SEPTEMBER 8, 2006
Peter Brock, Australia's biggest motor racing star for the last 30 years, has been killed in a rallying accident in Western Australia. The 61-year-old was driving a 1964 AC Cobra Daytona Coupe on the Targa West in Western Australia. The car went off at Gidgegannup, about 25 miles to the north-east of Perth during a tarmac special stage, and went into a tree on the driver's side. Medical crews worked on Brock briefly but there was little that could be done.
Peter Brock was the dominant figure in Australian motor sport from the 1970s onwards and even in recent years his presence at racing events created bigger queues for autographs than the V8 Supercar stars of the modern age. Brock's fame rested on an almost supernatural talent. For him racing was simply a natural thing and he gloried in the gift he had been given. Peter might have been a great open-wheeler racer and was keen to try but could not raise the money to race in Formula 5000 in 1971 and did just a handful of races the following year in Birrana F2 cars. He then turned his back on single-seaters, saying that he did not like driving them and one can only wonder what might have been if he had pushed a little harder to make it in Europe. The lure of the Australian lifestyle and the hero worship of his fellow countrymen and women, kept Peter in Australia, happy to be a big fish in a smaller pool. He won the Bathurst 1000 race, Australia's biggest race until the arrival of the F1 Grand Prix, on nine occasions; was the Australian touring car champion on three occasions and the country's first rallycross champion as well.
In the end Brock became much more than just a racing star. He was "Brockie", the "King of the Mountain" or "Peter Perfect". He was a household name and adored by his fans not just for his speed but also for his charisma and his genuine interest in people in general. Brock loved to be a man of the people and no kid ever forgot the moment when he signed an autograph, in that moment the full power of Brockie's personality was concentrated on them. It was an amazing thing to watch.
I first met Brock in the mid 1980s at Monza when he came to Europe with his Mobil Holden Dealer Team to take on the world's best touring car racers in a programme of races in preparation for the World Touring car Championship that was planned for the following year.
"We played with a totally straight bat, and thought that was the common agreement," he remembered years later. "We were given some rude awakenings and didn't have the wherewithal to respond rapidly."
During that period I got to know Brock well and ended up writing a book about his adventures in Europe. At the time he was going through a curious period in his life having become convinced that he had invented a device that would make cars all over the world perform better. It was caused "the energy polariser" and polarised opinion. I cannot say that I was a believer but I was impressed at Brockie's wide-eyed innocence and belief in the device. It cost him his relationship with General Motor Holden and much credibility but he came back from that and in time became Holden's favoured son again. That was Brock. His charm and enthusiasm for everything if life was enthralling and refreshing and it was a great pleasure to see him each year in Melbourne, where he acted as a ambassador for the Australian Grand Prix and sat on the board as well.
Although he retired from racing in 1997 he could not stay away and raced whenever he could. Racing was his life.
His father was a garage owner and Brock grew up surrounded by cars. He started racing at 22 in an Austin A30 with a Holden engine. That was in 1967 and two years later he was spotted by Harry Firth, the manager of the new Holden Dealer Team and was offered a ride in a Holden Monaro at Bathurst. He won the race for the first time in 1972 and followed up with wins in 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1987. He was the Australian Touring Car Champion of 1974, 1978 and 1980. In 1979 he also won the Repco Round Australia Trial.
In 1976 he took a team to the Le Mans 24 Hours with a BMW 3.5CSL which he ran for himself, Brian Muir and Jean-Claude Aubriet but that programme did not lead to the international career he had hoped. He would return to Le Mans in 1984 in a Porsche 956 tacing under the Team Australia banner with Larry Perkins but Perkins crashed the car in the middle of the night.
In 1980 he established Holden Special Vehicles to build road-going specials based on Holden models. This was a huge success until 1987 when the partnership broke up over the energy polariser. Brock continued to race in private teams before returning to the factory Holden Racing Team in 1994. He played an active role in promoting road safety with the .05 campaign to alert Australians to the dangers of drinking and driving, racing for many years in a car with 05 as its number. In 1980 he was awarded the Australian Medal in 1980 in recognition of his contribution to motor sport and road safety.
Brock's foray to Europe was seen by some as a significant point in the history of Australian Touring Car racing as it helped transport the sport into the professional activity it is today.
Neal Lowe, one of Brock's team mates during the European adventure, probably summed him up best.
"He had an incredible talent for driving," Lowe said. "He could drive around any problem with the car."
Racing has lost one of its best ambassadors and Australia has lost a national hero, its second within a few days following the death of Steve Irwin, the celebrated Crocodile Hunter.
As an indication of Brock's standing in Australia, even the Prime Minister John Howard felt the need to comment.
"It's been a pretty sad week for Australia," he said. "And Brockie will be very sadly missed."
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