Bathurst part 2 – the weekend continues…

November 2, 2017 by
Filed under: Motorsports 

The Saturday bus wasn’t arriving until 8:30am so we partied.  By bedtime, we were suitably juiced.  We found a British zombie movie on SBS.

It was cold and wet on race day...


Nick also found a pillow in the same cupboard Danny looked in.  As Nick brandished the pillow, Danny looked shocked.  ‘It wasn’t there yesterday,’ Danny said.

I tried explaining how Danny could’ve missed it, that it blended in with its surroundings.


‘By not looking properly is how he missed it,’ Nick said.


Danny laughed.  I opened the narrow cupboard.  We looked inside.  The pillow had been on the floor instead of the shelf where the blanket was.  Danny hadn’t looked down.  Nick put the red pillows on the bed, to throw at us when we were snoring.


At 11:17, I finally convinced Nick and Danny to turn the television off.  They were in no mood to sleep.  Danny kept us awake by reliving Bathurst history.  Beginning at 1965, he asked us who won each race.  Exhausted, my head beneath a pillow, I offered a few answers, Allan Border and Bob Hawke.  It was 12:17am when Danny’s trivia session ended at 1986.


Amazingly, Danny was up at 4:45am.  Nick sparked up too.


‘What are you doing?’ I asked.


‘Time to get up,’ Nick said.


‘You fucking bastards,’ I said.  ‘The bus isn’t here for hours.’


‘I can’t sleep,’ Danny said.


I pulled the pillow over my head.  I couldn’t sleep either as Danny did the dishes and rinsed the beer bottles.  After five, he went to the general store for bread, cheese and coffee.  Nick turned the television on about 6am.  I stayed in bed, head covered by the pillow, until 7am.


Making the sandwiches was a team effort.  We made coffee for each other.  Outside the room, a cleaner waited beside her trolley.  A short, portly woman with black hair, she smiled and said hello.


‘I hope we didn’t shock you with our room,’ I said.


‘You’re clean compared to most,’ she said.


Nick shrugged.  ‘We’ll have to try harder,’ he said.  The bus waited at the kerb.  We sat in the back seats.  Danny talked to the panel-beater about cars on the way to Bathurst.  Several South Africans were too hungover to speak.


At the track, after buying $5 bus tickets, a bus took us on a slow drive to the top of the mountain on a back road.  The view at The Cutting was breathtaking.  So was the weather.


‘My feet are cold,’ Danny said.


My body was cold.  I pulled a North Melbourne hoodie over the top of a zip-up North Melbourne hoodie.  We videoed cars that sped past at one of the bends.  After an hour or so, we kept climbing, past the elaborate campsites.  The campers took Bathurst seriously.  Some campsites must’ve taken a week to set up.  One campsite had a pool table.  Swags lay everywhere.  Barbeques cooked as men frowned at eggs and bacon.  Fires burned.  There were caravans, camper trailers, tents and marquees.


One idiot wearing a yellow t-shirt threw a gridiron ball about 30-metres from a campsite.  It smacked into the head of a man walking a ridge near the track.  The thud was like a slamming door.  He shook it off and rubbed his head.  The man in yellow smiled.  His mates cheered.  Someone picked up the rolling ball and threw it back to the idiot in yellow.


Nick, Danny and I shared glances.  Those looks suggested the ball would’ve either been stolen or popped if it hit either of us.  We couldn’t understand why someone would do something so stupid.


Cops rode past on motorbikes, too late to see the gridiron ball fly.  We walked past a police-only rest area.  Five officers sat in the sun outside a small, squat brick building.  A fire burned nearby.  They looked relaxed.


At every bend and turn on the top of the mountain, Skyline, the Esses, the Dipper and Forrest’s Elbow, we stopped and watched the cars speed by.  When the sun came out, clothes had to come off.  I almost dislocated my right shoulder trying to pry one hoodie from the other.  We ate and sipped water, applying sunscreen.  Following the path as far as it went, at the top of Conrod Straight, we stopped until about 1pm.


‘I’m looking forward to tomorrow,’ Nick said.


It took about an hour to walk back from where we’d came.  A bus took us back down the mountain.  At Hell’s Corner, we sought shade for an hour as the Porches and utes sped past.  Emerging from the shade, we found a patch of grass.  Before the shootout the afternoon sun almost pulled me to sleep.  I stood up and went to the fence, watching the Porches on their final laps.  There was no way I was falling asleep at Bathurst, not with the sun and the wind and the sound of the engines.


At 5pm, the shoot-out began.


