From the Blog

Commentatus Interruptus

It’s the 7th of April and, all things being equal, I should presently be in the commentary box at Broadford road racing circuit in Victoria calling the races for Rd2 of MotoStars as well as Rd2 of the Oceania Junior Cup. Instead I am here at home, working on a much-delayed blog entry on my home computer. How so, you may ask? Well, let me elucidate.

I’ve really been looking forward to this weekend as I am passionately committed to the MotoStas programme. So, on Thursday, I pointed the van south early in the morning to tackle one of my least favourite roads, the dreaded Hume Freeway. It’s about 720kms from my place to the State Motorcycle Sport complex just outside of Broadford but, believe me, it seemed like much longer. Those of you who have had the travel the Hume in its present iteration will immediately understand my horror at the thought. You see, I grew up being driven and then later driving the Hume when it was just a highway, simple and basic, pretty dangerous and prone to all of the difficulties that you’d expect to find on a little road that, even then, was carrying way more traffic than a road of its type should have been. After all, it is the trunk road between Australia’s two biggest cities and domestic as well as huge amounts of commercial traffic use it 24/7. So, it definitely needed an upgrade, and, over the last 20 years, it has received one. 4 lanes, two north and two south, 110 km/h speed limit door to door, a pretty fair surface and lots of warning of any potential hazards. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? And it should be, but it’s not. One of the major “achievements” of the upgrade was the bypassing of every town through which the road used to pass.

Now you drive from Sydney to Melbourne without even SIGHTING a town let alone driving through one. Motorists’ needs are taken care of by regularly spaced “Service Centres” where fuel and fast food are available. These centres are soulless and antiseptic to a mind-numbing degree. You only really stop there is you HAVE to and that’s the only reason they exist.

Out on the road itself, the barrenness of the aspect from the driver’s point of view is uniform and boring. At least the NSW side of the border is enlivened to a degree by hills which one has to climb. Once south of the border, the landscape flattens out to mile upon mile of dreary, parched paddocks with absolutely nothing to relieve the boredom. On the Victorian side of the border the only relief is the obsessively regular “Dozy Drivers Die!” and “Take a powernap NOW” signs that almost obscure the landscape in places. Is it any wonder the signs are there, the road is so yawn-inducing that it isn’t surprising that drivers fall asleep and run off the road. As a friend said yesterday, you could travel the road at 130 and STILL be in danger of being bored to death.

Anyway, my journey south passed without incident and I pulled into the track in plenty of time to get me a camping spot right next to the fence (see above)

Friday was Training Day for the kids and it began with a compulsory track walk. Since I have never been to Broadford before (yes, I know, shocking, isn’t it?) I took advantage of the offer and joined in the kids along with their instructors so that I could get an idea of the track upon which I was going to have to comment. Now it immediately became apparent that the road racing circuit at Broadford is NOTHING like what it looks like on a map.

Nothing can prepare you for the incredible changes of elevation that have been built into this track that is constructed into the side of a massive hill. By the time I had climbed out of the main straight and to the top of the hill at T1 I was already thinking that I would require a defibrillator! Photos tend to flatten out hills so even this one doesn’t really show you just how steep the rise is out of the starting straight.

Once you get to the top (if you CAN), then the track plunges through a veritable roller coaster “straight” before reaching the blind right-hander nicknamed “Crash Corner” The evidence of its appropriate name is clear to see.

As you can see from this shot, the track then dives downhill through a series of Esses before it comes to another short straight diving still downhill to the scary double-apex corner called “Schoolhouse” By this stage you are actually BELOW the elevation of the main straight so you have to climb up (again) through the only real left-hander on the track (left side of the tyre is now quite cool,) and onto the start/finish straight. It is impossible to properly convey just how great the elevation change between the long “straight” at the top of the circuit is compared to Schoolhouse Corner at the bottom of the track.

