Almanac Motor Racing – Bathurst (Part 4): The road trip Sunday

Sunday is race day

It was raining and cold all day.

 

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 2002 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.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

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