Published on December 9th, 2015 | by Boris
ME & DAVE DO HOT
I’m not a car guy.
“You’re not a car guy,” Ben Nightingale confirmed as he walked me around the back of the pits at Olympic Park.
All around us there were explosions and thunderous screams of tortured metal.
It was the weekend the V8 Supercars did the street circuit at Homebush like sailors doing over a pub.
What was I doing there, seeing as how I’m not a car guy?
Once again, my writing had got me into shit. Specifically, into the passenger seat of a V8 Supercar.
Ben Nightingale had read my piece in Top Gear magazine a while back. It detailed my somewhat cack-handed hurling of a Porsche 911 around Sydney Motorsport Park while Steve Corby manhandled a BMW S1000R around the track. It was one of those whimsical Top Gear yarns where the writers are made to do things out of their comfort zones so the reader can laugh about them being crap. In my case, I was trying to avoid re-creating James Dean’s last moments behind the wheel of his Stuttgart-built unguided missile, and Corby has hardly about to displace Marquez at Repsol Honda.
Anyway, a week before the Supercars came to Homebush, Ben Nightingale sent me an email.
“I read a while back that the fastest car you’d ever been in was a Porsche 911, around Eastern Creek with Stephen Corby. I’d like to fix that – and a V8 Supercar ride with David Reynolds around Sydney Olympic Park should do the trick,” it stated.
Not being a car guy, I Googled David Reynolds.
David ‘Crazy Dave’ Reynolds, as I discovered, is the most interesting and entertaining racing car driver in Australia. He drives (or drove) for a racing car team apparently sponsored by alcohol and Satan. And Kiwis.
I say “drove”, because this was to be Dave’s last drive for the Bottle-O team.
It seems that Dave’s entirely-in-jest statement about chicks racing cars at Bathurst had proved to be a bridge too far for the humourless mugwumps involved in V8 Supercar racing, and Dave’s team had decided to part company with him at the end of this season – and he was moving to the Erebus team next year.
Like most of Australia, I had heard, in passing (for such is my interest in taxi-racing), that Crazy Dave had called the car some girls were racing in Bathurst the “Pussywagon”. I had a giggle about it and moved on. Not so the car-racing world. The tsunami of offended sensibilities threatened to swamp the whole world. Dave was fined $25,000 for his comment, had his head cut off and his hideous male sex organs hooked onto a fence as an example, and political correctness was apparently appeased for a brief moment.
I sensed a kindred spirit in Crazy Dave.
I did some more research. Dave was third in the series. He was 15th last year. Clearly, the man could drive.
This comforted me as I waited for my fire-proof race-suit outside the big Team Ford semi behind the pits.
I needed some comforting, because directly across from where I was waiting was Dave’s car. He had just heaved it into a wall during practice, and his crew were busily replacing the front-end and most of the driver’s-side panels.
The wonderful people from the Ford team told me they hoped the car would be ready in time for my hot lap, but if it wasn’t, they would find me another driver.
I didn’t want another driver. I wanted Crazy Dave and his sponsored by booze-and-Satan Ford.
And you should never under-estimate the power of such sponsorship. At the allotted time, the car was declared ready and I, now resplendent in my baby blue Ford fire-proof suit, was walked to the pits by the very congenial Tim.
“I know you,” Tim said.
“From where?” I asked, wondering if he was one of the very many blokes wanting to beat me to death for crimes I had committed against their self-worth.
“I used to work for the MotoGP mob. You used to write for AMCN.”
“That’d be me,” I said. “How long is this suit fire-proof for?”
“Not long,” he smiled.
And then I was in the Dave’s pit garage, waiting for Dave to show up with the newly-repaired car. With me were two other blokes who were also going for a hot lap with Dave.
“Who’s going first?” Tim asked.
I said nothing, which immediately encouraged the other two to speak.
“He can go first,” the jittery one said, nodding at me.
“Yeah, let him go first,” the other one agreed.
The car arrived, but Dave was nowhere to be seen.
“Get in,” said one of the pit crew, as I stared at the brutal black-and-metal interior of what was once a family sedan, but now looked like some kind of high-tech bondage chamber, with pipes, knobs, levers and shit that would skewer and crush my flesh without hesitation.
“How?” I asked, convinced that my recently broken body just could not bend into a shape that would pass through the pipes between me and the tub I was supposed to sit in.
“Put your right leg in first, then bend your head down…more…a little more…that’s it.”
“Fuck,” I said, as the grim realisation of what was about to happen to me finally crashed home.
It’s all fun, laughter and backslapping in the pits – and hey ho! We’re gonna go for a drive in a real racing car – until you’re being strapped into that racing car like some kind of Christmas chicken. Then it’s suddenly rather serious.
My friends on social media had said I would shit my pants. They said that I would be terrified beyond reason and scream the whole way around the track. And as the pit crew cinched me ever tighter into the sit-bucket, I actually started to believe them.
“How long does it take to cut a man out of this?” I asked the pit bloke strapping me in.
“Hard to say,” he grinned. “It depends.”
I nodded. Obviously it would depend on how mangled the wreck was. Had I been thinking clearly and not making dry-mouthed conversation out of fear, I would have known that.
