DW’s Wild Ride

Well, I am back from my weeklong trip to Australia.

Mike Joy and I were over there covering the Bathurst 1000 race for SPEED. What an incredible week it was. Australia is a beautiful place, and the people were incredibly friendly. I must say, it is a far stretch from little Franklin, Tenn., over there.

It was something like 10,000 miles and 25 hours of flying to get over there. I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my racing and personal life. Looking back now, I laugh about how apprehensive I was and the reservations I had about whether to go.

The V8 SuperCars Series that we were there to cover is an incredible series. The track we were at is simply amazing. That particular race, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, would be like our Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 rolled into one. It takes more than six hours to run the 161-lap Mount Panorama Circuit. That’s 621 miles on a road course.

These drivers are so impressive. I now have a very clear understanding of why Marcos Ambrose is such an incredible road racer over here. I saw his competition up close all last week, and for him to be a two-time champion, tells me something. Not only are he and those other guys great drivers, but they are very skilled drivers.

I went into this race expecting car failures and accidents because it is so long. It is almost an endurance race. The racing was just incredible. Even after six-plus hours or racing, it came down to 0.29 seconds separating first and second. The Toll Holden Racing Team pairing of Garth Tander and Nick Percat won the event. That was Tander’s third victory there. Right on their heels was the Team Vodafone pairing of Bathurst veterans Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife. Polesitter Greg Murphy and his Danish co-driver Allan Simonsen finished third in the Pepsi Max Racing Commodore to make it an all-Holden podium.

For those who aren’t familiar, in Australia it’s the Ford Falcon versus the Holden. The Holden over there is a Chevrolet here. That rivalry is one of the draws to the series.

I don’t know if you got a chance to see the prerace show Saturday night, but it was fun listening to the fans talk about the rivalry and how heated it can get. You have your favorite brand and you wear its colors. You don’t see fans of one brand venturing over into the areas with fans of the other brand. It really is that intense.

Now, I have been to and seen many a racetrack here in the United States in my time. From the biggest to the smallest, at one time in my career, I was probably there. I’ve always loved the road courses and was pretty good at them, too. When I saw the Mount Panorama track for the first time, I swear my jaw dropped. I have never seen a track laid out quite like this one. This thing was literally carved into the side of a mountain. I loved the track because it was probably the most challenging track I have ever seen.

They do standing starts, just like in Formula 1. So when all 32 cars take off, you can quickly see why the first turn is called Hell Corner. When you pour all those cars into that first turn, which is a 90-degree left-hander, you have no idea what the outcome is going to be. To some of those guys, it has been hell on many an occasion.

There are some really cool names for other spots on the track as well. There’s The Cutting, which named because they had to slice into the mountain to make the track. There’s Reid Park, McPhillamy Park, Sulman Park, The Dipper and one of my all-time favorite names, Frog Hollow.

There are actually a couple spots named for folks. Forrest’s Elbow was named for motorcycle rider Jack Forrest, who ground his elbow off there. Ouch! There’s Murray’s Corner, which was named after the 1947 winner, Bill Murray. Even the mayor of Bathurst got into the action with Griffin’s Bend named for him because he was the one that thought it would be a really cool turn.

The track is simply awesome. To them, it carries the same aura and mystic that Daytona and Indy do over here. Mount Panorama is revered over there. The track is challenging, the race is long and the competition is stiff. It’s everything you would want in a race. Despite the long race, the cars are extremely dependable and they seldom break.

It was just an amazing trip for me. I am excited that they are bringing the series to America in 2013. It will be held at the new road course being built in Austin, Texas. NASCAR Sprint Cup racing is second to none in my book, but it is fun to go and see the kind of racing they have in other countries.

Those drivers are as skilled and aggressive as you would ever want to see. The drivers are very engaging to the fans. Just like we do, the fans have their favorite driver, sponsor and car manufacturer they support. Just like we do when we roll into town, their series takes over the town; 75,000 rabid fans poured into little Bathurst, which is probably the size of Darlington, S.C. It’s the same as we see in places like Martinsville, Va., and Bristol, Tenn.

Jason Bright took ol’ DW for a ride around the track in his race car. To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement. So there I was, back in a race car finally. I had a uniform, open-face helmet and a microphone. It doesn’t get any better than that. Well, now that I think about it, a pair of bubble goggles would have sealed the deal.

It was interesting to see the drivers have the same kind of fraternity that ours do. They stick together. They don’t argue about the rules. They didn’t argue about what the sanctioning body was doing. They just were there to race and put on a show. By golly, it doesn’t get much better than that, does it &n=mdash; race and put on a show.

So, it was just an awesome trip. By finishing second, Lowndes took the lead of the 2011 V8 Supercars championship from his Team Vodafone teammate Jamie Whincup. Next up in the V8 Supercars championship, the Armor All Gold Coast 600, will be held on the streets of the Gold Coast from Oct. 21-23. It also will be on SPEED.

Who knows, I might just hop on over there in a couple weeks and do this all over again. G’day, mate!