of the dark eras of the race’s history. In 1997-99, there were two races at Bathurst and it was the Super Tourers which assumed the mantle of having the Great Race at Bathurst and the V8’s had their separate 1000-kilometre race.
It was an unfortunate period of racing in Australia and it mirrored with what happened to CART and IndyCar in the US around the same time when Tony George, head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, set up the breakaway Indy Racing League which left the CART teams out on their own. It’s all about greed and television rights; it was an unfortunate period. Fortunately, things at Bathurst came together when in the early 2000’s, Super Touring fell off the charts because it was dying internationally. We came back to our senses to have the one Bathurst 1000.
To this day there have only been three fatalities in the Bathurst 1000 (Mike Burgmann in 1986, Denny Hulme in 1992 and Don Watson in 1994, plus Mark Porter in 2006 in a development series race), is it surprising more deaths didn’t occur given the nature of the track and the lack of safety in the early years?
The event was quite lucky in the 60’s and 70’s that there were no calamities in the race itself because safety worldwide was poorly considered. Jackie Stewart in Grand Prix racing became a great advocate of safety and it gathered momentum from there. It wasn’t until Mike Burgmann in 1986 that people realised something had to be done. The safety measures in place weren’t adequate. There have been a lot of fatalities at Mount Panorama but in touring cars there hasn’t been as many as in side cars and so forth.
If you were to tell someone who wasn’t in to the sport or someone who wasn’t in to racing who doesn’t see the big deal about why this race is so special, what would you say it means to Australian motorsport?
The analogy I use every time is the Melbourne Cup. Not everyone is in to horse racing yet everyone in Australia stops and is involved in it in some way; everyone knows the Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday in November. In the motor racing world, the same applies to Bathurst. It is the race in the year where a lot of people, who wouldn’t ordinarily give the time of day to motor racing, would tune in or be interested in some part about what’s going on in the race.
Has there been much of a shift from when the race used to be separate from the championship to now occupying a spot near the end of the championship calendar?
Particularly this year and to some degree in previous years over the past decade or so, co-drivers are going to determine the outcome of the championship. It has a lot of ramifications attached to it. Whether it should return to its past and become just a standalone race, I don’t think that would achieve anything. Being a part of the championship is a good thing, it adds a lot to the event.
Now I know what my favourite Bathurst 1000 race is (2014 for anyone wondering), is there any race which stands out for you as the best yet?
While I love and respect history, without doubt my favourite Bathurst was 2006. Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup won the first Peter Brock Trophy three or so weeks after Brock’s death. It was the ultimate result; if it was any other result, it wouldn’t have been valid. It had the element of theatre and emotion. It was a real life fairy tale finish to what was a tragic few weeks for Australian motor racing.
In the future, do you see much of a change with the sport or the event? Are there any factors which may see a demise or a rebirth?
It’s always hard to predict the future but there’s been a growing shift towards GT racing in Australia like there has worldwide. Sports car racing in history has come and gone; it’s ebbed and flowed in championships and manufacturer involvement. I don’t think anything will change as such in terms of the Great Race remaining as it does not but whether these type of cars which are racing now continue to take the form of a “touring car” or switch to a full blown GT car remains to be seen.
Kings of the Mountain is available from October 2, the week leading up to this year’s Bathurst 1000.