‘I’m going for Scott McLaughlin,’ Danny said.


‘I’m going for Lowndes,’ Nick said.


‘Who are you going for?’ Danny asked me.


‘Ross,’ I said.  I was thinking about a character in the Steve McQueen movie Bullett.


Danny raised an eyebrow.  ‘Ross?’




‘There’s no Ross in the race.’  Danny smiled.


I looked at Hell’s Corner.  Ross sounded like a name that belonged to a motor racer.  ‘Who’s that other bloke whose name starts with R?’


‘David Reynolds.’


‘I’m going for Reynolds,’ I said.  ‘To win the shootout and the race.’  I nodded like I knew what I was talking about.  I’d never heard of David Reynolds.


‘He’s a vegan,’ Nick said.


‘Peter Siddle used to be a vegan,’ I said.  ‘How can Reynolds race at Bathurst without eating meat?’


‘Want to change your selection?’ Nick asked.


‘When he goes off for celery he’ll put in the co-driver.’  I had no idea who Reynolds was partnered with.  Danny said I might learn a lot during the weekend.  So far I hadn’t learned much.


McLaughlin won the shoot-out with a hurl of a lap.  Reynold did well too, finishing second.


We filled the back seats of the bus.  The hungover South Africans had recovered to enjoy the day.  All the nearby talk was about McLaughlin and his record time.  He’d had a few difficult moments but performed superbly.


A large crowd filled the Commercial Hotel.  We arrived about 7pm.  There was already a 45 minute wait for dinner.  The pub’s owner was absent, leaving two barmen to work the beers.  It was obvious they were frustrated.  It took five minutes to get beerd.  Dinner took an hour.  We filled up and left by 9:30pm, finding more beers in the motel room.


Danny sat on the bed.  ‘I can’t believe I free-balled all day,’ he said.


I grimaced.  Nick shook his head.


Went I went for a shower, Danny’s undies hung limply on the towel rack, drying slowly.  He’d be right for Sunday.


Race day


The tower tells the story - David Reynolds won...

We mostly slept through the snoring.  Nick retained the red pillows.  Up at 5am, we were ready an hour later.  Again, it was a team effort to make lunch.  We packed extra jumpers and ponchos.  Rain was forecast.  It would be cold.


Stepping outside into grey gloom proved the weather bureau was right.  There was no way it wasn’t going to rain.  Getting off the bus at the track, the cold enveloped us.  Our breath could be seen.  It was about 7:15am.  Getting to the track early gave us the chance at the best possible place to set up.


A woman was spewing up near the bushes.  Her partner had his right hand on her back.  A young girl waited helplessly nearby.  The woman was hunched over, letting it out and waiting for more.  When she stood, her face was pallid.  She was unsteady, her eyes leaking tears.  It looked like a rum hangover.  It was a bad day to be sick.


In Merchandise Lane, we bought $10 chairs and $5 umbrellas.  Given the weather, we decided to find a good spot and make it ours, without moving for the day.  Our set up, three chairs side by side, was made along Pit Straight, about 50m from Hell’s Corner.


There was much checking of weather apps in vain hope of the bureau being wrong.  Rain was forecast to start at 12pm.  When the utes ran their race and the Porches buzzed the crowd, the old Falcons, Kingswoods and Mustangs filled the atmosphere with the noise of throwback V8s.  The replica cars went for a slow lap, driven by legends of Bathurst.  Afterwards, the Super Car drivers went around the track on the back of utes, waving to the crowd.


The crowd was subdued.  It was freezing.  Weather apps said it was 10 degrees.  It felt like 5C.  Danny rocked from foot to foot.  ‘I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life,’ he said.


The weather reminded me of the 2001 grand final between Brisbane and Collingwood.  Nick barely said a word about the weather.  We were all rugged up, multiple jumpers and coats.  It wasn’t enough.  A coffee didn’t take the chill away.  Hot chips were better.  I went to Merchandise Lane for a newspaper and was given two.  I found free merchandise for our kids.  We snatched flags for our kids from a woman in tiny clothes.


Rain began when the Super Cars were on the grid.  Pit crews made swift changes from slicks to wets as we pulled ponchos over our bodies.  I had both hoodies over my head and a cap on top.  We stood as the race started and roared as the cars went past.


This was Bathurst 2017.  The grumble of engines in the heavy atmosphere sounded like hell as they hit Hell’s Corner.  Rain kept speeds down.  Lap times were beyond 2:30.  Driving was careful.  Huddling under umbrellas, clad in ponchos, we sat at times and stood at others.  The roar was incessant as the cars spread out.


