TWO days before Christmas Day in 1979, Tomas Mezera arrived in Australia with nothing but his refugee visa.
Nine years later, he stood on the Mount Panorama podium as the winner of the Bathurst 1000.
Mezera shared the story of that journey with the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Timken amid a wide-ranging chat about his life so far in motorsport, a career that wouldn’t have been possible had he remained in the land of his birth.
Born in 1958 in what was then still known as Czechoslovakia, Mezera grew up under a communist regime.
“It was a different world back then; I grew up under real communism,” Mezera told the V8 Sleuth Podcast.
“Through my childhood days, sometimes they couldn’t make their mind up: one year they taught us that Stalin was very good; two years later they changed their mind (and taught us) he’d executed more people than Hitler. It was a really hard-line communist regime.”
Listen to the full podcast episodes in the players below!
Fortunately for Mezera, he demonstrated prodigious talent as a junior skier.
“If you showed up to be a reasonably good sportsman, the communists had a pretty good structure for sportspeople,” he explained.
“We lived in a ski resort, and I felt well supported by the communist regime in my junior days.
“(The goal was) to be a top skier with a view to going to the Olympics, but I never sort of got good enough to make the Olympics.
“I was OK; at one stage, when I was 15 or 16, I came second in the Czech slalom championship, which was pretty good.
“But that was one part of that regime; If you were talented and a little bit better, you got the support from the government – that was great, that helped me.”
However, Mezera had another passion – motorsport.
He had his sights set on racing in Formula 1 but knew that he wouldn’t be able to get there from his homeland.
“Unfortunately, something like racing cars, under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia it was one of the sports that never was supported,” he said.
“I made a plan that, if I want to become a bloody Formula 1 driver, I won’t do it from Czechoslovakia. That was a main reason why I decided to leave.”
In the podcast, Mezera tells the full story of his defection to the west, from planning his escape to the circumstance that gave him a narrow window of opportunity to, in his words, “do a runner”.
He then opens up about what happened next – from living on the streets in Austria to surviving in an Austrian refugee camp for four months, and how his dream to race in F1 led him to apply to come to Australia instead of to America as he’d initially planned.
While he never quite made it to F1, Mezera shares tales from his long and decorated career in motorsport both here and overseas, during which he became the lead driver of the Holden Racing Team.
Photos from that era are among the hundreds in our new book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport, a 400-page hardcover book paying tribute to the marque’s rich competition history spanning over seven decades.
It’s now in stock in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop – click HERE to order!