For many, Peter Brock was the face of motorsport in this country. A nine-time Bathurst 1000 winner, he transcended the sport, as well known in Australia as Prime Ministers and television stars of the day.
To a select few, he was a colleague. For Neil Crompton, it was both.
Now known as the voice of Supercars, Crompton was just 11 years old when he met his racing hero. They later ended up as teammates, and in 2006 Crompton had the terrible task of speaking at Brock’s state funeral.
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Speaking to Wide World of Sports about his recently published autobiography, The best seat in the house, Crompton detailed the extraordinary impact Brock had on him.
“Peter held a really special place in my life and in my heart, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities he gave me,” he said.
He admits that the transition from fan to teammate was “strange.”
“I was a kid hanging on the fence in Calder Park or Sandown or Phillip Island, watching what I was doing and devouring every second, and then we finally became friends and teammates, and then there was the lousy task of saying goodbye,” He explained.
“He was quite a special character in the history of Australian sport, not just motorsports, so having lived a life with him was a special privilege for which I am very grateful.”
Brock’s ability to connect with his fans is still considered perhaps his greatest asset. No one, young or old, was denied an autograph or a photo with the great man.
For Crompton, an unusual request in 1971 highlights Brock’s relationship with the motorsports community.
“I was about 11 years old, making a contribution to a silly elementary school magazine, and asked him to describe a lap of Calder’s rallycross track. I walked up to him, a brat with a runny nose and a pencil and paper, and he was helpful, “Crompton said.
“There are a lot of other athletes and racing drivers who just wouldn’t give you the time of day, and that’s not because they’re rude or arrogant, it’s just that most of the time they’re preoccupied or busy. I have a serious job to do.
“One of Peter’s big personality traits, and it was the same for Craig Lowndes, was the ability to do both in some way: drive the car and compete at a high level, and still have mental time to dedicate to the fans. , which is a really special something.
“Not everyone can do that. Peter did that to me at a young age, and in the eyes of a child he is twenty feet tall. He’s brilliant.
“He would be one of the hundreds of thousands of people who experienced that along their journey.”
Fast forward to 1987, and Crompton received a phone call from Bev Brock that would alter the trajectory of her career. It was an invitation to try out for Brock’s team at Calder Park, the same place where he approached the legendary racer in 1971.
“Testing one of his cars more than 15 years after meeting him was very special,” he explained.
“It’s one of those moments when the hair on the back of your neck stands on end.”
The test went well, with Crompton beating the benchmark time that Brock had set earlier in the morning. But a problem with his racing license (he did not qualify for an international C license) meant that he could not participate in that year’s Bathurst 1000, where he should have shared the team’s second car with Jon Crooke.
Brock’s personal intervention failed to convince authorities to change their minds, and Crompton could only watch helplessly as Brock, Crooke, and their replacement, Peter McLeod, finished third at Bathurst. When the first two cars were later disqualified, Brock earned his ninth win and Crompton was denied his first.
“I could, I should, I should. Everybody gets bored hearing stories like that, it’s not the way to live,” he said.
“You cannot transpose things, otherwise we would all be billionaires, Prime Minster or CEO.
“You can’t worry about things that didn’t happen, so I’m not wasting my time.
“It’s an obvious question to ask, but there’s no point in thinking about it. The truth is, I wouldn’t have been willing to do it justice, we could have backed off, but I wouldn’t have earned it.”
Crompton would finally make 15 starts in the race, finishing in third place twice. When he was denied the drive in 1987, he never had a chance to be on the top step of the podium at Mount Panorama.
“That’s definitely a frustration. I won’t say it’s regret, because it is what it is. You go up and do your best,” he explained.
“But it’s the holy grail, even now. I’d love to say I was a Bathurst 1000 champion, but when I look in the mirror I know I honestly tried, had the lead multiple times, had multiple great battles with some of the biggest names. important.
“I am proud of that. There are not many full-time drivers who have the privilege of driving there in any given year, in a country of over 20 million people, it is still amazing that I was able to set my sights on such a goal. nature and then do it. “
A teammate of Glenn Seton and Craig Lowndes later in his career, Crompton says several of those races could have easily ended in a win.
“There are times when I felt like I didn’t do the job I wanted to do, but there are many times when I felt like I did, and if the circumstances had been different, I could have won,” he said.
“I’m satisfied with that, there was nothing else to get out of the car or myself, it just didn’t happen.
“The glass-half-full version is that I was there, fighting up front with the guys who mattered. At that point you’re bitter and twisted about what happened, but you get over it.”
Now firmly settled in the comment box, it has been nearly two decades since Crompton last drove an angry Supercar at Mount Panorama.
He will be there again this year, with the race rescheduled for December and, as always, Brock will not be far from his mind.
“He was a fascinating character and it is very sad that he is not present to this day. It was recently that we had the 15th anniversary of when we lost him, it is amazing how quickly he went,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“There were many special moments and I am happy and proud to have been a small part of their history.”
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