Selecting Australia’s all-time top 40 race drivers is the task for a brave man.
Leading motoring and motorsports journalist Paul Gover recently took the job on, creating a 182 page hard cover book and listing his top 40 Australian V8 legends.
Of those top 40, there are few you could disagree with, and some that you could question.
And to create even more debate, Gover lists his personal top 10, selecting Mark Skaife as his greatest touring car driver of all time.
Speedcafe.com’s Grant Rowley caught up with ‘PG’ for a chat.
SPEEDCAFE: You’ve obviously been in the motoring/motor racing industry for a long time, but this your first book …
GOVER: Yeah. I ghosted a book for Jamie Whincup last year, so this is the first book that I’ve written completely through.
SPEEDCAFE: The concept of finding the top 40 drivers sounds easy in theory, but was it difficult to narrow down to the final number?
GOVER: Yes. It was extremely hard. For me, the key was that I’d seen everyone of those guys in action. The only one I didn’t see race was Harry Fifth. It makes it a lot easier to judge and rate these people when you’ve seen them in action. I’ve been reporting as a journalist since 1970, so I’ve spoken to a lot of them as well.
SPEEDCAFE: So who was 41st best? Who just missed out?
GOVER: There was only one guy who I would have liked in there, and I don’t want to go into who I would have dropped out, but I would have liked to put in was a guy called Jim McKeown. He was a fairly big star back in the day.
I actually bumped into him for the first time at the Melbourne Grand Prix, and I apologised to him for not getting him in there.
SPEEDCAFE: How long did it take to bring the book together?
GOVER: It took about six months. I was approached by the publisher and the photographic genius of Mark Horsburgh. They needed me to write the book and I was quite happy to do it. For me, it’s definitely a labour of love.
The other thing is that I’ve read so many books and so many of them are factual, one dimensional. What I was trying to do was breath some life into these people. Even if you had never met these people or never saw them race, I was trying to give you some sort of insight into what they were like as people, not just race car drivers.
SPEEDCAFE: There are a couple of interesting stories through the book. Now, we all know that race drivers tend to slice numbers off their real age, and you’ve found another culprit …
GOVER: Yeah, George Fury of all people. I actually had no clue.
George was a funny story. He told me he was a boat person, and I said “No you’re not.” And he said, “No, that’s right, I’m a refugee.”
George was a Hungarian refugee and he thought he was too old to go motor racing so took two years off his real age for his whole career – from the first time he drove a rally car to the last time that he drove a race car. Nobody knew that he was actually two years older than what he really was.
SPEEDCAFE: You also discovered a tale of a dice between Allan Moffat and Allan Grice at Symmons Plains …
GOVER: That was a fascinating one for me. I always knew that Gricey was a hard nut. He and I have gone head-to-head a couple of times over the years, but I didn’t know that he and Moffat crashed into each other for the length of a race down at Symmons Plains once. Moffat was blocking him and he took it all very personally.
The story has a great conclusion. It talks about the fact that on the last lap, Grice realised there was one whole side of the car that was unmarked. Well, it hadn’t been marked, so he decided to mark it …
Then I went and talked to someone like Robbie Francevic. He talks about some of the run-ins he had with Grice, including one day where Gricey picked up a fairly substantial piece of scenery and told him in no uncertain terms that he could stay and fight or go back to where he came from …
SPEEDCAFE: You’ve listed your personal top 10 in the book as well. Was that designed to stir conversation?
GOVER: I have to be honest, I did it because people want to know these sort of things from people who have been around for a while. The guys I’ve rated, I have seen race and at the end of the day, for me, it comes down to who you would have race for your life. That doesn’t mean ‘he’s my mate’ or ‘he was good on his day’ or ‘gee he had a good car.’ It means that at the end of the day, at the top of the game, who was the one you put above all the others.
There are people who have already disagreed with what I’ve said, and they’ve had different reasons, but when I explained why I’ve gone the way I have, most say “Well, I still disagree, but I understand why you’ve done that.”
SPEEDCAFE: And Mark Skaife gets the tick because …?
GOVER: Yep, Skaifey gets my tick.
We’ve had an interesting relationship over the years. He has yelled at me on the phone, I’ve yelled at him, we’ve had some great times and we’ve had some lousy times, but at the end of the day, he’s not my best mate in touring car racing. In fact, none of these blokes are the sort of blokes that you’d have around for dinner, because they’re all mongrel race car drivers, but very single minded, focused.
So, I rate Skaife number one and John Bowe is there as number two. He and I get along extremely well. Marcos Ambrose is up there as well as fourth, but I don’t think he was around for long enough. He was here, made a massive impact and then left.
One of the reasons why I put Skaife in as number one was that when he turned up at the Holden Racing Team, Lowndes was king there, and he managed to pull his pants down. If you look at history, not too much after that, Lowndes jumped the fence and went to Ford.
SPEEDCAFE: What book are you going to do next?
GOVER: I’m talking to Allan Moffat, because I reckon he’s a great story and it’s not told. It will be interesting to see how the man in the black hat comes up.
If you have a long look at him, he’s a story in so many different ways. In the V8 Legends book, I say there’s two Allan Moffats – one called Allan who drives race cars and the other called Arthur who I know well and I get along quite well with him.
The other book that I’d really like to write is a fictional work based on some of the interesting stories that you can’t print – cheating, women and lifetimes of the rich and famous.
As Brad Jones famously says, “Enough about me, what do you think about me.”