AMONG the thousands of motoring fans gathered around Mount Panorama circuit for the annual Bathurst 1000 endurance car race are dozens who made the pilgrimage from south-west Victoria.
Warrnambool’s Gerry Billings was yesterday soaking up the action and 39-degree heat in the shade of a giant marquee that holds about 50 beds as part of Smarty’s Circus — a makeshift camp of western Victorians, some of whom have been attending since 1976.
“We have about 60 people here already from Warrnambool and district with another 15 arriving this afternoon,” he told The Standard.
“Some have been here since Saturday morning (of last week).
“It looks like Warrnambool’s foreshore camping ground in summer.
“We’ve got guests from New Zealand, Max Dumesny (speedway driving star) is behind us and the Holden executive team is right beside us.
“Other Warrnambool district locals are also camped nearby. The track is only 30 metres from our camp.”
The only downside so far is that the five loads of firewood brought by the clan for cooking and heating can’t be used because of a total fire ban in the NSW heatwave. They had hoped to roast a pig on a spit last night.
“We had a bit of trouble getting our pig through the security gates,” Mr Billings quipped.
“It was in a big bag and when they wanted to search it they saw the flesh.
“Eventually they let us through, but it was an issue for a while.”
This year’s Bathurst will be a change from the traditional Holden versus Ford rivalry with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan challenging them.
It is the first time in 15 years additional manufacturers have been permitted to compete in what is regarded as Australia’s most prestigious endurance motoring race.
A Roy Morgan Research report released yesterday showed that 92 per cent of those who watch the Bathurst 1000 from trackside or on television are likely to regard themselves as “a bit of a car enthusiast” and more likely to buy an Australian-made car.
For Mr Billings, the former controller of Warrnambool SES unit, he’s switched his allegiance from Holden to Mercedes.
“I saw the story on the lady who put together the Mercedes racing team and I liked it,” he said.
“Things change, it’s good to see new classes in the event.”