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The Great Race’s first winner Frank Coad remembers a rough, hand-laid track, and a car that dealt with it


The Bathurst 1000 is arguably Australia’s most famous race, the equivalent of the footy grand final for rev heads.

The smell of high octane fuel, burning rubber, and the sound of the supercars screaming past continues to draw thousands of spectators back to the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, Victoria, every year.

But the epic supercar race Australians have come to know and love looked very different when the first cars crossed the start line back in 1960.

For the first two years, not only did the race have a different name, but it was held in a different state.

Frank Coad and his co-driver John Roxburgh were the first winners of The Great Race, then named the Armstrong 500 and held on Phillip Island in Victoria.

While Mr Roxburgh sadly passed in 1993, Mr Coad is 90 years old and living in a retirement home in Bendigo, Victoria, with his wife Zena.

An older man wearing a hat and glasses standing in between two women.
1960 Armstrong 500 winner Frank Coad with his two daughters Susan Owen, left, and Julie Tyrrell.(Supplied: Susan Owen)

Preparation was key

He remembers the race as clearly now as it happened, 60 years ago.

“We felt pretty confident,” he said.

“John Roxburgh was my co-driver, he started off the race, he did 40 something laps, then I took over and did 40 odd laps, then he took over another 40, then I finished off the race.

“A fortnight beforehand we’d done a full 500 mile under race conditions.”

The car they won the race in was a Vauxhall Cresta, a six-cylinder sedan.

It certainly was not the race favourite.

But as Mr Coad will attest, it was all about preparation.

“We’d put in about three or four months of work getting ready for it,” he said.

“We had the car so finely tuned.”

He said the car clocked 98 miles an hour at race day, the equivalent of about 157kph.

“We had it sewn up pretty much after the first pit stop,” he said.

A black and white photo of the Vauxhall Cresta during the race at the 1960 Armstrong 500.
Frank Coad’s Vauxhall Cresta at Phillip Island during the 1960 Armstrong 500.(Supplied: Susan Owen)

Mr Coad said the drivers, brothers David and John Youl, brought the car over from Tasmania and did not know enough about the Phillip Island grand prix circuit — hand-laid using buckets of cold mix bitumen.

“We’d done all our preparation, we knew how far we could go on our front tyres without any troubles, and they didn’t.

“They went through the first pit stop and they carried on with the original tyres hoping they’d get another run out of them.

“But it didn’t happen.

“A tyre blew, they turned it over and wrecked it.”

The rough track was the reason the race was moved, as the bridge access to Phillip Island made it difficult to get the right equipment in to fix it.

Five men stand in front of cars.
Phillip Island legends Craig Lowndes, Peter Brock, Frank Coad, Russell Ingall and Mark Skaife meet in 2002.(Supplied: Susan Owen)

Mr Coad said he tuned in to watch Bathurst every year, but it was not the same race he remembered.

“That disappeared by about 1964.

“It’s all changed, it has done over the years — as everything does.”

Racing was ‘bad business’

Mr Coad said General Motors, the parent company of the Vauxhall brand, considered racing “bad business” and didn’t want the Melbourne Vauxhall dealership to be involved in the race.

“They weren’t into motor racing in those days,” he said.

A man and a woman stand wearing sunglasses in front of a car in a black and white photo from the 1960s
Frank Coad said his wife Zena Coad was a great supporter of his career and a fantastic passenger.(Supplied: Susan Owen)

He said when the Melbourne Vauxhall dealership opened after the race, the demand for the Cresta model went through the roof.

“They didn’t want to buy a Velox, they wanted to buy a Cresta and they couldn’t get enough Crestas to sell,” Mr Coad said.

He said the prize money for first place was a far cry from the amount the Bathurst 1000 winner would take home today.

“I was married with three little children. My wife was nursing a six-week-old baby when I won it,” he said.

Reviving history

Mr Coad’s daughter Susan Owen lives in Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA’s Goldfields region.

She reached out to the ABC after hearing an off-the-cuff comment about the upcoming Bathurst 1000 race on local radio.

Ms Owen said she wanted Australia to hear her father’s story.

“A lot of people don’t know The Great Race started in Phillip Island and that’s the sad part, I suppose,” she said.

Since being stuck in lockdown, Mr Coad has not been able to get behind the wheel, but he still loves to drive.

“I drive around in a 1995 Holden ute today, but it’s done 430,000 kilometres,” he said.

He said he had always driven fast, and racing is in his blood.

He said there was only one thing holding him back.

“There’s too many police around,” he said.

