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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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Melbourne Storm resigned to rough schedule as NRL’s coronavirus-imposed shutdown nears end


Melbourne Storm has had to relocate across the border to allow the NRL season to resume, but it is nothing compared to what Warriors players are doing.

Rugby league teams gathered for the first time in more than a month today for education sessions on the NRL’s biosecurity protocols, which includes no contact at training for at least the first week.

The NRL has assigned a dedicated COVID-19 liaison officer to each club to oversee the implementation of the protocols.

Active training is set to resume for all clubs on Wednesday, with the Storm setting up camp in Albury, just over the border between Victoria and New South Wales.

Storm chief executive Dave Donaghy said making the “beautiful drive” from Melbourne was fairly easy considering the open borders and relative closeness players will still have to their families.

Meanwhile, most of the players from the Warriors have left their families behind in New Zealand, flying to their new base in Tamworth.

“New Zealand are a lot worse off than us. Their whole team has had to relocate from a different country, leaving behind family members,” Donaghy said.

“That’s a big sacrifice that club is making and the people at that club.”

Adam Blair hugs his child, who is hanging out of a car.
Many Warriors players like Adam Blair had to say goodbye to their kids and partners for the season to resume.(Instagram: Jess Blair)

Storm players lined up outside their home ground in Melbourne on Monday before getting screened by medical staff on their way into the education session about the biosecurity measures being put in place.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys praised the NRL clubs for taking part in the education sessions, describing the initiative as “a great day for rugby league”.

“Every player participated in an education day, which explained our strict biosecurity protocols to ensure players understand what they can and cannot do,” he said in a statement.

“Our protocols are substantially stricter than the current government measures and we wanted to ensure the first day was devoted to educating our players — they know the future of the game rests with them complying with our protocols.”

Clubs will be provided with an additional education opportunity on Tuesday, before the resumption of training the following day.

Donaghy said he understood how important it was to take extra care, especially with Victoria still in a state of emergency for at least another week.

He said the club had made its peace with the fact that they would be playing away games for the first chunk of the season.

“The NRL’s working through the composition of the fixture [but] given the uncertainty around Victoria at this stage, I think that would make sense,” Donaghy said.

He said he expected the team would be “compensated by a few more home games at the back end of the season”.

Donaghy said with some states and territories starting to ease restrictions, he was optimistic that at least some of those late-season home games would be played in front of fans.

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