The spruiker moved through the crowd to the fence.  He looked like trouble, carrying a can, a small esky and belligerent menace.  The spruiker wore shorts, thongs and a t-shirt.  He was impervious to the cold.  He turned and watched the big screen, never seeing the cars speed past.  He commentated at a yell, picking on Holden and various drivers.  He screamed without an audience and found one.  Comments went back and forth.  We thought he should shut up.


Somehow my arse got wet.  I put a newspaper on my seat to soak up the water.  It worked.  For hours the racers drove to conditions.  It took hours before Danny explained how he knew who was ahead, by looking at the tower scoreboard.  I finally figured out Reynolds was driving car 9 and he had a 35-second lead.


After several hours, the spruiker moved on, back to the top of the mountain.  No one missed him.


As the rain dropped, the safety car emerged.  Reynolds dropped to fifth.  Cam Waters led the race by half a minute.  At some point, McLaughlin’s car quit on top of the mountain.  Plenty went off the track.  Chas Mostert took the lead for a lot of laps.  Whincup’s car blew something in the motor.  About 5pm, the rain stopped but the clouds remained low.  The track would dry but slowly.  A rock on the track, obviously thrown by someone, brought the safety car back out.  Later, a kangaroo did the same, though the roo was among the revellers, not near the track.


Pit lane penalties were given to drivers who didn’t clip their seatbelts properly or didn’t respect the safety car. A flag from somewhere hit Danny’s umbrella.  We didn’t bother with the thrower.  The safety car bunched up the pack again when Reynolds had the lead.  With six laps to go, we packed up our chairs, umbrellas and bags.  De Silvestro crashed.  Reynolds let fly with three laps left and held on to win.


I cheered him as he went past.  Instantly he was a Bathurst legend.  I still knew nothing about him.  When a car with green lights drove past, we invaded Pit Straight, walking to the podium.  Men rushed to the garages, intent on stealing anything they could get their hands on.  They stood on shoulders to steal core flute signs bearing sponsors logos and driver’s names.  Police watched on disinterestedly.  Let the revellers revel.


Cops wandered through the throng.  Working at Bathurst provided opportunities.  Overtime, a chance to glance at the race and ensure the revellers enjoyed themselves.  We didn’t see any arrests or unruly behaviour, aside from the idiot with the gridiron ball, the entire weekend.


The police must’ve been pleased with the crowd’s behaviour.


We couldn’t see or hear the presentation properly.  The podium drivers dropped empty champagne bottles to their teams below.  One of the bottles smashed.  Someone threw a shoe into the crowd.  With a bus to catch, we joined the masses exiting the track.


It was a great event, three long days.  I was happy Reynolds won, mainly because my uneducated tip proved right.  As we walked to the bus, Danny filled in gaps I wasn’t aware of.  Reynolds had been sacked by Ford.  He was fined $25,000 for his ‘pussy wagon’ comment aimed at de Silvestro.  He was driving for a small, independent team.  He’d finished second a few years ago.


Thick fog descended as the bus took us back to Millthorpe.  Cattle and sheep grazed despite the grey chill.  Everyone was exhausted.  South African’s talked behind me about Reynolds and McLaughlin.  I gazed through the fog.  Bathurst had been a huge event made cold and wet.  Rain extended and affected the race and also changed it.  When the rain stopped, the drivers went for it, wanting to make the track their own.  It was exciting, loud and thrilling.  I loved it.


The Millthorpe pubs were open and expecting us.  We disappointed the South Africans by staying in the motel, drinking the last bottle of homebrew and a few cans.  We had a whiskey and coke.  About 10pm, after showers, it was all over.  No one wanted another drink.  We were spent.  Lying on our beds, we didn’t talk about the race, absently watching television.  The next day would be spent on the road, 12 hours to get back to Brisbane.


Bathurst (Part 4) The road trip home


Rain fell through the night.  The ground was wet as I returned the glasses to the general store about 5:30am.  A few men waited for coffee.  The woman behind the counter said thanks with barely a glance, like she was certain they’d be returned.  After packing up, the motel room now looked like a used motel room, dishevelled but no longer ours.  We said goodbye to a few South Africans and Peter.  Just after 6am, Nick guided the 4WD from Millthorpe.


We were taking a different route home.  I sat in the back.  Triple J was on the radio, music I was no longer in tune with.  Music I would’ve turned off at home.  On the road, it sounded different, it sounded right.  We’d been through a different experience.  Unknown techno music suited the speed at Bathurst.


