Grid Talk – Darryl Flack
The co-author of Race Across The Great Divide explains his inspiration to write about the ’70s era of Aussie road racing
What’s your connection to motorcycles?
My dad, who was a mechanic, raced cars in the ’50s and ’60s. So as far back as I can remember I was surrounded by loud and fast machines racing around tracks like Warwick Farm and Oran Park, and dad testing his sports car down our street in Marrickville. It was very exciting to be brought up in that environment and has been part of me ever since. But when I got my Mustang Speedwell with three-speed Sturmey-Archer gears for Christmas 1969, it gave me a taste of life on two wheels. Especially after I learnt how to wheelie on it. Then I got a secondhand Honda CL100 for Christmas in 1973, joining a whole bunch of kids who had minibikes. We had a ball.
When did your interest in motorcycle racing start?
I got my first taste watching the Agostini races live on TV from Oran Park in late 1971, when the world champion took on the locals. The sealer was seeing the film On Any Sunday in the school holidays of 1973 when I was almost 13. I was devouring the magazines and getting a real understanding of the world of motorcycling – I couldn’t get enough. My dream was to be involved in motorcycling and journalism. Eventually I did with AMCN in 1990, and in a way it’s all culminated in Race Across The Great Divide.
What was the dream race bike back then?
The Yamaha TZ700. Warren Willing and Gregg Hansford were the new young stars taking the sport to a new level after Bathurst in 1974. My dad worked with Col Lewis, Bob Levy’s old speedway sidecar passenger. He said if we were interested in going out to watch the bikes, there was the NSW Grand Prix at Oran Park a month after Bathurst. That was my first taste of live motorcycle racing. I was dazzled by the way they rifled into Suttons so smoothly then were flowing and ripping over the Flip-Flop. The acceleration of the TZ700s down the straight was amazing.
How did the book come about?
[Fellow motorcycle writer] Don Cox and I sat down for a coffee several months after his last book, Circus Life, was released in 2012. He talked about his next project, floating a few ideas. I said I had started to contribute to AMCN’s ‘Where Are They Now’ series, interviewing racers from the ’70s and ’80s. You’d have these guys on the phone for hours talking about the good ol’ days. I told Don I had heaps of fascinating stories and background which could be extended into a great book. I reckon it’s ended up like a big, old photo album brought back to life with the magic of modern software, and with stacks of great yarns.
How did it work out collaborating with Don Cox?
We complemented each other well. Don’s a pure historian; he’s very focused on the details of an event forming the narrative. I’m probably a bit more nostalgic and that influences how I write – by a fan, for a fan. Between us we managed to attend the most significant race meetings of that era so we felt we could reflect on what happened and why.
The cover shot is fairly evocative. Where did you source that?
All those pics I took as a spectator came in handy! Out of the 400-plus photographs we’d sourced, there wasn’t a cover shot that summed up the essence of our writing. Then I went back through my archive and came across a photo I’d taken in 1976 using dad’s 1965 Pentax SV with a budget Sun 200mm lens shooting Kodachrome 64 film. I’d got lucky with the light. The race was delayed by an earlier sidecar blow up, hence the low winter light and long shadow cast by Warren Willing’s bike. The flash leathers, the Oran Park tarmac, the clear visor. It really sums up the era.
“Race Across The Great Divide” is $68 from bellbirdpublishing.net
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