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Nov 15, 2015

LAUGHTER IN THE COMMENTARY BOX - 10 YEARS OF NATIONALS

THE SHANNONS NATIONALS wraps up it's 10th season today at Sydney Motorsport Park - a decade filled with thrills, spills and some memorable moments. Only three people have been to every Shannons Nationals round to date, so we got one of them to put his thoughts down and take a trip through memory lane..

By Richard Craill

BY MY COUNT I’ve spent about 400 days solely dedicated to the Shannons Nationals across the last decade. It’s not surprising that a lot of my favourite motor racing memories and the friendships around them have been generated by this little series of ours.

When you spend more than a full year of your life dedicated to something it's hard to not become attached.

It's a wierd quirk that only three of us have been to every one of the 92 rounds we've had: myself, Auto Action's Garry O'Brien (who's been to every Aussie race meeting since about 1875) and the man who's steered the good ship Nationals since it's opening event at Wakefield Park in March 2006. But more on Rob Curkpatrick later.

There have been some great times: The first visit to Morgan Park was one – it’s always fun to head to a new circuit. Playing cricket on the start finish straight in a stunning Warwick twilight, having just walked the track for the first time, was amusing.

Cricket, incidentally, plays a big role in this trip down memory lane. A particularly sopping day at Mallala was passed by having a bit of a hit in the Mallala media room, bowler Mitchell Adam (Media Manager at the time) ‘running’ in from the door. You had to mind the swing, because it wasn’t particularly wide, that room.

There’s been hilarity, too. When Garry O’Brien and I were standing in the back of the commentary box watching a Superkart race at Morgan Park, local caller, Mark Jones was belting from one side of the box to the other following the action out of the 180-degree view the windows presented. Mid-way through, though, he tangled the microphone cord through the sole stool that sat unused in the middle of the room and, on cue, it crashed to the plywood floor in all sorts of noise.

On its own, that was funny enough to cause Gaz and I to have a chuckle. When – completely unprompted – Jonesy rattled off the unforgettable line ‘there’s some tomfoolery going on in the commentary box… and I think I’m the cause of it’, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life and there are pics to prove it. We had to leave the commentary box to get control of our faculties..

Also at Morgan Park was the quirk that our media centre was located in a transportable caravan, parked next to the control tower. Mark Walker, by now the series media man, had the sole key and on arrival to the track one morning we went to open the van – only for the key to snap off in poor Mark’s hands.

This alone was worth its fair share of mirth, a majority of it at Walker’s expense, mind you. But when Mark rang the local locksmith and the circuit manager, the late Bill Campbell, arrived in response we lost it completely. Seems you’ve got to multi-task in small country towns.

Then there’s drivers shouting $500 rounds of Jaeger Bombs at Irish Murphy’s in Launceston - though that memory is somewhat blurry. The time Phillip Island completely flooded and we bailed to the Pub at 2:30pm. The time I went to the Winton round in 2011 just to keep the unbroken round streak alive. When we got on the weather channel because it snowed in Goulburn, just before Friday practice. Plenty of late nights getting work out and plenty of early morning bacon and egg rolls to get us through. Passenger rides. Drivers’ briefings. Ongoing battles behind the scenes trying to run Formula 3. Angry drivers at something you’ve written and happy ones for the same. Great races and boring ones. Darren Smith’s epic wrap-ups in commentary. Rob’s quiet driver briefing speeches and the little eyebrow twitch he gets when category managers annoy him by asking for more garages / track time / stickers. It’s all there.

Then there’s the times when everyone has pulled together, like after Brock Giblin’s fiery crash last year.

And there’s memories of people who had direct influence in my career and the formation of the series itself who aren’t with us any more, like Jamey Blaikie and Terry Little.

Both gave a young bloke a go and are both sorely missed for their council, their advice and their fun.

And then there’s Rob: When we first met at Wakefield Park in early 2006 we didn’t even know that we were from the same part of the world. In the early days, when I was just trying to start out in this game, I’d help doing press releases in exchange for a place to sleep.

Ultimately I’d end up managing the media for the whole shooting match and one of only three punters – Rob and Garry O’Brien the other – who have been to each and every one of the ninety-two rounds we’ve run.

I’m fiercely proud of what we have achieved at the Shannons Nationals over the last ten years and in a way, I feel very protective of its legacy. We’ve outlasted PROCAR, Super Touring, the Power Tour, the Premier Racing Series and all the other national-style series that have been run outside of the big V8 main-game in the last period of Australian motorsport.

We’ve done it by being smart, by being sensible but most of all, by making it the most enjoyable ride you could possibly imagine.

Thanks to Rob, for that and everything else.