Through heavy fog we drove, Nick never beyond the speed limit.  Roos, cattle and sheep fed amidst the gloom.  Danny consulted his phone and guided Nick through Orange’s backstreets.  Danny’s phone predicted the shortest distance to Dubbo.  It became known as Danny’s Detour, taking us on rough roads, twists, turns and level crossings, through Mullion Creek, Stuart Home and Mumbil instead of the highway.  Eventually we saw a sign, 20km to Wellington.


‘Reckon there’ll be a highway there?’ Nick asked.


The fog cleared, revealing an overcast day that would brighten by the kilometre.  Radio stations drifted in and out.  A flick of stations generally found Triple J.  A shocking 80s mix on local Dubbo radio stunned us.  Breakfast was again fast at McDonalds in Dubbo, the same franchise we ate on the way down.


Grain farms extended as far as the shimmering horizon went.  Bare hills rose in the distance.  Trees provided windbreaks and border lines.  Scraggly eucalypts grew in clumps or single trees stood tall and lonely on the earth.  And the willow trees spread their noxious love, tracing the path of every shallow creek.


We drove through Gilgandra and Coonabarabran and the Pilliga National Park on the A39.  The Tourist Hotel in Narrabri stood tired as we went past.  Again I thought of Tucker’s Daughter and Ian Moss.  Surely he’d played a concert in Narrabri over the years.


Moree was a quick glance, as was Boggabilla.  About 1pm we crossed the border, stopping in Goondiwindi for more fast food.  Nick didn’t eat.  It was hot.  A day earlier, we’d been cursing single-digit temperatures.  In the car park we cursed 30 degree temperatures.


To the north of Goondiwindi, we drove through vast hectares of grain farms broken up by clumps of bushland.  Nick stared at the road.  Danny and I looked at the bush.  It is impossible to get bored staring at uncleared bushland.  There was very little roadkill on the Gore Highway, as though it had all been cleared away over the weekend.


I saw something I’d never seen before.  ‘What are those cactus plants?’ I asked.


‘Prickly Pear,’ Danny said.


For hundreds of kilometres, prickly pear grew in various states of height and health.  Introduced as a border tree, the cactus quickly grew out of control, infesting 40,000 square kilometres of farm land by the 1920s.  The introduction of a Mexican moth has kept it under control ever since.  The prickly pear seemed an anomaly against the eucalypts and pine trees.  Prickly pear is ugly, a fighter as all weeds are.


Willow trees can grow again if broken branches find moist ground.  The pads of prickly pear can regenerate months after breaking from the plant.  I stared at the prickly pear as we sped past.  Some were dying or dead, others standing three or four metres tall.


Both weeds will never be rid from Australia.


Staying on the A39, a storm brewed to the east.  The weather app indicated it would miss us.  Outside Toowoomba, the range opened up as we made our slow descent.  Nick had driven most of the day.  He said he was good to go.  For the entire trip, I didn’t touch the wheel.  Nick was the main driver, with Danny as reserve.  I was emergency.  I didn’t mind.  I finished Michael Clarke’s autobiography in the back seat.


Hitting Darren Lockyer Way meant we were close to home.  The landscape eventually gave way from corn and grain farms to industry and suburbia.  Nick took the expensive tunnels to make the trip quicker.


After dumping my gear inside my house, I drove Danny home, thanking Juliette for the ticket.


Back at home, I reflected on the past two weeks, attending two of Australia’s biggest sporting events, the AFL grand final and the Bathurst 1000.  I learned more at Bathurst, and though motor racing isn’t my thing, there is no reason why it isn’t.


Despite the weather, the race was thrilling.  By the end, I was wringing my hands in fear and hope that Reynolds would hold on and win.


Later that night, I looked at old clips on YouTube of Allan Moffatt and Peter Brock and Dick Johnson speeding around the track.  It reminded me of an age where I didn’t have to prioritise the sport I watched.  As a kid, there was always time for everything.


Nick, Danny and I made time, driving more than 2000km there and back to watch the Bathurst race.  I made a promise to my boys that I would take them to Bathurst for the race when they’re older.  I’ve made the same promise about grand finals.


Perhaps, in a decade or so, Nick, Danny and I will take our families to watch the race.  Another, glorious road trip.  And next year, I’ll be making time to watch the Bathurst 1000…


Facebook Twitter Digg Linkedin Email


One Comment on Bathurst part 2 – the weekend continues…

  1. Adam G on Fri, 24th Nov 2017 10:55 am
  2. What’s keeping the Mexican moth under control?
    Cane toads?

Smarter IT solutions working
for your business