Sweeping floors to 400 races
I’ll be competing in my 400th Supercars race this weekend.
But it all might’ve ended at Hidden Valley in 2016.
I was involved in a crash up in Darwin that left me wheelchair-bound for six weeks and sidelined for three months.
No one looks forward to crashes – and the pain during and after it was the worst I’ve experienced in my life – but in a way it changed my attitude towards racing and life in general.
The time away from racing gave me the opportunity to have a real think about my career and reassess what was important. Racing was becoming more of a job than a passion for me because I wasn’t achieving the results I’d been working so hard for.
Sitting on the sidelines made me realise how much more I wanted to achieve in the sport and how much I love what I do. It was time to go out there and enjoy myself again.
That’s been my mission ever since, to have more fun and not leave room for regrets. Sure, that can be difficult when you’re not getting the results you want, but so long as you know you’re putting everything into it there’s still plenty to like about life as a Supercars driver.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I’m much stronger mentally now. When I first started out driving in Supercars, I had doubts about my ability and what I could achieve in this sport when I compared myself to the names I shared the grid with.
And now here we are. Only 15 drivers before me have reached 400 races. That’s a list that includes the likes of Mark Skaife, Russel Ingall, Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander. I’m living the dream.
I don’t have a degree and I don’t have a trade. Motorsport is all I know and whatever comes after racing is a complete mystery to me. I’m unsure when that next phase of my life will begin but I think it’s still years away.
I’m driving as well as ever, if not better, and I’d like the opportunity to prove that the results are still there. The team at Preston Hire Racing are working hard towards that goal. With a good car underneath me I’ll get the results, no doubt.
THE DEMON X8
When I was six, my brother Brett and I were given a go-kart for Christmas.
It was a Demon X8 and it was a great little kart. My love for motorsport began right there.
Dad was always away with work when I was growing up, trying to get a new business up and running. When he was home, go-karting became a way for us to spend time together as a family.
He and mum would pack us up and we’d go out to one of the tracks in Melbourne for a day trip. We’d also sit down as a family and watch every V8 round.
Pretty soon, racing cars became the only thing that I wanted to do in life. But I knew I’d have to earn it.
Growing up, I watched Dad build his company from nothing into the biggest traffic engineering company in Australia. That taught me a lot about hard work. Every bit of money Dad had was put back into the business and what was left went into our racing.
My brother and I did whatever jobs we could to earn a bit of money and make up the difference. This isn’t a cheap sport and we were mindful of getting as much value out of every piece of equipment as possible.
As a teenager, I sacrificed everything and really made racing my sole focus in life. When my mates were out partying at night, I’d be in the garage cleaning and prepping my go-kart for a race meeting the next day. I loved it that much.
Motorsport is all I know and whatever comes after racing is a complete mystery to me.
When I look back, I laugh at how unrealistic I was to think that I would end up where I am today. The guys that I was up against had a lot more money and a lot more opportunities along the way. But here I am!
I’m proud of what I’ve done and how I’ve done it.
I was racing in the development series for Smiths Trucks Racing in 2005.
I’ll always be thankful to Robert Smith for getting me started in the sport but we were working with a pretty small budget. I was doing everything I could to try and get new sponsors so I could continue racing for another year.
It wasn’t looking all that promising.
I was volunteering with Imrie Motorsport at the time, doing tyre pressures and sweeping the floors at the endurance events. I just needed to get a foot in the door.
I sat down with a lot of the Supercars team owners but most of them weren’t interested. The one person that was willing to give me a chance was Garry Rogers.
He kept an eye on my progress and eventually gave me a shot with his team. I held my own and, at the start of the following year, there was an opening at Garry Rogers Motorsport and he asked me to step in as a main driver. I took that opportunity with both hands and ran with it.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without Garry. He’s helped shape who I am, both as a person and as a driver. I worked in his workshop for a couple of years and I remember that part of my career very fondly.
We shared a lot of great memories, including my first ever win, at Oran Park back in 2007. Garry became more than just a boss to me, he became a friend.
THE HARD YEARS
In hindsight, I do have some regrets.
There are decisions I’ve made that I’d certainly change if I could, but there’s no point dwelling on that. You can only make decisions based on the information at hand.
In 2012, I felt that it was the right call to leave GRM and join Stone Brothers Racing. As it turned out, it didn’t do my career any favours.