This photo is taken from Crash Corner looking back down to the Control Tower. The mountain in the distance is a LONG way away but that’s how far you can see because you are so high up yourself. The kids, of course, were polite and patient but it was clear that all they really wanted to do was get out onto the track and go FAST!

Once training sessions got underway, I started doing MY schooling. A map of the track in hand I labelled corners, and took some mental notes of the myriad of super information that Damian, Alex and Glenn had given during the track walk. I started doing some pit interviews, checking in with quite a number of riders who were new to me as well as spending quite a bit of time in a detailed interview with Jake Skate, one of the “boffins” looking after the 26 Yamaha R15s that are run in the Oceania Junior Cup. Talk about picking the right person to interview, solid gold.

Late in the afternoon a lady from the track showed me around the commentary box and said that they’d have everything ready for me in the morning. And here is where the story really starts.

Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast prepared by me at Chez Marvan, I collected my gear and toddled over to the office ready to start my day. I signed in, and climbed the (diabolical) steps up to the top floor of the control tower from where I was to call the races. Karen and Daniel (Lap Scoring and Timing) were settling in to do their duties so I plugged in the microphone and started the usual tests. Oh oh, no noise. There was another mike there so I swapped it out and tried it; same story. I always carry a spare mike so I tried it too, strike 3. Then began a comedy of errors as various well-meaning people (including the MA Steward, no less) fiddled and flaffed around becoming more and more flustered as potential solution after potential solutions was tried with zero degree of success. It was very clear that they were just as annoyed about the situation as I was but we were all flying blind in the end. One of the track officials was called and he came over and tried a few things but he left soon after with the apology that he was needed on the grader for a speedway meeting that was also happening that day on the other side of the hill .

The bottom line is that nobody, despite their best efforts, could elicit even the sound of STATIC from the PA system. Karen finally found the mobile number of the technician from the track but he couldn’t trouble shoot over the phone and he couldn’t come and help as he was in Melbourne, some 80kms away and would be for the rest of the day AND Sunday as well.

By this stage I had already packed up my gear and moved it out of the box. I might be a bit thick but it had become clear to me quite a while before this that all of us were flagellating a moribund equine.

Remember that 60’s movie, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came.”? I felt a bit like that. Damian, of course, was furious, having been promised that all equipment required to run the meeting would be in place and working INCLUDING TWO radio microphones, one for commentary and one for pit lane. But there was by now nothing that anyone could do and I was left with a bag full of good intentions and no job. I offered my services in any other capacities but all that Damian could suggest was that I hang around and do the trophy presentations at the end of Saturday and Sunday’s races. As grateful as I was for the offer the snap, crackle and pop had by now gone out of my weekend. Damian and Amy were not at all put out when I said that I thought I’d just go home; I still felt like I was letting them down, but they understood my predicament.

So, at 1330, I packed Marvan up and hit the road north, arriving home at 2230 safe and sound but very tired and enormously frustrated. I can’t even BEGIN to think how frustrated Damian must have been, I felt really sorry for him and Amy.

Reference the unutterable boredom of the Hume Freeway, the road itself provided a humorous lift on my way home. Dropping down the hill towards the Wagga Wagga turnoff I saw some flashing blue lights in the distance. HWP. As I got closer I saw that there was a semi parked on the side of the road and it soon became clear that the police car was parked in the FAST lane of the road with the driver out of the car waving his illuminated baton. Surely an accident of some sort, I surmised. I slowed right down and, as I drew level, I saw the reason for the “flap”. While the Highway Patrol officer was directing traffic, a craggy old gentleman was endeavouring to wrangle a large brown GOAT off the road and into a position of safety. As well as trying to drag the goat by a scrappy piece of rope he was also hanging onto both of the goat’s horns and trying to somehow persuade it to get off the busiest highway in Australia! If I hadn’t seen it, I’d have not believed it.

So, commentatus Interruptus. It’s a horrible disease, let’s hope that the good people at Tailem Bend will be better organised at the end of the month for Round 3.