Watch Brock: Over The Top at 8:30pm on Tuesday, November 3, on ABC TV+iview



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Treasurer says NSW dealt with COVID-19 ‘much better’ than other states


Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has championed one state’s COVID-19 response over all other jurisdictions, adding fuel to the country’s incessant border fire.

“In the last 24 hours, you’ve seen 17 cases in New South Wales,” he told ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday night.

“But you haven’t seen their border closed like you’ve seen in Queensland or Western Australia. They’ve managed to deal with the virus much better than I think other jurisdictions have.

“You need to take into account the economic impacts of your policies and that’s why I’ve been so vocal, as well as the business community, in calling for Victoria to provide a road map out of stage four (coronavirus restrictions).”

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews plans to do just that on Sunday, while New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced an expansion of the bubble zone along the NSW-Victoria border to a 50km radius from Friday morning.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who faces a state election on October 31, this week revealed the state’s border would remain shut for all of September.

The Treasurer appeared on 7.30 hours after the country officially plunged into a recession for the first time in 29 years.

GDP collapsed by seven per cent in the June quarter, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed in its release of national accounts data on Wednesday morning, following a 0.3 per cent decline in the three months to March.

Asked by host Leigh Sales if the Government was going to proceed with “planned tapering” of income support measures from this month, Mr Frydenberg said the program was “always meant to be transitioning over time”.

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He noted JobKeeper was legislated for six months but will be split into a two-tiered system in four weeks and extended for another six months.

“I think it’s important to transition because outside of Victoria, the jobs are coming back,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“Seven out of eight jurisdictions are opening up and easing restrictions.

“Of the 1.3 million Australians who lost their job or saw their hours reduced to zero since the start of the crisis, we’re now seeing 700,000 or more than half come back, and of the 340,000 jobs that were created in the last two months, importantly 58 per cent of those have gone to women and 44 per cent have gone to young people.

“So there is some hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We need to get the virus under control.”

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan slammed Mr Frydenberg’s remarks on Twitter.

“Frydenberg says on #abc730 the economy depends on virus control yet he bags virus control in Victoria and QLD constantly,” he wrote.

Mr Frydenberg was also questioned about comments from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a speech made in London overnight, when he indicated elderly COVID-19 patients should be allowed to die to reduce the economic costs.

“In this climate of fear, it was hard for governments to ask ‘how much is a life worth?’ because every life is precious,” Mr Abbott said.

“And every death is sad, but that’s never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible as nature takes its course.”

Sales asked the Treasurer, given there is no cure yet for coronavirus, whether Mr Abbott has a “point” that there are “difficult conversations that need to be had about what is a manageable number of cases, and by inference deaths, in the community at any one time”.

“I look forward to you getting all the hate mail for making that comment about Tony Abbott,” Mr Frydenberg replied.

“I mean, the reality is Tony Abbott’s entitled to his own views, and we heard from two other former Prime Ministers this week from the other side of politics. We need to manage the health response as best as we can. That’s what we are doing.”

Sales persisted with the remarks, drawing the exact ire on social media that Mr Frydenberg had predicted, however some of the reaction was directed at him.

“Regardless of how he framed them, at the core of it is the point if we wanted zero deaths from coronavirus, we could lock everyone up indefinitely. If you didn’t care, you could let everyone out and go with herd immunity,” Sales said.

“Presumably we have to land somewhere in the middle of it. Isn’t it a conversation that needs to be had about what it looks like?”

It was at that moment the Treasurer heralded the coronavirus response in the Liberal Party-governed state of NSW.

“We’ve never been seeking to eliminate the virus. That’s important to make that point. Our strategy is about suppression,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“That’s why the contact tracing and testing is so critical.”

A HEARTBREAKING DAY FOR AUSTRALIA

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Frydenberg said the GDP figures were “sobering” and “heartbreaking”.

“Behind these numbers are heartbreaking stories of hardship, being filled by everyday Australians as they go about their daily lives,” he said.

“Be it the tourism operator in Cairns. The tradie in Melbourne. The cafe worker in Adelaide. The domestic flight attendant in Sydney. They have all been hit hard by COVID-19.

“The road ahead will be long, the road ahead will be hard, and the road ahead will be bumpy.”

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the economic figures represented a “heartbreaking” day for the nation.

“This is a devastating day for Australia,’’ he told parliament.

“Our Australian economy has been savaged by the COVID-19 global pandemic and recession. It is delivering an awful and heartbreaking blow to Australians and their families all around the country.

“Australians know why we are now in a COVID-19 recession. And they also know, as the government has known, that this day, as I said, would come. The government has acted to protect lives and livelihoods.”



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