Ezy Reading: Thoughts On The Mountain King

Evan Kanarakis

Growing up in Bathurst I was always a Ford guy.

These kinds of decisions were made for me quite easily back then: my Dad owned a Ford, and so that was all there was to it. Come the big race at Mount Panorama each year it was an automatic given that so long as a Ford was parked in our family garage I’d be cheering on the Fords and our hero of the day, Dick Johnson, and jeering at the Holdens and their hero, Peter Brock.

But it was hard to jeer Brocky.

For one thing, he was an extremely likeable character. Johnson was too, but Brock stood in contrast to the more animated, swearing, aggressive and occasionally crashing antics that made Johnson so appealing. Brock was the ‘good guy’ foil to ‘bad guy’ rival Johnson, if you will. He was a friendly fellow who never actively courted controversy and, like Johnson, was exciting out on the circuit, but he also stood far and above the rest as the most exceptional driver in Australian motor racing and, rightly, was proclaimed the ‘King of The Mount’ with his unsurpassed ten Bathurst victories. At the same time, while such a champion undoubtedly possessed a strong competitive streak –it was one that kept him racing well into his supposed ‘retirement’- he seemed to leave that competitive edge on the track, and his well mannered, thoughtful persona won him a legion of committed fans and left him in good standing with the community. His trademark vehicle number of ‘05’ so as to promote public awareness of the legal blood alcohol driving limit in Victoria, considerable fundraising efforts, and receipt of an Order of Australia medal for service to motor racing stand as a case in point.

I met Peter Brock twice, and the two meetings were nearly twenty years apart. As a kid in Bathurst you’d naturally see the man regularly at the various races, parades, and other commitments that brought him back to town year in and year out, and it was at one of those events –I believe it was called ‘The Parade of Champions’- that I met him at the age of nine. My primary school sent a number of students along to wave Australian flags at a parade of drivers preparing to compete in the following days at what was then known as the James Hardie 1000, and in the middle of it all Peter Brock happened to get off his slow-moving parade car and walked around for a time, mingling with the crowd. Soon enough he approached me with a big smile, bent down to shake my hand and thanked me for coming out. He then asked whom it was I planned to support in the big race. I told him that seeing as my Dad owned a Ford, it was going to have to be Dick Johnson. With a laugh, Brock assured me that “Johnson is definitely going to be a tough man to beat” and hopped back on his car. Indeed he was- Johnson won the race that year in his Greens Tuff Falcon.

The second and last time I met Brock was during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He happened to be just a few seats behind me for a basketball match at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and I was struck by how patient and incredibly gracious he was with the dozens of fans that continually streamed towards him for a hello, to shake his hand, ask for a photograph or an autograph. There’s no way Brock could have possibly taken in much of the game, that’s how many people were constantly at him, but, without fail, and without one complaint, he addressed each and every person with attention, thanks, and interest. It was little surprise, then, that during a timeout in the match he leaned forward and actually asked me which team was which. I joked that seeing as I grew up in Bathurst in the shadows of Mt Panorama I was probably as lost on basketball as he was. “Ah! I thought you looked familiar!” he laughed. I told him about our first meeting way back in 1984 and we chatted a while about the town that made him famous. He asked questions of me –what I did for work, if my family were still in Bathurst and how I was enjoying the Olympics- that lent proof to the fact he wasn’t just a busy, jaded celebrity but actually an incredibly down-to-earth, engaging person. Soon enough, the autograph seekers returned to interrupt our conversation, but after the game he made a point of shaking my hand to say goodbye, and said he hoped that perhaps we might meet again in Bathurst one day.

It was with considerable sadness, then, that I learnt of Peter Brock’s passing this week. He was an outstanding motor racing champion and representative for his sport, but he was also a true gentleman.

I might technically still be a Ford fan, but in these last few days I remembered, fondly, how much I was also very much a Peter Brock fan.

Ezy Reading is out every week.