I left GRM to fight for a Championship but, a year into my contract at Stone Brothers, there was an ownership change. We became Erebus Motorsport and switched from Ford to Mercedes. All of a sudden, we were back to square one. A blank sheet of paper.
I spent far too long developing a car that didn’t reap big rewards. That whole period was a really tough time in my career and stopped the momentum I’d been on.
We had problems with the engine package and I spent the first year at the back of the pack. We were mid-pack for most of the second year, with a couple of results along the way. But it wasn’t part of my plan and well below expectations.
Everyone tried their best and we had a great team of people but, after two years, I didn’t feel that the car had a future and I made the decision to leave.
In the end, that proved to be the right call. One year later, Erebus decided to push the reset button and start again with a proven package. Now they’re doing very well, with David Reynolds winning last year’s Bathurst 1000 and sitting third in the championship heading into this weekend’s racing.
Seeing that makes me feel a little frustrated that it never worked out for me while I was there. At the same time, I’m very happy for the team. They deserve every success.
I just hope I can be in a position where I could compete for race wins again.
I’ve been with Preston Hire Racing since 2015 but racing for a one-car team is difficult. It’s hard not having the data or technical support but we punch above our weight and, last year, we proved that we can put it to the big teams and compete on a smaller budget.
Charlie Schwerkolt is a great boss and he has assembled a strong team and built a package that can get us into the top 10. But to make that next step we need more information and resources.
THE SCARIEST MOMENT
I’ve had two major crashes in my career. The first was back in 2014 at Sandown, when I had a tyre failure at the end of the back straight.
That’s probably the one that looked most spectacular. I hit the tyre wall and the impact ripped most of the panels off the car. It looked horrific but ended up not being all that bad.
My crash at Hidden Valley in 2016 is the one I didn’t walk away from.
It was the scariest moment. Not only of my career, but of my entire life.
I’d always known there were dangers in our sport but I’d never thought that anything like that would ever happen. I hope it never does again. I got bumped off the track out of turn one and ended up hitting a concrete wall that was at a terrible angle to the track.
It was a 96g impact straight into the passenger side of the car, where there’s really no crumple zone. I copped the brunt of the impact and I swear it felt like my body actually hit the wall as the car caved in.
The crash broke my pelvis in a couple of places as well as my right knee and three ribs. I was fully conscious the whole time. I just remember the pain exploding everywhere, shooting up the whole left side of my body. I couldn’t breathe.
Even now, two years later, it hurts every time I think about it.
— Supercars (@supercars) June 5, 2017
I remember the ambulance arriving and getting the green whistle before they pulled me out of the car. From that point, I started hallucinating really badly.
The drugs they put me on were probably the worst part of the whole experience. They put me in another world and the hallucinations that ran through my head scared me a lot.
I remember being in the ambulance and thinking I was getting wheeled down pit lane. Most of it was very trippy stuff that’s not even worth mentioning but I remember worrying that I was paralysed. I had things running through my head that you don’t want to think of.
I’ve never touched drugs in my life and that experience made me more against them than ever.
The day after the accident, I told them to stop with the drugs and I didn’t touch any more painkillers for the rest of my recovery. I wanted to be able to feel the pain, so if I moved in a certain way and it hurt I’d know not to persevere.
I spent the next month-and-a-half in a wheelchair.
It really made me appreciate what I’ve got, with my family and my racing. Still, having my then three-year-old daughter Ava see me that helpless was hard to take.
My wife, Alana, was incredible. She was halfway through her pregnancy with our son Riley, so it couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was very physical work for her, having to lift me and help move me around the house.
She kept me in the right frame of mind as well, during a time when it would have been easy to get quite depressed.
All up, I ended up spending three months on the sidelines. That was the lowest point of my career because I’d never missed a meeting in V8s up until that point and never had an injury to speak of.
Missing three rounds frustrated me almost as much as the pain itself.
But the perspective I learned from the experience helps me to this day.
I haven’t really thought about my 400th until now.
Winton is my home track and I’ve done a million laps around that place. My last win was actually at Winton in 2014 and it’s probably my proudest moment in racing.
I was in that Mercedes Benz E63 in the second year of the car’s development. After all the heartache, being able to deliver Mercedes and Erebus their first wins was an incredible feeling.
I just wish it hadn’t been so long between drinks!
I’d love to get on top of the car this weekend and celebrate the achievement in style.