1960’s TASMAN REVIVAL – The John Benson story (Elfin Aero)
Today (6 December 2006) I received an email from John Benson who had quite an eventful weekend at the Tasman Revival meeting. It demeonstrates the value of friendships through the Historic Racing movement.
The word “Revival” took on a whole new meaning for me at the 2006 Eastern Creek Historic meeting last weekend. So too did the words ‘friendship’, ‘camaraderie’ ‘emotion’ and the great Aussie tradition of ‘having a red hot go’!
In the first instance, I must thank most sincerely Cam Walker, Urban Maintenance Systems (UMS) and Bill Hemming, Elfin Sports Cars for making it possible to enter and travel to this excellent historic motor race meeting. A step back in time indeed and it was wonderful to see the magnificent collection of fine racing cars of the ‘60s era, the gathering of Cooper Climax, the many Brabhams, Lotus’ the F1 Tyrell 004 Cosworth DFV which looked, performed, sounded and smelt just the way one remembers a late ‘60s early ‘70s racing car, immaculately prepared, very loud, fast and the spent ‘rocket fuel’ it was running on almost brought tears to your eyes. Some of these cars many of us haven’t seen since the Tasman Series.
The roller coaster weekend got off to an emotional start when I managed to be on the track with the ‘wrong’ racing Group during Thursday’s practise and I came up behind Don Thallon’s magnificent ’61 Cooper Climax T53 F1. Just to be on the same race track with this wonderful car, looking absolutely magnificent in the Yeoman Credit colours, which I last saw racing when I was in short pants and long socks with Uncle Lex at the wheel at Longford in 1962 was an unforgettable moment. Lex’s ‘experience’ at the Longford Pub Corner is now indelibly written into Australian Motor Racing folklore with the main bar proudly carrying his name, some of the magnificent trophies and a host of wonderful memories. In the same session one very quick Lotus 49 driven by John Smith scared the living daylights out of me when he rounded me up going into the braking area of Turn 1! (Well, braking area for me, ‘feathering’ area for most others!)) This of course is the famous Gold Leaf Lotus now owned by the Dawson-Damer family. D-D would have been absolutely beaming to have seen this car in full flight, circulating Eastern Creek, it sounded absolutely fantastic!
Secondly, I thank my close friends and confidants Graham & Michael Ritter for their special efforts and professionalism, a premium level which never fails to impress me and many others, good old friend and fellow petrol head David Vervaart who drove the Sonic truck, welded the spanners all weekend when he was on a ‘promise’ that he would not touch them and had to put up with me (Priceless), for the 5 days when I was awake.
Rod, Raelei and 6 months Sienna Kennedy who allowed David and I to ‘invade’ their wonderful tranquil home, arriving home at all hours and leaving as the sun was rising and generally giving up their time, one of their cars to a self indulgent, soft, emotional old fart who has a passion and enthusiasm for racing cars and Formula Fords and ‘beer’ budget!
As most of you know I vented Graham’s wonderfully quick Kent engine 11/2 laps into the first HFF race on Friday. No sooner had I started feeling desperately and emotionally sorry for myself when Bill Hemming picked me up and escorted me down to the TAFE garage and explained to the cheery Granville College TAFE Teacher, Dave McCowage our/my problem. Bill had just acquired a spare engine which we had picked up for him the previous day and we just happened to have it in the truck. Without skipping a beat Bill said, ‘Right O, Benson, you haven’t come all this way to do one racing lap have you?’ (Bill-speak for G.O.Y.A. – Get Off Your Arse and pull yourself together!) ‘Let’s get that dammed engine out of that truck and down here pronto’.
The synopsis from Graham late yesterday after pulling down the subject motor – a big-end bolt broke, causing the failure, a rear occurrence under any circumstances, ‘short motor’ and sump totally US, head basically OK, valves will need to be replaced, other engine accessories, oil pump etc all OK.
Dave swung his young TAFE team into action and proceeded to replace the Ritter engine I had successfully managed to turn into one expensive ‘boat anchor’. After 12 hours and half-dozen pizzas and Pepsi in 40’ sticky Sydney heat we all retired for the evening at 22.00 hrs with the other engine installed and what we all envisaged would be some ‘minor fitting details’ on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning arrives, with the so-called minor fittings complete, the starter was fitted – and yes – you guessed it, another ‘problem’ – no starter! Well, with two TAFE ‘sparkies’ on hand, they proceed to strip the faulty starter right down, find the ‘brush’ and internal lead connection problem and went about repairing it.
In the mean time, to keep myself amused, I went to the central commentary box and assisted Charles Rogers and his team call the other Formula Ford races. Murray Walker, Martin Brundle et al can relax, their jobs are not under any threat whatsoever, but by God did I have some fun. I had no idea how ‘powerful’ one can be with a microphone, you can say (almost) anything you like about anyone.
By around 1.00pm – some 27 hours after we commenced this remarkable journey, we fired up the replacement engine and bingo! After bleeding rear brakes and clutch hydraulics we wheeled the Elfin Aero out of the TAFE garage ready for the 7 lap ‘feature’ race. Twenty minutes prior the heavens opened up as only they can do in Sydney and after a 15 minute thunder and lightening display and around 25mm of rain was dumped on the circuit, surprise, surprise, it was time for the Formula Ford Feature race! Onto the dummy grid I went, full of expectation of actually having another race, observation lap, slipping and sliding, around corporate hill the engine died, with enough momentum I managed to wheel the powerless Elfin onto the short circuit slip road, through Turn 4 Paddock entry gate and back to our trailer annexe/garage on the skid pan – further investigation revealed a lead had jumped off the coil!
Unbelievable, would be the best printable word to use – but as I stated earlier, a huge learning curve for all and a supremely wonderful team effort from Dave and his TAFE crew, other teacher Tony, students Alisha, ‘Mr Warren’, Jon, two Nathans, and the two switched on ‘sparkies’ whose names I didn’t manage to obtain in all the rushing around.
It would be easy to sum up the weekend as an absolute ‘disaster’. But this would be very unfair on the wonderful efforts firstly to the HSRCA who put on a memorable and nostalgic weekend of motor sport. Secondly, the TAFE team who went along to Eastern Creek with some expectation of working on a real racing car and turning someone’s ‘disaster’ into their absolute ‘triumph’ and all involved can be very proud of their efforts. The fact that the car didn’t complete the ‘journey’ in full is no big deal. After all, there were no sheep stations at stake and Eastern Creek Historics will be around again soon enough with (hopefully) another opportunity to race there again. Gratification that we managed to wheel the Aero into the trailer in one piece on Saturday night was a blessing.
In closing, Dave to you and your TAFE team – “you guys rock!” – is this youngies speak/language of saying ‘thank you’? Don’t forget to send me that ‘work-in-progress’ picture which will make the ‘Elfin Aero Montage’ complete and ready to hang proudly on the College wall for those involved to say – ‘yeah I was there, how good was it to work on that?’ It may not have been a ‘Lotus’ ‘Cooper’ or ‘Brabham’ but one of Garrie Cooper’s indeed Australia’s contribution to the wonderful world of racing Formula Fords – the ‘Aero’.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Prosperous 2007 – my ‘garage’ will always be open to you and any of your budding young pupils who show the positive attitude you have managed to instil into the ones I have met so far – take a bow ‘Mr Dave’. We are richer for this entire memorable experience.
Report by: John F Benson