Although he is probably best remembered for a rollover in the Channel Nine Chevrolet Camaro at Bathurst in 1982, Kevin Bartlett or ‘KB’ was one of Australia’s most versatile and successful race drivers.
Born in Coffs Harbour in 1940, KB won Australia’s premier open title the CAMS Gold Star in 1968 and 1969, as well as the Bathurst 1000 alongside John Goss in 1974.
After his first proper race in 1958, Bartlett progressed through the levels of Australian motor sport before being hired to drive for 1960 Australian Grand Prix winner Alec Mildren in the Tasman Series.
Not only did KB race in Australia and New Zealand, he also took on tracks such as Fuji in Japan. He even tried to qualify for the 1970 Indy 500, but did not make the field before competing in three other events on the USAC trail that year.
Bartlett’s win at Bathurst in 1974 came despite hip and pelvis injuries from a major crash at the Pukekohe (NZ) round of the Tasman Series nine months earlier. He re-injured the hip during the big pile up at the 1981 Bathurst 1000 and it still today bothers him from time to time.
In 1979 he had a chance meeting with Channel Nine boss Kerry Packer. Packer wanted to learn how to drive fast cars from a professional and Bartlett was his man. The Nine boss was keen to win Bathurst, especially with the telecast being screened on the rival Seven Network. Over the following three years the famous dark blue Camaro started on pole, but never figured in the final results. Including the famous flip when the 9 Camaro became the Channel 6 Mount Gambia Chevy!
By the late 1980s Bartlett had retired from fulltime racing, but his passion for motor racing has never gone away. These days he is known in V8 circles as the mentor to Michael Caruso. A young driver who has taken a similar path to KB’s via junior formula and open wheel racing to the V8 Supercar Championship Series. In fact the two speak regularly not just prior to races but also during the weekends themselves. Bartlett attends some of the meetings on the Friday and Saturday morning, but is usually out of the circuit prior to the races themselves, so that Caruso can concentrate on the job at hand.
Ironically at this year’s Bathurst 1000 Caruso had a near repeat effort of Bartlett’s famous flip at Reid Park.
“I was sitting at home watching the race and when I saw Michael go sideways I thought I know what that feels like from inside the car!,” said Bartlett.
“When the car spun and missed the wall by millimetres I had to take another drink. I got on the phone with Michael during the day and told him to forget about it and press on. I’m pleased to say that is what he did and both Michael and Lee scored a fantastic third place result.”
Bartlett has for the past 12 years lived on the Sunshine Coast and has a very close relationship with race car collector David Bowden and his family. KB was involved in the re-building of the Nine Camaro and also gets thrown the keys regularly to some of the other great cars in the Bowden collection. He is still seen regularly at motor racing events across Australia
“I like to say that I’m retired, but the one thing in motor racing is that you can always find something to,” said Bartlett.
“One of the principal things I do is driver adjudication for all the historical motor sports events. I travel all year and even looked after all the logistics for the Formula 5000 event at the Australian Grand Prix. Plus other categories have me along to help with driver advisory, which is all on contract and that keeps me involved and most importantly it subsidises my pension!”