THE greatest era of Peter Brock’s racing career began 40 years ago today.
And, appropriately enough, it began with a win. Two of them, actually.
February 5, 1978 saw the prodigal son return to the pride lands, rejoining the Holden Dealer Team with whom he’d made his name.
LIVE stream every race of the 2018 Supercars Championship AD-FREE on FOX SPORTS. Get your free 2-week Foxtel Now trial and start watching in minutes. SIGN UP NOW >
ENTRY LIST: Every car and driver on the 2018 Supercars grid
BEYOND 2019: Holden gives update on Supercars future
Brock had been among the HDT’s inaugural class of 1969. His skill set and ability built with renowned team boss Harry Firth’s guidance, culminating in Brock’s breakthrough victory in the 1972 Bathurst 500.
But by 1974 the relationship had begun to sour. Brock soon split with the HDT and struck out on his own. For three seasons he raced — and won — as a privateer, notching his second Bathurst triumph in 1975 as an outsider.
But the teams he drove for lacked the dollars of big sponsor Philip Morris and the extensive technical and parts support afforded Holden’s factory team — through the back door. A worldwide General Motors ban meant Holden wasn’t allowed to officially be in motorsport.
1978 was a fresh start for the HDT. Firth had retired, replaced by the former boss of Bob Jane’s racing team, John Sheppard.
He inherited a team that had fallen from grace. Lead driver Colin Bond defected to Ford for 1977, and the John Harvey-led HDT struggled against the might of Allan Moffat’s Ford super team.
On the positive side, Sheppard would get Holden’s new A9X Torana, a car with the potential to match or better the all-dominant Falcons.
He would also inherit a new driver — not that he knew it at the time.
“When I started out as the team manager/team owner/call me what you like, I wasn’t aware that there had been any negotiations going on with Peter Brock,” Sheppard told FOX SPORTS.
“I thought, at the time, he was an interesting figure. He was obviously a very good driver, but there was a lot of background stuff going on.”
The first race for the new combination would be a pair of sprints at Sandown on the support card of the annual Formula 5000 summer series round.
“He arrived out of the blue at our workshop in South Melbourne, we had the four-door (Torana A9X) that he was going to run at Sandown,” Sheppard said.
“I said, ‘try it on Peter’. He got in it, and I asked him what he wanted us to do.
“He said: ‘I don’t want you to do anything’.”
The four-door wasn’t the gun car that the two-door hatchback A9X was. Although the field for the pre-championship hitout wasn’t full strength, top Holden runners Bob Morris, Pete Geoghegan and Allan Grice were there in their two-doors.
But Brock had a point to prove.
First came an eight-lap sprint, the International Motor Show Touring Car preliminary. Brock pipped Bob Morris to the flag by a tenth of a second.
Next up was the main race for the tourers, the 15-lap Hang Ten Challenge.
“When that race started, Geoghegan was in Bob Jane’s Torana and he passed Brock,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard was well acquainted with Geoghegan from their years racing and winning aboard a variety of Mustangs and Monaros.
“I thought ‘oh, this is just what I don’t want to hear about …” Sheppard recalled.
“Then (HDT mechanic) Bruce Nowacki said to me ‘nah, don’t worry about it, Brock’ll pass him again in a minute.’ I thought ‘oh yeah …’
“I knew Pete but I didn’t know a lot about Brock as far as his driving ability. But very quickly he passed him again.”
They would remain that way to the flag, Brock pulling a margin of 2.4 seconds on the big orange hatchback.
Nobody could have foreseen it, but those two races started an avalanche of success, a streak that would propel Brock into the heart of Australian culture, it’s carbuilding industry, and the racing record books.
By the time the HDT was laid to rest for good in 1987, Brock had claimed two more championships and seven more Bathurst 1000 wins.