Climbing the Mountain
Allan Moffat helped shape Australian motor sport history. His new book provides an in-depth insight to a remarkable life and time.
Ask Allan Moffat about his time racing in Queensland and chances are the first thing he will recall is an incident at the now-defunct Surfers Paradise track in 1984.
“I took pole (position) and was lying fourth mid-race with rain increasingly falling when a back marker… squeezed me on the fastest corner in Australian motor sport under Dunlop Bridge,” he said.
I was well aware of the danger of this corner. There’s a wide grass strip and then an earth barrier, behind which lies a deep culvert and then Nerang Road.
“I was determined not to get to the mound, but on wet grass you experience unintended acceleration so I needed something to slow me down. As much as I could I aimed for an innocuous-looking bush, anything to scrub off speed.
“What I found instead was an immovable stump camouflaged by its shrubby exterior. It stopped the Mazda (RX-7), and me, instantly. I broke my hand and, for the second time in my racing career, my sternum.
“My touring car title (aspirations) and my race car were over and out.”
It was his worst crash in an eminently-successful Australian and international career that started in the early 1960s and ended in the late 80s. Not surprisingly, the incident is well-detailed in the motor racing legend’s new book, Climbing the Mountain.
There’s much to write about. The Canadian-born Moffat’s bulging CV of achievements include first placings in the Sebring 12 Hour race in the US, Fuji 500 in Japan and Monza (Italy) round of the World Touring Car Championship. Then there’s 32 Australian touring car wins, four Bathurst 500/1000 victories and four national championships.
Queensland was a happy hunting ground, with Moffat winning at least 11 championship races at Surfers Paradise and three at Lakeside Raceway, not to mention several major placings. Lakeside, the track that still operates today beside Lake Kurwongbah north of Brisbane, is one he respects greatly, calling it “tight, twisting and somewhat fearsome.”
The old Surfers track – not to be confused with the current street circuit that hosts the annual Gold Coast 600 Supercar event – opposite the ski gardens at Carrara was also fast, but more open and flowing. Apart from the earlier-mentioned crash, both circuits hold many fond memories, he said.
Queensland drivers also feature prominently throughout the book, namely Dick Johnson, John French, Tony Longhurst and Charlie O’Brien – some as rivals, some as teammates and some as both. But the one that he makes special mention of is the late Gregg Hansford, who drove for, and alongside, him. The surfie from Bardon caught his eye, having won 10 motorcycle world championship grand prix.
“I had to have Gregg for my team,” Moffat said in the book.
“According to others, I was taking a huge risk by giving him his first-ever competitive four-wheel drive in Australia’s biggest motor race.
“But I wasn’t worried. I tested him and he confirmed what I suspected – he was as good and talented and right-minded as any driver I’d ever known.”
Hansford’s death, some years later, in a race crash profoundly affected him – now, as it did then.
“It was such a waste of talent, the loss of a really superb human being,” Moffat wrote.
There was never a smoother driver.
Climbing the Mountain goes beyond the customary who, what, where and when. It also explains eloquently why such and such happened, providing an insight to Moffat the man and driver that the public – due to his intense, reserved and driven persona – never really knew at the time. There’s no sugar coating. Moffat tells it as he saw it happen – the intense competition, huge egos, on-track volatility and fervour of the Red Army (Holden) and Blue Oval (Ford) tribes.
The 432-page, hard-cover tome also provides an insider’s view of what went on off the track, including the massive boardroom arguments which resulted in both Ford and Holden entering, and withdrawing from, Australian motor sport.
Perhaps the most powerful and telling observations are about his toughest competitor and, ultimately, great friend, Peter Brock. Moffat’s views on the highs and lows of Brock’s mighty career, seen from close range, and his death in the 2006 Targa West rally are illuminating and sum up the enormous sadness and frustration of motor sport followers everywhere.
It makes for a compelling read.
Images by Allen & Unwin, Brier Thomas.