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How Bathurst inspired Daytona 500 advancements

KEN Squier, an icon of American motorsport broadcasting, passed away on Wednesday aged 88 after a long illness.

Squier’s voice was synonymous with a golden age of stock car racing, commentating the sport from its grassroots to its crown jewel across the best part of six decades.

In particular, he played a key role in spreading the NASCAR Cup Series beyond its southern-America roots, especially when it came to the Daytona 500.

Along with serving as the race’s host and play-by-play commentator on CBS Sports for almost two decades, it was Squier who bestowed on the race a moniker that has grown to be part of its fabric.

‘The Great American Race’.

Sounds familiar though, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s no coincidence. It was inspired by the Bathurst 1000, Australia’s ‘Great Race’.

Squier had been part of the landmark CBS broadcast of the 1979 Daytona 500, only the second time in history that a Cup Series race had been broadcast live across America, and whose dramatic conclusion helped launch the sport to the rest of the nation.

In the years that followed, Squire, whose commentary made great use of similes and metaphors as part of his storytelling style, had been looking for a concise tagline to use to promote the race; something to carry the sentiment that he and legions of stock car racing fans felt for it.

He found it at the Bathurst 1000.

“In my mind, it needed something that set it aside; Indianapolis was always the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Sport’ (and) indeed it was,” Squier explained in 2018.

“But what was Daytona? Well, it was all-American stock cars in those days, and pretty much the neighbours sounded like your neighbours – particularly if you came from a small town.

“So what would come to mind? I fiddled and fooled around with it for some time.”

Squier was an interested visitor at the 1980 Bathurst 1000, which first introduced him to the event’s informal moniker: the ‘Great Race’.

“I was in Australia doing a show,” he explained. “They had a ‘Great Race’ over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger and it was a national holiday.

“I was on the way home, and I thought ‘god, that’s what Daytona is’. It’s ‘The Great American Race’.”

Bathurst, however, wasn’t the reason that Squier was in Australia.

It was one of his non-motorsport CBS hosting duties that brought him across the Pacific.

Squier was tasked to cover the annual Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest, held in Sydney on the eve of the Bathurst 1000.

That particular event proved controversial; Arnold Schwarzenegger made a shock return from retirement to compete, amid his preparation prior to filming Conan the Barbarian, and claimed his seventh and final Mr. Olympia title, despite claims he lacked the muscle mass and conditioning of his rivals.

Ironically, CBS didn’t end up airing any of the Mr. Olympia contest; but that’s not to say they didn’t benefit greatly from sending Squier to Australia.

Upon returning to America, he handed his bosses a VHS tape showing a fantastic innovation that he saw at Bathurst that would be perfect for their Daytona 500 coverage.

RaceCam.

One of the pioneering RaceCam units at the 1980 Bathurst 1000. Pic: Supplied

“I was just nosing around,” Squier told Sports Illustrated in 1981 of his Bathurst visit.

“I looked in the TV booth and ended up seeing what this camera could do. It was incredible.”

CBS soon acquired exclusive American television rights to RaceCam, and one of the Australian-designed and developed units was fitted to one of the cars for the 1981 Daytona 500 – the year Squier first introduced it as ‘The Great American Race.’

Squier was inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018, while the sport also co-named its award for lifetime contributions to NASCAR via media – the Squier-Hall Award – after him.

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