JULY 30 marks Neil Crompton’s birthday, and to celebrate we’re looking back at the Voice of Supercars’ first race behind the wheel of a touring car back in 1987.
Crompton’s debut came aboard Peter Brock’s second Mobil-HDT Commodore at Oran Park’s Pepsi 250 endurance race at the end of August.
However, Crompton’s HDT call-up came just months after the team’s high-profile divorce with Holden, leaving the team to struggle on with a slashed budget and no factory support or assistance.
Despite being better known as one of Channel 7’s commentators rather than a racer, Crompton had earnt the drive with an impressive test at Calder Park.
“Bev (Brock) had called on behalf of Peter and, at that point, the whole race team had a fair bit of thunder and lightning going on with the break up with Holden,” Crompton recalled to V8 Sleuth.
“I had been doing some Cordia production car races and then some runs in Mike Griffin’s Mazda Sports Sedan and I’d had a few good races at Amaroo that beat a few drums, so somewhere along the line I came to their attention.
“She said they were interested in me driving and I thought it was a joke! I knew them very well from hanging around Brock since my Ballarat youth and obviously in a media capacity with a close proximity from doing a lot of stories.
“I said ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’! ‘WTF’ hadn’t been invented as a term back then but it was definitely a ‘WTF’ moment! After the double-take, the first step was to go to Calder to test and there were literally a dozen guys there from various categories having a drive.
“Brock went out and did a time in his car and then the other car. I went out, did OK and I remember the crew saying ‘well, we’re done’ and I got the drive on the strength of that. Happy days!
“I guess at that stage I had delivered the fact I could drive and the Channel 7 TV role could attract some interest and maybe I could also help get some funding, which I had done with the Mazda – therefore showing all the appropriate attributes of being a motorsport hustler, which are all the prerequisites of being a driver!”
The #6 VL Commodore was by then very much the oldest car in the HDT Racing fleet, having started its life as the VK Commodore used by Brock and Allan Moffat in the previous year’s Bathurst 1000.
While the Pepsi 250 field missed entries from the Dick Johnson/Shell and Peter Jackson/Nissan teams, the Australian Touring Car Championship-winning JPS BMWs, Mobil Commodores and Colin Bond’s Alfa Romeo 75 headlined the entry list for the 250-kilometre race.
Crompton and co-driver Jon Crooke, although suffering some setbacks, made good progress during practice before qualifying ninth.
On race day Crooke came into contact in the mid pack with privateer Bill O’Brien in the Perkins-built Everlast VL Commodore. The Mobil car wasn’t damaged but Crooke still headed for the pits just to make sure.
Crompton dived aboard at the car’s pit stop on lap 50, rejoining to enter the fray of his first touring car race. He was on slick tyres, and the rain began to fall just as he left pit lane…
“I remember going to Oran Park and it really struck me how the test at Calder had been on a ‘point and squirt’ track,” he said.
“I had felt comfortable there but I was uncomfortable at Oran Park. I felt I was sitting too far back.
“I had driven the Mazda there as well and it had big tyres and huge big wing, it was a handy gadget around that place, whereas the Commodore just slipped and slid around the joint and was very hard to drive fast like Brock and the stars could.
“It was a bit of a wake up call to me that you just don’t get in something once and all of a sudden you’ve ‘arrived’. I just remember that being a bit of a battle.”
Crompton remained behind the wheel for the remainder of the race and eventually finished in ninth position, four laps down on race winner Jim Richards in the JPS BMW M3.
Following his solid debut, Crompton co-drove the second Mobil-HDT entry at all of 1987’s remaining endurance races – except, famously, the one that mattered most.
“Not being able to do Bathurst was deeply disappointing,” he recalled.
“We were in the scramble to get my licence stamped to be FIA-approved in time for the race, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”