But what was I scared of?
I tried to rationalise it.
Clearly, this was a new and unknown experience for me. So there was that to be afraid of. The unknown is always terrifying.
The speed, braking and cornering? Well, I reasoned, it’s not going to accelerate anywhere near as fast as a superbike, and I’d seen big 290-plus speeds on my speedo before, so that was not something I feared. I had heard the cornering and braking was brutal, but I’m no stranger to brutal, either.
Then I realised what was causing the Fear Rat to gnaw at my innards.
I was no longer in control.
Then I thought that is not at all how astronauts feel when they’re being strapped into their seats prior to being shot into bastard space at the pointy end of a constantly-exploding missile.
Astronauts are in control. Astronauts are trained. Astronauts are astronauts.
They are not tubby tattooed bikie control-freaks placing their miserable lives into the hands of someone they’ve never met, whose nickname is “Crazy”, and who’s about to lash them around a pretend racetrack in a billion-horsepower taxi-cab.
I might as well have been a terror-filled space-food stick.
I felt a little ill.
Then Dave got into the car, pressed a button and I felt nothing anymore, because when a Supercar engine gronks into life there is no space left in the universe for any feelings.
There’s just violence. Extreme, savage and unrelenting violence. Nothing else. It is savagery incarnate. The noise is all-encompassing and total.
There were bangs and roars and grinding noises as Dave inched the was-a-Ford into pit-lane. I could not say hello to him, introduce myself, beg him for mercy or ask that my end be painless and swift. All thought had departed and been replaced by sound-chaos.
And then it got worse. Or better. But I wasn’t sure at the time. My world became, very abruptly, G-forces, thunder, explosions, speed, more explosions and concrete walls whizzing inches from the side of my head.
Olympic Park at Homebush is not a racetrack. But it has been made into a racetrack by concrete barriers, big dollars and the force of human will.
It was designed by Mark Skaife drawing something on a napkin, apparently, and it contains no run-off areas of fluffy, speed-reducing gravel. There’s just concrete walls surmounted by steel fences and, as Dave later told me when I had recovered the power of speech, “a lot of different surfaces, including manhole covers”.
It was impossible for me to process what was happening as Dave hammered the devil car around Homebush. There was a lot going on, all of it was violent and loud, and I was not able to form coherent thoughts until the next day. It was total sensory overload.
The G-forces are incredible. You can actually feel your organs writhing inside your body. I had brief visions of my aortas flailing about like broken garden hoses and my pancreatic jellies flowing into my bowels. I didn’t know where to look, but couldn’t really look anywhere except straight ahead. I hoped that my munted left arm was strong enough to maintain the death grip it had on the roll-cage, but knew it wasn’t.
Halfway through the first lap I’d decided Dave was not human. His precision, focus and ability were otherworldly. Halfway through the second I was thinking he might be Jesus. Or Sauron.
How any of these blokes can drive like this, lap after lap, with the red mist of racing in their eyes, is a mystery science would struggle to solve. How they process input and react at such speed is simply astonishing.
I swore a bit. Well, a lot. Descriptive adjectives were reduced to “Fuck!” and “Shit!” and “Fuckshit!” And when I wasn’t swearing, I was eeping. That’s the noise the human animal makes when all other noises have failed it.
My pathetic eeping noises had no effect on Dave. He couldn’t hear them and wouldn’t have cared if he did. Corner followed relentless corner; interspersed by braking-force so brutal I couldn’t breathe. Constant, overwhelming noise and shuddering violence was my universe; my race-harness and Dave’s impossible skill-set was all that stood between me and some kind of grotesque end-of-life finale of burning meat kebabed by torn metal.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth ponders the death of his wife and life in general.
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,” he says. “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Clearly, the poor swine had never been inside a V8 Supercar, or he’d know what sound and fury are really all about, and what their significance actually is.
It ended as abruptly as it started.
I levered myself out of the cage and laughed. To have fallen into a foetal position and moaned would have been embarrassing, and that is what I really wanted to do. Instead, I laughed.
I had, for a brief and impossibly violent few minutes, transcended my cheap mortality, and had been exalted beyond measure. Laughter was the only possible response.
Love your work, Mr Reynolds. Thank you.
I can go out and buy a superbike tomorrow for less than 30 grand. For all intents and purposes, it is just about as fast as a WSBK-spec superbike and only a bit less again as quick and powerful in real terms than a MotoGP bike.
But I cannot buy, or cause to be built (unless I have vast sums of money), a V8 Supercar. And even if I could, I could not drive it on the road. These monsters are so far removed from a fully loaded HSV Commodore or FPV Ford as to be in another dimension altogether. They don’t even sound like cars. To get the bastards to do 40km/h in pit-lane means shutting down four of their eight cylinders so the power-freak engine chokes on its own hatred.
I am impressed by the sheer violence of such a creation. It is impossible not to be.
I remain, as always, a motorcyclist. I am not and never will be “a car guy”. It’s just all too…well, car-ey for me to actually love it. But that does not mean I cannot be in awe of such technology, or hold the blokes who drive it in anger to be gods of a sort. Because they are.