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When the passion remains

 

Events in recent weeks have only confirmed that none of us ever know what life is going to throw at us.

I arrived back in London on September 8 after a flight from Japan lasting more than 12 hours, a two hour delay in immigration, a further two hours riding the underground, taking a train and finally walking to my south London flat.

Talk about being shattered but even in a jet-lagged haze there was time to check emails after an absence of five days.More than 120 messages were waiting to be read but they seemed of little consequence when the internet flashed a news item.

The Australian government was according Peter Brock a state funeral. Had I missed something critically important while being away in a foreign land the other side of the world?
Had PB died from some mysterious illness that had been kept quiet? How was it that two Aussie icons were gone in tragic circumstances in less than a week?

The news that Brocky had been killed in a relatively minor event made the tragedy even more bizarre.Peter didn’t need to be in Western Australia. It was likely he was still suffering from jet lag after flying in from Heathrow earlier in the week.

Just six days earlier the famous Victorian had been a competitor at the Goodwood revival meeting in southern England.Brock’s fatal accident had occured on the first day of a rally that was hardly going to change the shape of the world, or even attract much media attention.

There is always a nagging feeling that something bad will happen when a champion racer retires from the sport and then returns to dabble in the game.But even when you’ve done it all, beaten the best and smashed all records, the passion must remain.

Peter Brock had nothing to prove because he had done his time, proved his point and written the book on Australasian saloon car racing. Yet, with racing in his blood, he remained a true enthusiast to the end.

Denny Hulme was a Formula 1 World Champion and in his quiet retirement he raced trucks and saloons. He didn’t need to, but he wanted to.

For us lesser folk, it might be hard to understand why former champions continue to have an inclination to race against the clock in a small-time event. But maybe that’s why we’re here and they’re there.

In late 1962 after a near fatal accident on an Easter Monday earlier the same year, Stirling Moss realised he would never again return to Grand Prix racing.

But his competitive spirit remained and he continued to don a crash helmet for small-time events like a long distance saloon car race at Pukekohe in the 1980s when the masterly Brit drove a Volkswagen Golf GTi.

Wily Australian Jack Brabham won the World Championship as far back as 1959 and 1960 but he has not been averse to competing enthusiastically in small time events. And sometimes hurting himself in the process.

Jim Richards needs no endorsement and even after a wonderfully successful career, the former Auckland still races Porsches and drives competitively in rallies. The bug, it seems, simply will not go away.

Some top drivers, of course, do walk away from racing.

When Jackie Stewart hung up his hat at the end of a tragic 1973 season that cost the life of his teammate, he pledged he would never compete in any motor racing event. Apart from the odd demonstration, the canny Scot has kept his word.

Any accident is a waste but in the case of Peter Brock’s tragic outing in the Perth rally, the outcome almost beggars belief.

Labelling Brock a legend seems like stating the obvious. But we’ve lost a great personality and one of the finest Australian drivers of all time.

His career can’t be measured in results alone. The man left a lasting impression, working hard for charities and championing good causes.New Zealanders know him for his tireless work in promoting road safety and his encouragement of good driving among young people.

You had this feeling Brock would always be around. Simply ponder on his enviable track record and his ability to keep out of trouble.

I’ve watched this man race in anger on many occasions and rarely, if ever, seen him put a wheel wrong. Never, I thought, would Brocky die at the wheel of a car.Sadly, motorsport and merely driving on public highways have a habit of serving up unexpectedly painful events. Ponder on the
fate of Possum Bourne, Mike Hawthorn and Mike Hailwood, all killed in uncompetitive motoring situations.

When Jim Clark was fatally injured in a relatively minor Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968, the world realised even the best drivers are not invincible.

All this, however, doesn’t make the loss of a great Australian in Western Australia any easier to bear.

Brock and Holden were synonymous. How much value was Brock to the Holden brand after remaining faithful to the nameplate for so many years?

If you drove a Holden Commodore you naturally supported Peter Brock, but such was the depth of his skills and the nature of his character that many others were PB fans too.

We may not have always agreed with Peter’s ideas but here was such an approachable guy who was happy talking to anyone and whose ideals could scarcely be disputed. This bloke had his
heart in the right place.

He did so much for motor racing, was a brilliant driver, had staying power and goes into the history books as a motoring giant in our part of the world.

Brock is one of the greats of Australian motorsport, along with Allan Jones, Jack Brabham, Dick Johnson and Frank Gardner.

And because of the cosy affiliation between New Zealand and Australia, these blokes are also close to the hearts of Kiwi enthusiasts.

We embrace these true champions as if they’re our own – reason enough to make the loss of Peter Brock so significant and so heart wrenching. He deserved a better end to his twilight
years than this. 


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