My First Race Meeting…Sandown Tasman F5000 Meeting February 20 1972…
We can all recall the meeting or event which hooked us on the sport, right?
For me it was the 1972 Sandown Tasman Meeting, the Australian Grand Prix no less, contested by Formula 5000 cars.
I was up for it mind you, one of my friends, Simon Roberts’ father Ron worked for Castrol and amongst his responsibilities was the racing budget in some shape or form.
Critically, he went to race meetings and gave me Castrols’ copy of ‘Racing Car News’ each month after it had done the rounds of their execs. It was always a month or so outta date and well thumbed by the time I got it, but I lapped up every word.
Finally i was invited to my first meeting.
We cruised out to Sandown from North Balwyn in Rons’ metallic brown Valiant with the big ‘265 Hemi’…not a bad ‘Dad Car’ at the time. The Val joined the endless stream of weekend traffic on Warrigal and Dandenong Roads, my excitement building seeing lots of performance cars of the day; GTR’s, XU1’s, GT’s, GTV’s, Monaro’s and plenty of souped up EH’s and HR’s ‘chromies’ gleaming in the sun amongst the other weekend warriors heading to a Mornington Peninsula beach on that hot summers day.
Reading RCN didn’t prepare me for the sheer visceral thrill, excitement, speed and ground shaking, gutterall thunder of the 5 Litre 500 BHP V8’s.
In those days the paddock was in the infield, inside Shell Corner, or turn 1 and extended across the track to the inside of Peters or Torana Corner, now turn 3, or the Corner onto the back straight. It was lower than the surrounding infield and was like a private little Mecca for racers and enthusiasts alike.
I recall 2 things vividly from that weekend all these years later.
The first was walking from the carpark behind the grandstand, the excitement building hearing cars being warmed up in the distance and crossing the track into the dusty, gravel paddock area and seeing Bob Muirs beautiful, exotic, automotively erotic, concours, gleaming blue Lola T300 just about to enter the scrutineering bay.
I was stunned, gob-smacked. I couldn’t move I was so awed by its amazing combination of wedge shape, curves, fibre-glass, chrome tipped exhausts, scoops, ducts, wings and oh-so-wide tyres! It was immaculate, yellow pinstriping contrasting the blue bodywork, the finish of the racer a ‘Von Dutch’ work of art.
Lola was as curvaceous as Raquel Welch who adorned my bedroom wall. Her appeal was far more carnal, but the compound curvature of both car and screen siren was undeniable.
Fairly soon a poster of Lola was alongside Raquel. Dad related to Raquels’ charms, more than once we compared and contrasted her ‘on screen’ attributes with Sophia Loren but to me she was too old, I took his point all the same. He did find the car thing more of a challenge than babes.
Eventually I regained my senses and did a slow lap of Lola taking in every bit of it. ‘Drinking’ visually every feature. The T300 was a new design, none of my old RCN’s had pictured it. Most racing cars then were still cigar shaped, Lola took her cues from the radical 1970 F1 Lotus 72, not the cars of the 60’s.
We wandered off to the Castrol tent meeting Peter Brock and Colin Bond and whilst the Touring Cars were of interest they didn’t really float my boat. Moffat’s Mustang raced that weekend, it was and still is impressive. Surely the best looking ‘taxi’ of all time?. With an honorable mention to Brian Foley’s Alfa GTAm.
The beauty of the old Sandown setup was that you could see most of what you wanted within a 500 metre walk. Watch the cars coming down the main straight and into Shell Corner on either the inside or outside of the track. This was a great spot to watch braking manoeuvres and hear and work out the best practitioners of the ‘heel’n toe art’.
My other favourite spot was coming into or exiting Torana/Peters from the inside of the circuit. This was the place to watch and hear the cars accelerate away from you, always impressive to watch an F5000 doing that on its own bellowing up through the gears on it’s way up towards ‘Marlboro Country’, the fast combination of corners into ‘Dandy Road’, it was and still is a great part of the track to drive.
Access and egress from the Paddock was via a pit pass or jumping the fence for the impecunious. The Light Car Club guys always turned a blind eye to this teenage activity, proper chaps those blokes.
My preferred locale though, was in the paddock. You could wander around seeing as much as you liked, talk to the drivers and get an autograph if you picked your moment, watch the cars form up on the dummy grid, see them take off, and watch them from the pit counter, on circuit until told to ‘piss-orf matey’ by the ever polite LCCA officials.
It was from that pit counter that the second indelible memory of the weekend took place.
We watched the cars grumble, crackle, spit back through their intake trumpets and ‘pig-root’ their way past us… down the pitlane, the exotic sound of Hewland gear whine audible and onto the circuit, the pack disappearing in one massive rumble of fuel injected thunder as they accelerated up to The Rise and down into Dandenong Road.
The first car to approach us exiting Shell was yellow.
It was Kevin Bartlett in his McLaren M10B, he kicked the car sideways…teasing the thing on the throttle, the engine note changing minutely but perceptibly as he balanced the beasts sticky, wide Goodyears with throttle and steering. I was stunned, it looked and sounded so fast and spectacular and easy. It wasn’t of course, but he did it lap after lap in this third gear corner. To see the thing accelerating hard past us and then almost as quickly the wonderful sound of the big Chev on the down-change into ‘Torana’ all too much.
I was in sensory overload, Raquel did that to me as well mind you, but in a different kinda way.
But I was hooked as a Bartlett, F5000 and race fan for life.
I don’t remember too much of the race itself but Graham McRae in his own car (Leda aka McRae GM1 designed by the recently deceased Len Terry) won the AGP from Frank Gardner’s Lola T300 and David Hobbs in a McLaren M22. KB and Bob Muir were both retirements with gearbox and engine maladies respectively.
But the race didn’t matter to me, i lived that wonderful weekend for months, I had found my lifelong interest and passion, it’s been my sport as a competitor and fan ever since.
Etcetera…From my scrapbook all those years ago
Thanks to Chris Parker and his archive for some of the shots, Stupix