Australians love two things: drinking and driving. No Australian can think of a better way to spend a long weekend than having a few drinks, driving 500 miles to a racetrack somewhere out in the bush, drinking a skinful of beer, watching some other blokes driving around for a bit, having a few more Germaine Greers (if the first slab's starting to wear off), and then driving 500 miles back home.
All Australians are required to pick a side, though most find that their parents picked one for them at birth, long before they were christened and about the same time as they were put on the waiting list for membership of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Holden fans waggishly suggest that Ford stands for "Found on Rubbish Dumps", while Ford fans waggishly assert that Holden stands for "Holes, Oil Leaks, Dents and Engine Noise".
Kings of the Mountain
The highlight of the V8 season is always the James Hardie Asbestos 1000 at the Aboriginal sacred site of Mount Panorama, near Bathurst. An average of 724,000 spectators turn up to have a drink, so technically the cars can run on the alcohol exhaled by the crowd, but few teams like to do this as the lumps of carrot in the vomit can cause fuel-line blockages.
In the time-honoured Australian tradition, the wallopers are chased off and their vans turned over and set on fire, and with a bit of luck a kangaroo will get onto the track and get skittled by a Commodore.
Bathurst weekend is without a doubt the most important date on the Australian sporting calendar (AFL Grand Final, Melbourne Cup, Australian Open tennis, Formula One Grand Prix, Boxing Day Test, Tri-nations rugby, Anzac Day two-up and Joe Bugner comeback fight notwithstanding). It is also the one event that enables foreign visitors to see contemporary Australian culture at its most nude.
Sadly, in 1992, the joyous occasion turned to tragedy on "Sunday, Bloody Rotten Friggin' Bastard Sunday", when the trophy went overseas for the first time, having been won by the Godzilla Racing Team's Nissan Skyline GT-R. But only because it was raining and the bastards had four-wheel-drive. Now let's never speak of it again.
Making it fun
Let's face it, watching a bunch of cars going round and round and round can be pretty bloody boring, even when you're pissed to the eyeballs on warm cans of VB. To keep things interesting, V8 Supercars spectators make a point of participating in the race proper by placing obstacles such as cardboard boxes and kangaroos on the track. It is then up to the drivers to take the punt on whether the boxes are empty and they can plough through them Jackie Chan-style (pictured left), or whether that innocuous-looking pile of cardboard is actually there to conceal the engine block out of Dad's clapped-out old Cortina.
Other animals and objects commonly placed on the track for a bit of a laugh include wombats (those little bastards can knock your sump cover right up into your crankshaft), emus, ball bearings, beer kegs and refrigerators.
Most V8 Supercars drivers have their driver's-side window covered in chicken wire to keep the beer bottles out. In recent years, advances in digital camera technology have enabled drivers to make a note of who's been throwing stuff at them, so that when they've finished necking the Moet on the podium they can fling the empty bottle at the bastard. Most Bathurst holiday packages include insurance that covers driver-inflicted magnum trauma.
The day that Mel Gibson got completely rooted by a stray 'roo
One of the most memorable moments in Bathurst history was the 1978 race, when the supercharged Betty Ford Clinic Ford Falcon XB Hardtop Interceptor piloted by local heroes "Mad" Max Rockatansky and Mel Gibson was knocked out of contention after the young Gibson hit a track-record 27 kangaroos on Conrod Straight on lap 52. Gibson and Rockatansky were two laps in front of second-placed Peter Brock Barney Banana Holden Torana at the time.
The marsupial femur that penetrated the two-door Falcon's radiator at a closing speed of 314km/h was like a knife through the heart of Gibson's and Rockatansky's dreams of victory and unspeakable debauchery with a bevy of lycra-clad grid girls. The event was later fictionalised in the movie Mad Max, which starred Gibson as Max Rockatansky and Jack Thompson as Gibson. Mad Max 2 later told the story of their attempt the following year at the Cannonball Run from Adelaide to Darwin, while Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was a documentary about Tina Turner's recording of the V8 Supercars theme song Simply the Best at the Bob Jane T-Marts Thunderdome at Calder Park, north of Melbourne.
The V8 Supercar's place in Australian culture
Since Australia has no tribal or ethnic rivalries, apart from the Serbs, Croats, Italians, Greeks, Turks and Armenians getting stuck into each other at the soccer, the Lebanese and the rednecks getting stuck into each other on the beach, and the Vietnamese getting stuck into it at the nightclubs with anyone who fancies a bit, the country had to manufacture one.
After all, Australians love a bit of a stink, and if your best mate follows the same footy team as you, has the same sexual orientation as you, always buys his round and isn't rooting your missus, there's no real reason to give him a punch in the gob. Luckily, with V8 Supercars, there's a 50 per cent chance that he bats for the other team (or so to speak), so you can feel perfectly justified in giving him a smack in the chops on the first weekend of October.
In the artsy-fartsy arena, V8 Supercars have also proved a durable hit. The original V8 Supercars movie (which Sony Pictures released in foreign markets as TOCA Race Car Driver) starred Russell Crowe as a young Mel Gibson, while the ageing Mel Gibson reprised his role as "Mad" Max Rockatansky and Kylie Minogue and Germaine Greer made cameos as sexually promiscuous, lycra-clad grid girls. In Australia, the film made more money than E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Crocodile Dundee put together.
V8 Supercars 2 (aka TOCA Race Car Driver 2) starred a young Hugh Jackman as Russell Crowe and an ageing Russell Crowe as Mel Gibson, while Guy Sebastian played Tina Turner and Dannii Minogue and Alexander Downer made cameos as sexually promiscuous, lycra-clad grid girls. It made more than A.I., Tomb Raider and Crocodile Dundee 2 put together.
V8 Supercars 3 (aka TOCA Race Car Driver 3) starred a feeble Peter Allen as a young Hugh Jackman, an ageing Mel Gibson as a young Russell Crowe and a doddery Tina Turner as a young Guy Sebastian, while Nicole Kidman and Clive James made cameos as sexually promiscuous, lycra-clad grid girls. The film made more than MIB, MIIB, Halo 2 and Crocodile Dundee 3 put together. Who says Australian cinema is formulaic and predictable?
Brock, Stock, and One Smoking Two-Barrel Carbie, by Peter Brock.
No, Honestly, I'm Not Bonkers - Putting that Crystal in the Engine Really Does Make Your Car Go Faster (I Just Don't Have the $750,000 for Scientific Validation), by Peter Brock.
"We're Not Making That Stupid Peter Brock Crystal Car Anymore" (press release), Holden Australia, 1996.
Thrills, Spills and a Daytona Coupé, by Mick Hone, 2006.
Burning Rubber (And This Time I'm Not Talking About Busting a Franger, If You Catch My Drift), by Sir Les Patterson.
I Should Have Stuck to Motorbikes, by Wayne Gardner.
Cenovis Vitamins Pty Ltd Annual Report 1996, By Alan Moffat.