For the Great Race in 1995, Glenn Torrens headed to Mount Panorama with his mates as usual, but this time he took his camera and notebook with him. The resulting yarn documented an era when ‘pit specials’ were specifically brought up the mountain to be sacrificed in a Thunderdome-style arena and then set on fire for the entertainment of the masses. Needless to say, you’d never get away with it today!
First published in the December 1995 issue of Street Machine
IT’S a shade past 9am on the Thursday before the big race, and tents are being pulled out of canvas bags and tarpaulins hung from the sides of panel vans. Fridges are being wired to deep-cycle batteries and stocked with supplies for five days AWOL from normal society.
There are the regulars who’ve been coming to the Mount for years and recount first-hand the history of Johnson and the rock, Brock setting the fastest lap time on the last lap, and next year they’ll tell how Perkins fought from last place to win. They return to the Hill every year to camp.
We pitched camp at the usual spot near the VB Tree, named for its unusual green aluminium foliage, and settled in for five glory days on the Mount. Other like-minded enthusiasts had come from all over the country to be here; rego plates from every state swung from Commodores and Falcons, bikes and buses. And everywhere were relaxed-looking folks, assembling a tent city, beers in hand accompanied by the distant rumble of the practising Tourers.
Tent up and fireplace dug, we put on our souvenir ‘I Got Shit-Faced On The Hill ’95’ T-shirts from Dirty Pierre, cracked open the first stubby from the one-case-per-man-per-day ration and went for a look around.
First stop: The donut pit. The pit was in prime condition and big, with a couple of stout trees – perfect for knocking door mirrors off, or climbing for a good view. Plenty of room for going flat out in reverse before applying full lock and pivoting the car around its rear bumper. And in the centre, a hump for getting a bit of air. Along with the Touring Cars, we had all the ingredients for a good weekend’s entertainment.
Arriving on the Mount four days before race day, there were already a couple of thousand punters and several pit specials making noise.
Some were carefully prepared in race colours with a coat of yellow and blue Peter Jackson house paint or in Holden factory black and white, Shell stickers, reversed rims and a roof removal. The fate for most of this collection of automotive junk? To be put in the pit, ceremoniously and methodically thrashed, tanked and terminated.
The butchered remains of a Valiant chugs by, blokes standing six abreast in the remains of the boot and back seat, cheering, tinnies held aloft at the folks setting up their camps. On the gravel behind the Val, tied by a rope to the tow bar, scrapes a bonnet with a couple more can-clutching lads. Fifty metres from the Val, back in the pit, three guys have a black HG Holden bellowing like a bull elephant, churning up acrid brown dust as it circles time and again in the wide patch of dirt ringed by trees and tents.
The black HG eventually withdrew from the pit into the kaleidoscope of canvas to be replaced by a strong-sounding white ute. It’s still only Thursday morning.
This year, the boys decided to put some extra cash in the kitty and lash out for the annual trip to the Mount. Around July, they started looking for a pit special – a car they could use to carry equipment to Bathurst, for sitting on, driving to town for supplies and doing some serious circle work in the pit. A good pit special must run (obviously), it has to be registered and it has to be cheap. The boys bought an old Falcon. Just like the inhabitants of the naked Valiant, two or three Falcons, a couple of Datto 120Ys, a Galant, a Fiat, a roofless Celica and a couple of 60s Holdens.
The Hill has a character unmatched by any other place on the map. And that’s before the sun goes down. When the pit specials come off the leash for a run, people stand three deep, stubbies thrust skyward to the great god of mechanical lust, cheering and jeering as four or five cars blast around for a few tortured laps, before being annihilated by a well-aimed slam from another rolling wreck.
Pit rules: If it doesn’t make enough noise, you will be politely asked to rip the exhaust off at the manifold. If a pit special goes terminal, the mob is only too ready to terminate it and continue the entertainment by rolling the car onto its roof, axing the petrol tank and dropping a match onto it. Near on 25 cars and one drunken idiot were toasted this year.
Forget about salvaging parts. Wait until the driver is out of the car before pelting with stubbies, rolling and torching. For a few minutes, a sea of faces glows orange as a plume of smoke and flame rises toward the stars. Before the flames die, another volunteer enters the pit for the next round of action.
On Friday night – the big pit night – a couple of lumberheads decided they’d enjoy hanging off the sides of cars as they blundered around the pit. One bloke wrapped himself around a Falcon’s B pillar and had to be kicked off before he got scissored. He got a costly ride in an ambulance later. Another pair of rocket scientists tried to firewalk a burning car, but changed their minds when something in the engine bay exploded.
Not everyone was on the Mount to run amuck and watch cars die or get themselves into intensive care. Some were there for a weekend watching the V8s run.
Others seemed to take an interest in the on-track antics of Formula Fords and Suzuki GTis. Hot dog stands catered for the day trippers from down the hill who couldn’t stumble back to camp for a quick feed of roast chicken and an esky refill. Judging by the antics of the punters with their backsides trackside, most were there for a wild, primordial, soul-cleansing exercise in drunken debauchery on the Mount away from the shackles of work, women and wisdom. They were there to get thoroughly pissed, run around like rats, not get henpecked and not give a damn about anything for a few days. Except, of course, whether a Ford/Holden or Brocky/Dicky won. Life’s essentials of food and drink were skewed heavily toward DRINK.
The distinct lack of the fairer (smarter?) sex was highlighted on qualifying and race days when one or two scantily clad sorts (“Mirror girls – I can see meself in ’em”) wandered past the hordes. Thousands of pairs of bloodshot beady eyes followed them like Lycra, followed by the class of comment you’d expect from a few hundred lads who’d had a few thousand tinnies. Try saying, “Show us your tits” without slurring an S.
Transporting cold piss takes on new technical sophistication on the Mount. From simple foam boxes strapped onto golf carts and old lawn mower bases to the BEEROLET and a couple of three-wheeled motorbike-based buggies, putting wheels under your first aid box is essential for the walk from camp to your spot on the spectator mounds at Sulman, McPhillamy or Reid parks.
Ice from town is delivered by truck a couple of times a day for those who don’t have fridges and don’t like sinking a warm beer. And the empties – bands of feral kids wander around, hessian in hand, making an easy buck at the cash-a-can centre.
There’s nothing like being there. But there’s also nothing like having a small television to catch all the action and slo-mo replays on the sections of track you can’t see. Televisions on chairs with anti-glare cowls made from beer cases, hooked to petrol generators were scattered far and wide through the spectator areas.
After sundown, a bit of telly, a good feed of barbecued steak, drinking the remainder of your daily 24-stubby ration and checking out the late night show in the pit before turning in beats an 11-to-7 shift on a Friday night.
Then you wake up, crack open a breakfast beer and do it all again. There’s nothin’ like it.